Building Up America’s Boat Clubs

Published on March 22nd, 2016

by Troy Gilbert and Bernadette Bernon, BoatU.S.
Boat clubs bring individuals and families together into a community that expands their access to and enjoyment of boating. Why are some clubs struggling, while others are successful?

For decades, to enjoy the sports they love and to be with friendly contemporaries devoted to the same passions, many Americans joined yacht clubs and golf clubs. But over the past five years, that’s been changing. These days, there are now more people leaving such clubs than joining them, and nearly 10 percent of America’s yacht clubs have closed. This is according to marketing expert Steve Graves, president of Creative Golf Marketing in Manhattan, Kansas, who for 25 years has consulted with golf clubs, boat clubs, and other social clubs to help build their memberships.

“There was a time when clubs had to do nothing to succeed,” he says. “Times have changed, yet club leadership hasn’t adjusted to the reality that the days of people walking up and looking to join an organization are gone. A club’s leadership may be highly successful in their personal careers, but they are likely making club decisions as a group that they’d never make in their own businesses or lines of work.”

So why are some boat clubs more successful at building member value than others? In this special report, we’ll tell you more about how Graves suggests that some club challenges can be met as well as about how specific clubs have nurtured growth — some even have waiting lists.

Put Out The Welcome Mat, Literally

“There are lots of people in all communities who would love to be members of your club and would be happy to spend their discretionary dollars there,” says Graves. “But clubs tend to block their own goals in reaching out to potential members by not appearing welcoming enough. People want to be invited to join, so empower your current membership to invite potential members to visit the club. Be sure your members can answer questions on membership levels, dues, amenities, reciprocal privileges, social activities, and so on. Have the club’s management generate a formal follow-up and friendly invitation to the potential member to visit again.” Some clubs go as far as to provide special parking places for potential members, including a “We Welcome New Members” sign outside, and inside offer a welcome package of information available for visitors. Such positive optics matter for the short and the long term.

Much more… full report.

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