At a recent Florida meeting of more than 150 club management professionals, strategic planning in the club industry was discussed. It was agreed that as our economy strengthens, more clubs are considering the strategic planning process, or are dusting off their old plan and reevaluating their current strategy (even though this was just as important to do so during the downturn).

Strategic Planning is an organization’s process of defining its strategy or direction and making decisions and allocating resources to pursue this strategy including capital and people.

According to the McMahon Group, nearly fifty percent of private clubs have a strategic plan. That’s the good news. The bad news is that only half of those, or just twenty-five percent of clubs, review their plan annually.

In our view, “Model Clubs make Strategic Planning a priority and a normal part of business.”

A club’s strategic plan is the formal consideration of one’s future course. A Club’s vision is a vital part of this process. Three key questions are asked:

  • What do we do?
  • Who do we do it for?
  • How do we excel?

How we excel is often called one’s “competitive market advantage,” which we will refer to later in this article.

In a previous article, we discussed who should take charge of the plan. In that other business world where most of our members work, it is most often the CEO of the company who takes charge of the strategic plan. It is our view that in a private club, it should be a combination of the club president, the general manager, and if possible, a professional facilitator. With the average tenure of a club general manager now at seven years, his or her leadership will play a vital role in the plan’s success.

Now back to the vision: According to leadership guru Warren Bennis, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

In today’s ever changing and competitive world, defining who you are and how you will excel at what you do best is a critical component to success. This applies not only to new clubs but to established, traditional ones as well. A great example in the business world that can be applied to clubs is Starbucks. In Howard Schultz’s new book Onward, he chronicled how, upon returning as CEO, he quickly discovered that for Starbucks to survive and prosper they needed to reinvent themselves and excel at what they do best. Schultz’s team reviewed their plan and determined that they needed to get back to their core business – coffee. They even took the bold step of closing all of their nearly 7,000 stores for a day to retrain their staff of baristas to brew the finest quality coffee, served in a warm and friendly manner. While this day cost the company millions, it re-established their culture and set the direction for their new vision.

A parallel to this story in the club industry is Midland Country Club in Midland, Michigan. As mentioned in a recent article in Club Management Magazine, General Manager, Steve Pederson, CCM and then Club President, Jim Fitterling, knew that MCC was aging and that other clubs in the area were failing. Things had changed in this once very prosperous area of Michigan. They also knew that there were many families with younger children in the Midland area and their vision for the MCC of the future was to bring families back and focus on a “family-centered” versus a “family-friendly” club.  They wanted to create a destination/location where families would spend twelve hours a day at the club – in effect, their “Private Resort at Home!” The proof, as chronicled in the article, was success both in terms of membership growth and club utilization.

Pederson and Fitterling had a vision, for which they gained buy-in and which was then shared by the board, committees and membership…..and it ultimately became reality!

As stated by another well-known success story from that other business world – Ralph Lauren, “A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done.”

Remember – the purpose of creating a strategic plan is not to produce a plan – it is to produce RESULTS! – JS

John R. “Jack” Sullivan, CCM
Jack is Vice President of Hamilton Harbor Yacht Club and provides consulting services to private clubs. He specializes in strategic planning and other private club operational issues.