With the continued contraction of overall membership of bowling clubs, it is clear that the clubs most likely to survive and turnaround their fortunes are the ones that have a clear strategy for membership growth and retention.
Growing bowling club membership is a big topic because it doesn’t just include getting more people in to bowl at your club as we might always have imagined. It is now vital that we not only have a clear picture of what a “member” looks like but also that we are very open minded as to what this could or should include. In Bowling Club Survival and Turnaround, I have clearly defined what I think the bowling club of the near future will look like and I go on to define what a member might be.
Anyway, back to retaining the members you already have and first a look at new members and the skill of engendering a feeling of belonging to your club. If a new member doesn’t feel that they belong to your club they will quickly leave and another subscription is lost. Building that feeling is, like it or not, the job of every other member of the club and especially of the board or committee. If this connection isn’t made in the first year then there might not be a second year’s subscription from that member; and of course bad news travels fast.
More than ever now, that feeling of belonging must include a feeling that value has been received for the financial and time commitment expended by the member.
Another key point to remember in making new members feel welcome is to “allow” them into the club; make sure that new members are able to make a contribution to the club, don’t allow your club to be dragged under by the old “this is the way we have always done it” attitude. Albert Einstein once said something along the lines of “If you keep doing what you’ve always done; don’t be too surprised when you get what you’ve always got!” wise words, be open to new ideas.
So what is a member these days?
In my eBook Bowling Club Survival and Turnaround I describe a vision I have of the future of bowling club “members”. I use quotes on to signify that these members might not look like the traditional ones. The successful bowling club of the future will be a lot of different things to a lot of different people and your club must embrace this if it is to be successful.
This isn’t so far off the mark if you consider what bowling clubs were in the past. The game of bowls in isolation isn’t enough and never has been enough to build a club structure around. Clubs have always been meeting places and social centres of villages and towns all over the UK and the world. Nowadays, the opportunities for developing this idea anew are vast. More than ever, people of all ages, backgrounds and social groups are looking for local solutions to their needs.
The successful bowling club of the future will probably be a myriad of clubs within a club and these clubs or groups of “facility users” will all contribute to the future direction and success of the club; the game of bowls, if managed with an open mind, could be a major winner in this process.
Clubs will increasingly have to behave like businesses…BUT…this doesn’t mean that we can afford to get all corporate and officious; sure this ill be a requirement in the background to some extent, but the outward facing aspect of our clubs will have to display and exude the following qualities:
- The value equation will have to be at the forefront of the club’s vision for the future. Members and or users/customers will have to be sure that they are receiving high value for their investment in money and time.
- Facilities will have to be excellent; the green will be a high performance one of course, but the other facilities will need to be up to the same standards as people can reasonably expect to find in any customer focussed commercial operation. Hint: this doesn’t mean throwing money around necessarily, but it does mean that you will need a plan.
- Making the club attractive to a lot of different types of people will be essential; it must be welcoming. If you want to encourage bowls participation you might need to think of different ways to approach the game; short games, variations of the traditional game that can be played in a shorter time frame could be one way to do this.
- All members/customers will have to feel equally valued; watch out for tradition getting in the way of progress
- Sometimes members don’t feel part of the club or feel it is not family-oriented enough for them. This shows that management is disconnected from who the members are and what the members really want and appreciate.
- Make sure there are enough events for members who don’t want to participate in serious competitions. Take the pressure off and offer some alternative events for everyone to enjoy together.
- Engage with non-bowler members/customers/users and try to get a healthy cross pollination of ideas.
Here are 10 simple and cost-effective strategies your club can use to increase member involvement and engender a feeling of belonging:
1. Focus on your inactive members, not just on members who are at the club all the time. Make an effort to involve them in the club more. Do you keep track of who they really are, what they do outside of bowling, and what is important to them?
2. Improve communication through regular email newsletters and have printed copies around the club house.
3. Offer an easy payment plan for subscriptions.
4. Give no-cost or low-cost ‘perks of membership’ – like free coffee all day in the club house.
5. Improve social activities for families and non-bowlers – like theme nights, short competitions, family rinks, etc. Turn a wasted area in your clubhouse into a kids’ area.
6. Build relationships by sending birthday and anniversary cards to members and remembering their favourite drinks. Any staff and/volunteer workers should make personal contact with every new member soon after they join.
7. Connect new members with other members or you risk losing them. Members usually leave their club, not their friends. Conduct a member profile to learn more about your members’ personal interests. From your findings, try to pair like-minded members together for a game or a coffee.
8. Happy members are referring members. Check your guest sheet to see who plays often at your club, but who is not already a member. Ask your member if you can call their guest and ask them to join.
9. Recognise your members for achievements that are bowls and non-bowls related. Perhaps they won a business award or a family member won an award. Get to know what they do away from the club.
10. Use your members’ names whenever possible as the basis of good service standards at your club. It’s a personalised touch that makes members feel good.
I outlined a strategy for a Successful Bowling Club in my recent Manifesto and this was expanded upon and a strategy proposed within Bowling Club Survival and Turnaround.
The basis of this work was as follows:
Part 1. Accepting the New Order of the Game
- The Future
- Thinking and Behaving like a business
- Club Policy and Protecting the Plan
Part 2. Club Turnaround
- Dealing with urgent financial issues
- Cashflow 1. Reducing Expenditure
- Cashflow 2. Maximising Income
- Member Retention
Part 3. Long term Strategic Planning
- Defining your unique position in the game
- Defining your unique position in your community
- Marketing your newly defined uniqueness
- Achieving Success by delivering what you promise
Part 4. How to imbed Best Practice
- Profiting from Waste
- Continuous Improvement
The Manifesto is still available free by dropping your name and email address in the box at the top right of any page on this site.
Bowling Club Survival and Turnaround is available here.