The Unique Challenges of Design & Marketing For Country Clubs

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Country clubs present a welcomed challenge for us as design and marketing consultants.  They exist in a space that is extremely demanding and increasingly competitive.  In no uncertain terms, they are a constant battleground for both new membership and member retention.  I have yet to come across a club that was satisfied with its membership ranks (though I haven’t had the pleasure of dealing with Augusta National just yet), or the revenues they generate from their food and beverage, merchandise, or events. I’ve also yet to find one that couldn’t use some help keeping the ones they have.

Great country clubs and golf courses do a few things right:

They constantly innovate   – Whether its the newest strain of ultra dwarf grass, or a mobile app that lets players enjoy their rounds more fully, good clubs move forward. In the past year we have seen our Tampa clubs get new bars, patios, dining areas, greens, resurfaced tee boxes, and all sorts of things that increase their value well beyond the hard costs of the improvements, and for that they thrive.

They provide engagement – Offering more appealing activities and events, increased social media connection and access to staff, and fostering clubs within clubs all can create a stronger community.

They have impeccable staff – Members may not be the easiest nuts to crack, so having patient, caring, and attentive staff is more valuable than the best menu, or hole layout in town by a long shot.

Bad clubs tend to make the same mistakes:

They limit themselves to competing on price rather than value.  Price and value are mistakenly treated as the same but couldn’t be more polar opposites. Once you show a prospective member that you are the “Mercedes” of Country Clubs (even if you’re priced in the Ford range), they will strive to join such a prestigious club.  People buy what they can’t afford all the time, and club membership is certainly no exception.

They forget their members – all too often clubs, in an effort to increase new membership offer incentives that weren’t available to existing members, and that can get ugly. Who wants to hear that there are no joining fees or dues for the first 3 months when they forked over $10k or more just a few years ago?  It would leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth.

They fail to carve out a niche or position themselves in a space they can dominate. Lots of clubs have an identity crisis.  They want to be family friendly, but the bulk of their members are 60+.  They should embrace their niche rather than trying to break new ground.

How a good design & marketing team can help overcome the unique challenges clubs face:

Great clubs have great graphic and web design. From easy-to-read directional signage, to an elegant dinner menu and visually striking event posters, there is a magic that is hard to quantify but easy to distinguish.  It tells members you care about the experience, and makes a lasting first impression for prospectives. Design done well is consistent, and consistency builds an expectation.  Expectations, in turn, build trust. This is true of any industry, but I would propose that it’s most clearly evident in the world of country clubs because there is no more savvy or expectant consumer than that of a private club. It just goes with the territory, and is quite justifiable because good clubs know they are selling an experience, not just a round of golf or a side of fries.

I’ve found that marketing efforts directed toward the overall experience are more well received than those specifically highlighting course design or some other detail. There are plenty of great courses out there, but that’s not what a private country club membership is to most consumers so why focus on it? I have one client in particular that has an awful course layout, but they are the most sought after club in Tampa because they throw the best parties. They also cater to children providing an enormous incentive for parents to join.  Just as effectively, across town we have a club that makes it known their Bunko and Bingo nights are hopping, and they have a steady membership of older members that value that. Both these clubs have embraced their spot in the marketplace, gear their marketing efforts around that, and have no competition in that arena.  It’s such a great thing! What they both do is sell a lifestyle.

The usual challenge in marketing a lifestyle is not coming off in a pretentious way. That can all be avoided and the path is more easily defined when a club has carved out its niche though.  It’s not pretentious to be the best family club or the best club for seniors.  People don’t resent a club that has the best manicured greens, or the hottest chef in their neighborhood. Members also cut clubs and staff some slack when they know the club down the street can’t offer them the same atmosphere or amenities and they’re not there because of price.

Another significant challenge is to separate a brand from a dollar amount. Because club membership is a significant dollar amount, it takes more effort to unlink it. But, if a marketing team can figure out the right approach you’ll have more folks saying, “I don’t care what it costs, I have to have it and I’ll find a way,” rather than the ones who tell you, “It just doesn’t fit into our budget right now.” That’s where brand value comes in, and it’s an unstoppable force once put in motion.

Let us help your club:

Shake Creative has helped many clubs overcome these challenges and become more valuable clubs in their communities. Give us a call at 813.344.4769, we’d love to help you grow and better serve your membership.

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