In 1991, I saw a trend and then a paradigm shift that was inevitably going to become the future reality of the golf course industry. I told everyone that would listen back then that “golf memberships” were overpriced for entry-level golfers and they must lower their barrier to entry. No one wanted to hear that at the time because all they could hear was “discounting” and could not grasp the concept of re-directing the revenue stream (re-packaging), and therefore, a lot of those non-believers fell to their financial death in the past 5 to 10 years. Their pride of not “discounting” their dues was apparently more important than paying the mortgage and payroll. Today, I have a new paradigm to share with you in the industry.
Properties are so afraid of “discounting” yet they constantly “discount” by selling last-minute tee times, coupons, daily deals, etc. The only thing that “deals” like this is to condition the customer to look, and wait for the next “deal” or special, whether it’s from your property or your competitors. You can’t build long-term relationships and member loyalty in four hours. Relationships require repetition; just like building muscle, it doesn’t happen overnight.
MMC®’s model is to bring the golfer in on an introductory membership (retention built-in) and lock up the relationship from the beginning. This model gives you ample time to cultivate the relationship. I realized some golf properties are anti-membership for various reasons. You can call it whatever you want; preferred player’s card, annual pass, season pass, etc. But if you study the psychology of sales you’ll realize the power of the word “member”.
The ’90s was a time when a lot of people were getting rich in the business and everyone was building new golf courses to get in on the action; doctors, attorneys, builders, developers, resorts, etc., and even some people with absolutely no experience in the industry whatsoever. They just saw (and heard) what a great investment it was and jumped in with both feet. This created an overbuilt industry going into the late 90’s because of the massive increases in new casual golfers dropping off one by one; which left us with too much inventory and not enough customers. To me, it was clear that the industry was going to have to correct itself (just like today’s housing market) and when problems are left alone to work themselves out, well let’s just say, it takes a while. It is also noteworthy that initially when left alone to correct itself; it does so, in the beginning, by overcorrecting. In my opinion, this is the state of the industry today.
I knew there was a market for a company that could grow businesses for a select few properties that were willing to think outside the box; and man I was correct. I entered into the market in 2005 with MMC® which was initially designed to service the golf industry. Since 1991, MMC® has concentrated on raising cash and long-term residual income for independent operators throughout the US. We operated for more than twenty enormously successful years selling memberships for the sports industry and now more than eight years (since 2005) for the golf industry. We have raised more than $40,000,000.00 for health clubs and more than $10,000,000 for properties thus far; these dollars represent thousands of loyal members.
My theory is simple—bring in the customers on a limited golf membership but get them to commit for two years. The two-year commitment is important because you want to lock the member in for as long as possible up front (built-in retention). The two years give you the time to provide them with superior service and a valued experience, therefore, gaining their “loyalty” for years to come.
Some people in the industry think we are ruining the industry and giving the golf memberships away and devaluing the product, but this is the furthest from the truth and reality. Since entering the market in 2005, I haven’t seen any organization come even remotely close to “growing the game” as MMC® has since 2005. We are not discounting nor “giving golf” away; we are lowering the barrier of entry and re-packaging the product to make it sellable in today’s economic climate though.
I strongly believe the more golf memberships we get and condition the members to spend more per visit (not to be confused with nickels and diming them), i.e., in profit-centers, e.g., cart fees, food, and beverage, range revenue, pro-shop, outings, tournament play. Lowering the barrier to entry is the opposite of asking for all of the money upfronts, yet, achieves the same goal. This model allows you to “grow the game” and grow your property at the same time while eliminating the prospect’s fear of the upfront cost.
For the past 21+ years, club owners have often told me they are considering raising their dues but would never consider lowering them. That’s fine if you’re an exclusive club with a waiting list, but it doesn’t make sense if you are struggling to make payroll. We can empathize with their feelings that they feel the value of their product is x and they want to get x for it. The problem is numbers are numbers. There are only so many people committed to a country club lifestyle and even fewer of them in the higher income brackets with discretionary time and income. So when you raise your dues beyond your market, there is only one place to go; it’s simple mathematics. I know you don’t want to hear this, but the local market dictates the value. If you build a golf course in an affluent area then your members will be affluent. Properties have about a twenty-mile draw for 90% of their play unless they are a destination golf course. Even as a destination golf course, you have to figure out a win-win way to tap into your local market.
Let’s say for the argument that you own a property in an area where there are 50,000 houses within a 20-mile radius of your golf club that is gainfully employed. Now let’s say studies show that 10% of your market is or has an interest in the game. That gives you 5,000 potential prospects on the surface. Then figure out how much someone must be earning to comfortably afford a golf membership at your golf club. Now take that percentage from the 5,000. Let’s error on the side of high and say it’s 20%; so you have 1,000 potential targets. But now you have to add into the equation all other properties, e.g., 9, 18, 27, 36 hole properties, driving ranges. Even if they do not have the amenities you have, or the bells and whistles, or the beautiful clubhouse, if they are just taking 1% of your targeted demographic each it will drastically affect your bottom line. Not to mention that the entire 1,000 potential targets are not “all” going to have a desire to join or even play on your golf course.
It always makes me smile when I meet with an owner or an operator after we do an in-depth competitive overview of their property and he thinks some or even none of the above is his direct competitor. I am here to tell you if someone is paying anyone, one dollar for a product or service, they are your competitors.
When times start to get tough and properties need an influx of revenue they usually think of four ways to get it.
1) Raise dues on current members.
2) Get current members to spend more.
3) Cut cost.
4) Capture new members.
A lot of owners and/or operators think the best way to raise some revenue is to raise existing membership dues. This is a huge mistake because the fall out of disgruntled members offsets the increased revenue. These members were probably just waiting for a “logical” excuse to quit anyway and now you’ve handed it to them on a silver platter. This plan usually results in a loss of revenue more times than not. The only way this can work is if you start with a surplus of members and then thin the herd.
Another ill-conceived plan to increase revenue is to get your loyal customers and/or members to spend more in the profit-centers. This rarely works since consumers fall into spending patterns and buying habits and it is extremely difficult to change these “conditioned” routines. Besides, punishing your loyal members by always coming back to them for more money is a terrible idea.
Others believe the only way to survive the storm is to cut costs and they usually start with lowering payroll, which in turn, diminishes service, which leads to unsatisfied customers who leave the club or even worse—the game. No one has ever “cut” their way to prosperity. A quick tip to those of you afraid of losing your job is to increase the traffic at your property and you will become indispensable.
The best way to raise revenue and enjoy the storm is by bringing in new businesses and “conditioning” their spending patterns and buying habits from the time of sale. This is exactly what MMC® does; we bring in new business, immediate cash, increased revenue from profit-centers, long-term residual income, and unmatched player retention.
I am going to share with you a couple of marketing facts that will help you design an elementary campaign. I say “elementary” because, without the complete knowledge of psychology, history, marketing media, market research, demographic studies, and a host of other data, your marketing skills will always be “elementary”. This is why when copycats, try to copy MMC®’s campaigns they always fall on their faces. I am not saying this out of bitterness (because I am honored they love my work), but out of trying to educate you as the listener, to really learn the craft of golf course marketing and professional sales. These people only see the initial offer, the “hook” and assume they know everything; when all they know is enough to get themselves, and whoever’s money they are spending—broke. So understand at this point this information is of great value but it is only the beginning.
Familiarize yourself with the term “loss leader”. A simple way of defining it is the part of your product or service (must have value to the consumer) that is least valuable to you and the bottom line of your business that you can practically give away to get new customers. There is always a loss leader in every business; just think outside the box and you’ll discover it.
The loss leader is then used as your “hook” in your ad copy, radio spots, social media, etc. Hook, just like in fishing, the hook is baited with your “tag line”. The tagline has to grab the immediate attention of the consumer; then you set the hook with the loss leader. Haven’t you heard “any bad day of fishing beats any good day of working”?
There are numerous offers you can use as a “hook” not just your loss leader and nor does it have to be lower the barrier to entry. Your “hook” and “tagline” will be determined by your desired result and current business model assisted by the research and demographic data you have compiled.
It is amazing that hundreds of “golf course want-to-be marketers” foolishly focus on the dollar amount and think it is the “cheap price” that is bringing in the huge numbers. These copycats go out of business frequently taking their bargain-hunting clients with them. Price can never be your only point of leverage, nor can it ever be presented as the superior part of your golf product and services. It can only be used as a “hook” to get the prospect’s attention.
The price is only a hook; using the correct hook is only 1% of the fishing trip. You must know your target audience, how best to reach your target audience, what vehicle of media to use to deliver your message, how to fund the campaign, etc. This is where MMC® stands head and shoulders above all others and why we are still in business after more than 20 years.
It is not important for a business to set the trends, or even follow the trends. The real art is to see the trends starting and get out ahead of them. Trends are normally set out of frustration with the status quo, which leads to people questioning the ways and reasons why things are being done the way they are. People begin changing the way things are being done, create new paradigms within an industry and the “trend” is set in motion. People within an industry get tired of going around the “circle of insanity”.
I see the trend in the business is ready to turn in the next few years and the masses in the industry (80%) will soon follow like little puppies. A quick note on the 80 percentile—80% of the population is dissatisfied with their lot in life. If you follow them and do the same things they do, you will get the same results. It is also important to know that this 80% only makes up for 20% of the world’s wealth. On the other hand, the remaining 20% makes up 80% of the wealth and always thinks outside the box.
Recently, I was reading a report based on the numbers of the industry and saw what I predicted 10 years ago was coming to fruition today. Properties are discounting their green fees to rock bottom prices, the industry has lost over half of its golfers in the past few years, and golf courses are leaving the marketplace in record numbers. Some in the industry look at this downturn as a good thing. They say we need to lose some of the inventory so the ratio of golfers vs. inventory is relative again. What happened to “growing the game”? Is everyone just giving up?
I really believe (know) they are missing the boat. Lowering your green fees and selling discount punch cards are not the answer. You can’t build a loyal relationship on a one-time, four-hour round; you are simply conditioning your local market to wait for the next deal. Again these golf courses are just coping with what they see their competitors and other golf clubs are doing and think they got it, but they haven’t gotten anything but headaches. The price is just a “hook”, not a business model.
In 1999, we saw this paradigm shift starting and we got out way ahead of it. Today we see a new shift (trend) as well. Some of you thought (and still think) we were out of our minds when we ran advertisements that we can “raise $250,000 in 90 days”. We have run, and still do run those promotions successfully and have raised more than $40,000,000.00 in the health club industry and more than $10,000,000 for golf courses. We’ve worked with numerous golf courses, sold thousands of golf memberships, spent millions of dollars in marketing, and hundreds of thousands in market research and development and we are still going strong today. I love the golf industry and want to see you thrive in it as well.
Some of you “industry guys” are saying to yourself, “Yeah, but a lot of those golf courses you raised all of that cash for went out of business.” This is not true; in fact, it is the furthest from the truth. Very few, if any of our clients have left the marketplace. We have seen a few golf courses leave the marketplace that tried to run “MMC®’s” promotion on their own; but not one of our clients, to my knowledge, has ever left the marketplace. The facts are that MMC®’s clients flourish because they not only run our “cash” promotion and raise tons of immediate cash, but they also adopt our philosophy and reinvest a portion of the new revenue into their golf course and future marketing campaigns.
There is another shift in paradigms I would like to share with you at this point. We (business people) use to think we needed to hide and safeguard all of our knowledge (intellectual property) so no one could steal it, copy it, or benefit from it in any way without us being compensated first. Well, I am here to tell you that that is history. We live in a time of information and people are hungry for it now. If you can give them immediate value for free they will come back for more and be willing to pay for it because they know you are the real deal. People want to trust you before they do business with you. If you can provide them with a value up front and not want anything in return, you will gain their trust. So you must underpromise and over-deliver to exceed their expectations in order to keep their business.
Today it is important to build trust within your market and one way (there are many, many more) for pros to do that is by giving a free 15-minute lesson to effectively drive business in the door at ground level. Don’t ask for anything in return. Make services available not to disappoint guests who might get interested (and most will be) but the first mini-lesson is free.
Make sure to start building your own prospect list and follow up with your prospects through home phone, email, text messaging, etc., inviting them to see you again for another lesson or block of lessons (of course this time the guest will pay). Every time you send them a message, include a free tip on the game.
Building relationships with your golf membership is relatively easy with a little training and follow-up inspection (always inspect, what you expect); “perceived value” is the key. People’s perception is their reality. Golf membership loyalty can be obtained and you can charge a premium price for this premium service, but you first must get them through the door. This is your foundation—start building.
To run a successful marketing campaign you must enlist some key elements.
- Know your business: I mean really know what you are selling. People buy for emotional reasons and justify their purchases with logical reasons, e.g., someone might buy a golf membership for status, lifestyle, image, connection, etc. Then they will justify their purchase of said golf membership with things like it was a business investment, networking, exercise, etc.
- Know what reputation (brand) your golf course has in the marketplace and more importantly what do you want that brand to say. The “brand” is what you are selling.
- Know your audience: If you have an upscale golf club that you want to be positioned in the marketplace as an exclusive golf club then you need to focus your attention on consumers who can afford and are willing to pay your membership fees. You must see how your golf membership satisfies their emotional needs; significance, exclusivity, connection, etc. The same applies if you want to brand yourself as being the “it golf club” for the young executives, and so on. The key is to know their emotional needs and how your golf club, product, and services meet those needs.
- Do your research (homework): If your data (research is more than a year old—it’s outdated). MMC® started profiling desired consumers back in the late 1980s when it was outrageously expensive. Today MMC® has a staff dedicated specifically to our research division that works 24/7 for our client’s gathering information, data, and demographic studies. But the average business can do this on their own (of course this data is usually a couple of years old) by just going online and searching for the latest data about their market absolutely free.
- Decide which form (medium) of media fits your budget and goals: a lot of times this is difficult for small businesses with limited budgets. What might be the best vehicle to reach your targets might not fit in your budget. Be creative (think outside the box). When I started MMC® I knew I needed to do direct mail because all of my research unequivocally proved direct mail to be the best option for targeting consumers who fit our profile. My challenge then was, and still is; direct mail is very expensive compared to newspaper ads, radio, social media, etc. But it also was the only way I could get a one-on-one connection with my profiled demographic.
I went to the largest mailing house companies and started negotiating (at this point I didn’t even have a client) and told them I would give them all of my future business if they would give me the very best pricing available. I found a couple of companies I felt could give me great value with integrity, made the deal, and I still work with them today.
- Decide on the offer: this is where most people drop the ball. You must be able to offer something that grabs the consumer’s attention. You have ten seconds to let them know what’s in it for them, or you’ll lose them. Most people are afraid to give too much away or they’re afraid if the offer sounds too good to be true nobody will believe it. Stop overthinking it. Yes, you can’t give away the store but if you don’t give enough value you’ll never get people in the door. It takes some thought but come up with a win-win for you and the customer. Einstein was quoted as defining insanity as “doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.” Come up with something you’ve never tried before and try it!
- Presentation and delivery of your message: how is your brand being presented? In my career, I have been blessed to work with a great team and align our team with competent companies with similar goals. We have researched all forms of media marketing and have been able to test what works and what does not. Simple little things such as a return address on an envelope can decrease or increase a percentage of your response. Presentation of your marketing pieces can determine what will get opened to those pieces that will not. The same goes for what you write in the subject line of an email, or the first three words in a text message. Just think about what would grab your attention if you were on the receiving end.
- Create excitement: After you get the consumer’s attention with the hook (tag line) you must be able to keep their attention. This is where ad copy comes in. I like to keep it short and sweet. I want to show as much value as possible.
- Call to immediate action: You must get the consumer to act now. Limited time only, limited stock, etc., are great calls to action, but what I have learned most is, that whatever you say, you must mean and stick behind it. If you say it ends Sunday the 8th, then you better end it Sunday the 8th. Keep in mind, that you are building a brand and you want people to know you keep your word. You would be amazed at how important of a role the fear of scarcity has on the consumer of being left out; use this tool with integrity.
Of course, there is no possible way I can cover everything you need to know about marketing, research, and sales in one lesson plan; so if you want to learn more join our “Platinum membership” and I will teach you in a step-by-step, month by month, campaign by campaign, the manner for 12 to 24 months. The great thing about our membership is you’ll earn while you learn. We will be designing real-world marketing campaigns and sales systems for you to implement in your golf club immediately.
Golf Course’s Roadmap To Success
Throughout our site, you have learned a lot about golf course marketing and professional sales. Now it is time for us to give you a roadmap to financial success.
You (the owner), have invested millions of dollars into your property. On some level, you understand the importance and absolute necessity of golf course marketing, branding, and professional sales. Not investing in this area of your business is an oversight that must be remedied. By this point you are completely aware that MMC® offers our services on a “success” basis, therefore eliminating any additional investment or “upfront cash” on your part. You also know at this point, that to ask your GM and/or pro to effectively grow the business without the proper research, education and tools is like asking a blind man to be your professional driver.
Start with MMC®’s Cash Campaign. This will accomplish the following things and much more.
- Raise the revenue to fund all future campaigns
- Raise the revenue to get your course in mint condition
- Lock up all golfers within a twenty (20) mile radius of your property for the next two (2) years
- Starts building your mailing list, SMS (text messaging) list, email list, social media list, etc.
- Buys you the time not worrying about revenue to start implementing customer relations and loyalty programs
- Revenue to pay some bills and maybe even yourself
- MMC®’s cash campaign is designed on a two (2) year golf membership. We do this for several reasons and one of the reasons is to lock up the relationship from the point of sale. This golf membership is of great value to the public so we look at it as “buying the golfer’s loyalty” in the beginning. This gives you two (2) years to “sell” this golfer on staying loyal to their new golfing home—your golf course.
Run MMC®’s EFT/Monthly Dues Campaign. This will accomplish the following things and much more.
- This campaign should be launched within 60 days of the cash campaign. This campaign is when you now start building your brand and raising your rates. In previous areas of this site, we shared with you that “raising rates/dues” is a terrible idea; unless you are starting off with a surplus of golf members. If you have just finished our cash campaign you have anywhere between 500 and 2,000 golf members; now, we can start “thinning out the herd”.
Most golf courses mess this up so badly. They are always so afraid of “discounting” that they end up “discounting” themselves out of business. The old adage, “You get what you focus on” is so true. They refuse to do it right the first time and build up; instead, they are on a slow spiral down with daily deals and discount tee times.
MMC®’s approach is to lock up every golfer within twenty (20) miles and then start raising the perceived value as getting greater and the product becoming more of a commodity; whereas most golf courses do the complete opposite and start high and then gradually lower and discount their product to where the public perceives the value of the product as getting worse.
- Our EFT/monthly dues campaign is designed to capture those targets (golfers) who were not interested in a PIF (paid in full) option but prefer to pay on a monthly basis.
This is a great addition to anyone’s business model because it brings in reliable revenue monthly; which makes it easier for bookkeepers and management having this monthly revenue stream.
- This golf membership is higher than the cash membership but is also a two (2) year commitment.
Run MMC®’s Elite/Ambassador Campaign. This will accomplish the following things and much more.
- This campaign is designed for the golfer who wants it all. This is the golf membership everyone will secretly aspire to. These are the members who play 50 to 100 times a year, they want to play all the premium times including Saturday and Sunday mornings at 8:00, they want people to know their names when they get to the golf course, and they want to have the cleanest carts, they want to play in all the club events-whether tournaments or leagues, they don’t want to be charged additional fees, they want to walk in the club and get immediate attention and recognition, they want to play a round with the pro, charge at the bar and restaurant, attend the social functions, etc. This quality of service and attention commands a premium golf membership fee.
- You are now financially sound enough to charge whatever you feel is appropriate for the level of service and product you offer. You have been building your brand by building the perceived value of your product and services within your market.
- You now have a surplus of golf members and you have been growing slowly through your monthly campaigns getting the word out that this is the golf club to be a member of. It’s just like a nightclub or restaurant—oldeveryone wants to go where it’s happening.
At the end of this two (2) year cycle your original golf members will be up for renewal and it is time to raise their membership rates. Do not make them change their membership structure because you do not want to encourage fallout, although at this point you are well prepared for it if it were to happen because you now have a surplus of golf members.
By raising rates you will definitely experience a drop in golf members which might be a good thing at this point and you can gauge what the golf membership value is based on your success.
Even the golfers that drop off of the membership will still golf at their preferred golf club since you have been satisfying their 6 core emotional needs for the past two (2) years and have conditioned them to link happiness with your golf course.
Join MMC®’s Platinum Plus Membership. This will accomplish the following things and much more.
- We have designed our platinum membership for two (2) years as well. This too has been done for many reasons. First, it will take at least two (2) years for you and/or your staff to become proficient in the art of golf course marketing and professional sales.
Second, it will complete one cycle of facilitating the most important mediums of marketing for growing your golf club and your golf.
Third, you will have built such a strong foundation even if you only apply ten percent (10%) of what you learn during this period you still will be able to grow the business effectively.
- At the beginning of this course, you will be starting out with the basics like introductory sales training, building your lists, building and registering for social media sites, doing community outreach campaigns, etc. Since you have already run the cash campaign you won’t have the pressure of “raising revenue” looming over you which will give you the time to do these tasks effectively.
- This membership is as important as any of the other campaigns because, without the everyday details and seed planting, the golf course will always be dependent on the next “campaign”. Planting seeds daily will pay dividends with compound interest.
If you are ready to stop “hoping” you’ll have good weather, stop “hoping” you’ll get all of your events in this year, and start knowing you have planted the seeds for an abundant harvest, partner with MMC® today!
Throughout MMC®’s site there is a ton of free information on golf course marketing and professional sales training, so please take time to view the entire site for the free tips on growing the game, your property, and your career. Watch the videos, read the text and pick and choose what is valuable to you and fits your current and future business model.
Partner with MMC® today in growing the game, your golf course, and your golf career.