Posts Tagged ‘club operations’

How Consistent is your Club Leadership?

Saturday, August 11th, 2018

Strong, stable, and consistent leadership is the single most important requirement for successful club operations.  While there are many styles of leadership suited to any industry or endeavor, experience over many years in the club business makes it clear to this writer that a service-based approach to leadership works best in the service industry with its often young, mixed gender, and multi-ethnic workforce.  This style of leadership has as its primary motivation service to others – to members, to the owners of the club, and to the employees.

ed-jpeg-4This leadership style differs from others in its focus on serving the needs of employees to provide them with the proper tools, training, resources, motivation, and empowerment to serve the club’s members.  In simplest terms, when a club’s employees are served by their leaders, they will serve the members, who by their continuing patronage serve the club’s bottom line.  An understanding of the importance of this style of leadership can be inferred from the simple question,

“How can employees provide quality service if they are not properly served by the leadership and example of their managers?”

While it is recognized that the General Manager must be a strong leader, it is also critical that the club’s subordinate managers and supervisors are also trained to be strong service-based leaders.  While some degree of a leader’s skill-set seems to be inborn, such as personality and an analytic mind, and others, such as confidence, judgment, and basic communication abilities, are developed early in life, the great majority of a leader’s skills are attitudinal and can be learned.

But to expect that your managers with varying backgrounds, education, and experiences will have a common understanding of what constitutes effective leadership is naive in the extreme.  Unless junior managers are systematically trained to develop the skills which have to do with building and sustaining meaningful work relationships with their constituencies, particularly employees, their leadership development will be hindered and haphazard.  This results in the General Manager’s vision and message of service not being communicated consistently or faithfully to line employees.  Instead of having a cohesive team dedicated to a common purpose and acting in a concerted way to further the aims of the enterprise, the club is a collection of tribes who don’t necessarily approach the mission or their jobs in the same way or with the same attitude.

Without leadership consistency, employees get a mixed service message, and their morale, engagement, and commitment will vary from manager to manager and department to department.  It’s really quite simple – if your management team does not provide consistent:

  • Vision, values, and example,
  • Communication and engagement,
  • Training, resources, and support,
  • Regard for and treatment of employees,

You’ll never gain consistency of employee commitment, contribution, and performance.

But the good news is that successful leadership skills can be taught and learned.  Warren G. Bennis, widely regarded as a pioneer in the field of contemporary leadership studies, has said,

“The most dangerous myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership.  This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not.  That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true.  Leaders are made rather than born.”

So the solution to fragmented leadership is to promote a consistent style and application of leadership club-wide.  This can only be done by providing consistent leadership training to the entire management team.  But how does the General Manager teach leadership when you have so much else to do and possibly haven’t given a lot of thought to the issue?

theworkbook_cover-4Over the years while serving as general manager in hotels, resorts, and clubs, I searched a number of times and read a number of books – most extolling the successful leadership techniques of Fortune 500 or celebrity CEOs, or written by Academics with a lot of theory but little practical advice for those toiling in hospitality management.  My frustration in trying to find something useful finally led me to write my own leadership guidance for my team, and this ultimately became Leadership on the Line:  A Guide for Front Line Supervisors, Business Owners, and Emerging Leaders, first published in 2002 and now in its 2nd edition.

This past year, in response to frequent requests to prepare a more “hands on” learning tool, I wrote and published Leadership on the Line – The Workbook, a companion piece to the original book that builds on the themes of Service-Based Leadership from the book by offering self-study sections on Leadership Basics, Values, Lessons, Applications, and Assessments.  Taken together the book and the workbook provide an effective way to teach and to learn a consistent, service-based approach to leadership.

Given the primary importance of leadership in any successful venture, it should never be left to chance.  Even if confident of your own leadership abilities, do yourself and your managers a favor by promoting a consistent, club-wide conception and application of leadership.  When consistently reinforced by your leadership and example, it will have a dramatic impact on their performance, as well as the club’s.

The book ($19.95) and workbook ($19.95) may be purchased at or on the Hospitality Resources International website (never a shipping charge).

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

How often have we in private clubs heard that from our members?  No one but a few creatures of inviolable habit likes the “same ol’, same ol’,” yet that’s what many clubs serve up month after month, year in and year out.  Why not try a different approach that will “wow” your members?  Make “wow factors” a part of your club’s traditions.

What is a “wow factor”?  It’s anything, usually unexpected, that causes your members to say or think, “Wow, that’s really neat!” or “Wow, I didn’t expect that!” or “Wow, that’s impressive!”

Wow factors are characterized by their unexpectedness and as such any particular wow factor cannot become part of your club routine.  They are executed for one-time or short-term effect.  They are also characterized by being unusual – either cutting edge or just out-of-the-ordinary.  They can be extravagant and expensive, but these should be few and far between.  Most wow factors should be small scale, inexpensive, and momentary, that is, of short duration as in one day, one evening, or one event.

The key to making wow factors is to challenge your club’s department heads to come up with a specified number of wow factor ideas for their areas of the operation – say 10 new ideas for the coming busy season.  Each idea should be briefly described on paper – what it is, how it will be done, what items need to be purchased, any talent that needs to be contracted, any associated labor cost, and an overall estimated cost.  Then all department heads should meet with the General Manager in a brainstorming session to discuss, settle on, and schedule the roll out of each wow factor.

Here are a handful of ideas to give you a sense of the program:

  • Complimentary mini-trio sampler of desserts or appetizers for all diners on a given night – this is also an excellent way to preview or market a new menu.
  • Free soft-serve ice cream or smoothies for the kids (of all ages) at the pool on a hot summer day.  An alternative would be to arrange for the local ice cream truck to pull up in front of your pool with music playing.  Everyone gets their specialty ice cream treat and you pay the bill.
  • Flowers for all the ladies dining on some non-special night just for the surprise effect.  Google search “special days” for calendars of unusual celebrations and holidays.
  • Have the General Manager act as the club “doorman” on a random evening to greet each member and guest as they arrive.
  • A giveaway of a sleeve of golf balls to each golfer on a busy Saturday morning.  Handed out by the Head Golf Professional on the first tee for maximum effect.
  • Free mini-pizzas in the lounge on an unexpected evening.
  • A themed ice carving for a ladies luncheon.
  • Complimentary and unusual hors d’oeuvres for the weekly card game in the men’s lounge.
  • Face painting or a clown or a balloon artist at your next children’s event.
  • Complimentary wine for no special reason.  A great way to clear out dead stock or showcase new wines.

Again, the key to the wow factor is its unusual nature and unexpectedness.  Several tips:

  • Execute your wow factors where they will have the most effect – food and beverage areas, golf areas, locker rooms, special events, activities, aquatics, tennis.
  • Plan, budget, and schedule.  Formalize your program enough so that the wow factors are spread out and spread around.  Always have a budget.  Say you budget $1,000 per month for club-wide wow factors.  The cost to the club is $12,000 per year – not an inconsequential amount, but think of the benefit to member pleasure and even employee morale.
  • Wow factor ideas are everywhere.  Borrow from other establishments or something you saw on vacation.  The Internet is a treasure trove of ideas.  Google search words or phrases such as “Fun,” “Fun Ideas,” “Fun Activities,” “Fun Recreational Activities,” and “Inexpensive Activity Ideas” and you’ll get a sense for how many resources are out there.
  • To keep your costs down, get together with vendors for freebies.  Many would be thrilled to get some exposure to your members for their products and services.  Just make sure you prominently give them credit for their donations.
  • Once you’ve used a particular wow factor, save the concept for some future time.  Avoiding routine doesn’t mean never doing it again, just doing it again when unexpected.  Over time, you’ll develop an extensive list of wow factors that can be deployed for maximum effect at some future moment.
  • Keep your wow factor strategy, plans, and schedule under tight wrap.  Don’t ruin the surprise with “loose lips.”
  • Let your members do the talking about the wow factor, not you or your staff.  Act like nothing special is going on, while the members “buzz” about the unusual and unexpected.  Certainly, you may acknowledge a wow factor when asked about it, but act like it’s no deal, just some little thing that happened “spontaneously.”

There are hundreds of websites offering unusual and fun ideas.  Get your department heads and staff excited by searching out the most unusual activities, events, or ideas.  Your members will still ask, “What have you done for me lately?” but they’ll be delighted by the unexpected moments and your staff will be energized by the fun of “giving” these special gifts to your membership.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

Attending to the Basics in an Organized and Disciplined Way

Sunday, July 8th, 2018

I received a phone call a couple of weeks back from an industry colleague who belongs to a private club.  He said he was serving on a committee to look for ways to increase membership and revenues, while cutting costs.  While I mentioned a couple of ideas, I launched into my familiar pitch that almost any club could benefit from attending to the basics of the business in an organized and disciplined way.

Most of us recognize that our business is not rocket science.  The basics of what we do are well-known to any club professional.  What makes our jobs so challenging is the sheer volume of things that must be attended to daily in a detail and people-intensive business.  Unless a club operation is well-organized and its managers highly disciplined, it operates in a state of barely-controlled chaos interspersed with periods of downtime.  The challenge for all is to transition quickly from storm to calm back to storm while remaining focused on long term goals, ongoing projects, and continual process improvement.  The solution is to organize the club so that most things happen routinely and that managers at all levels be highly disciplined in approaching their duties and efforts to improve the operation.

The great majority of private clubs suffer from similar problems rooted in the same underlying causes:

  1. Standalone operations with limited resources and few economies of scale.
  2. Clubs operate multiple businesses – food and beverage, golf, tennis, aquatics, retail, recreation, and the major maintenance effort involved in golf course operations.  The knowledge and skill set to operate clubs efficiently is large and complex, and especially challenging for lean management teams working long hours and weeks.
  3. The club business is both labor and detail-intensive requiring significant ongoing training, yet without the necessary resources to adequately provide it.  As a result most clubs operate from oral tradition and service complaints are a continuing issue.
  4. Most clubs operate without a written operations plan made up of detailed standards, policies, and procedures which, as Jim Muehlhausen says in his book, The 51 Fatal Business Errors, requires managers to reinvent the wheel every day.
  5. The hospitality industry as a whole and clubs in particularly offer relatively low wage jobs, limited benefits, and challenging working conditions.  As a result high levels of staff turnover are common, particularly among line employees.
  6. Older clubs with aging memberships and outdated facilities find it challenging to find the right mix of facilities and activities to attract new members.
  7. In most markets, there is ample competition for the members’ discretionary spending – and often from operations that offer limited well-designed and executed products or services; whereas clubs must be all things to all members.
  8. In a sense, club members are a “captive” audience and can quickly grow bored or dissatisfied with the same old events and activities.  A club staff, without the ability or resources to provide frequently changing “wow” factor events, will often hear the comment, “What have you done for me lately?”
  9. In some clubs ever-changing boards offer little continuity of direction.

Given these and other specific challenges that vary from club to club, it is absolutely imperative that club managers organize their operations in detail.  My own list of requirements includes:

  1. Leadership and management training for all managers and supervisors with an aim of having consistent and disciplined, service-based leaders taking disciplined actions (the benefits of which are discussed by Jim Collins in Good to Great, Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t).
  2. Well-defined and consistently reinforced organizational values and culture of service.
  3. A written operations plan made up of standards, policies, and procedures – absolutely critical for human resources and accounting, and fostering organization and discipline in club departments.
  4. Communicate thoroughly with members through a variety of tools and techniques, including newsletter, members only website, management calling programs, and General Manager’s letters.  Understand members’ wants and preferences by taking the pulse of the membership with an annual online survey and monthly surveys of smaller subsets of members.  Analyze member spending habits and purchases to determine individual likes and dislikes, as well as popular and unpopular club initiatives and offerings.
  5. Provide ongoing, thorough training of managers and employees.  This coupled with service-based leadership and a constantly reinforced culture of service will foster employee empowerment, and as John Tschohl, President of the Service Quality Institute says, “Without empowerment, an organization will never be a service leader.  Empowerment is the most critical skill an employee can master and a company can drive in order to lure and keep customers.”
  6. Use Real Time Accounting of revenues, payroll, and other expenses to quickly spot and intervene to correct operational under-performance.
  7. Benchmarking of all areas of the operation to establish the norms of the operation.  The value of benchmarks tracked over time is immense and includes establishing realistic goals for future periods, establishing measurable accountabilities for managers, and easing the preparation and improving the accuracy of future budgets.
  8. Detailed planning, both strategic and tactical, at all levels of the operation and a habit of Continual Process Improvement.
  9. Thorough work planning and performance reviews, coupled with a policy of strict accountability for performance.  This requires developing measurable performance criteria for all managerial positions.
  10. A membership marketing plan based upon the realities of the marketplace and requiring weekly call and action reports from the membership director.  Recognizing that satisfied members are the best recruiters of new members, involve hand-picked members in the membership sales effort.

Each of these necessities, while challenging, will improve the organization and discipline of the club while fostering consistently higher levels of service.  The resulting efficiency and service of a well-run club will make it easier to attract members, which improves dues and revenues and ultimately better positions the club in the marketplace.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

Make It Sparkle!

Sunday, April 29th, 2018

When one considers all of the things that go into making a your hospitality operation distinctive and appealing to its guests or members, one of the most visible is its cleanliness.  Whether a facility has its own housekeeping staff or contracts with a cleaning service, cleanliness is an essential element of a quality operation.  As with any other aspect of quality, standards must be defined and ensured.

The following list includes some of the essential areas that must be monitored for a high level of cleanliness:

Entryways are one of the most visible areas of the facility through which every member or guest will pass and often make the first impression of any visit.  Sidewalks and pavers must be constantly blown or swept.  Cigarette butts must be policed continually; trash or butt cans must be cleaned and emptied frequently.  The entry door must be appealing.  Smudges and handprints on glass doors or sidelight windows are unsightly and require constant wiping.  The doorsill or plate has edges and grooves that collect dirt and debris and is often overlooked.  Entry walk-off mats need to be removed and cleaned daily.

Restrooms are areas where members or guests expect the highest level of sanitation and cleanliness.  They are used constantly and need constant attention.  Sinks and counters need to be wiped down.  Mirrors get spattered and must be cleaned.  Trash cans, particularly on busy occasions, can overflow with hand towels and waste.  Supplies must be checked and replenished as usage levels dictate.

Dining Rooms and Bars, because of the food and beverages served, must be kept clean and “appetizing” at all times.  Trash cans must be emptied frequently, wiped down, and sanitized to avoid offensive odors.  Carpets around tables and chairs receive spills and dropped food items.  They must be vacuumed thoroughly on a daily basis and shampooed with some frequency.  The furniture itself must be cleaned daily to prevent food buildup.  Young children can make a mess of highchairs.  These must be cleaned and sanitized after each use.  Menu covers can quickly get smudged and grimy and should be cleaned or replaced often.

Lobby or Seating Areas often have large overstuffed furniture.  These should be vacuumed daily, particularly the cushions which collect dust and debris, under cushions, and along raised seams.  Tables and bookshelves need to be dusted daily.

Picture Frames, Paintings, and Window Molding need frequent dusting and are often overlooked, particularly if high on a wall.

Windows allow light to enter and Mirrors reflect that light.  Often one doesn’t notice how dirty they can get until light hits them in a certain way and this will most certainly to be noticed by members or guests.

High Ceilings, Chandeliers, and Ceiling Fans give dramatic effect, but are the perfect place for cobwebs and dust to collect.  Inspecting with a keen eye and the use of a telescoping duster should be a daily habit, particularly in food service areas.

Verandahs and Porches require the same discipline, but even greater vigilance given their exposure to the elements and outdoor bugs and spiders.

While not as visible, Sanitation is of even greater importance given the health and hygiene implications.  A recent television report claimed that tests had shown that the handles on grocery carts harbored more germs than toilet seats.  While hospitality operations don’t use grocery carts, the undeniable implication of this story is the near universal transmission of germs by people’s hands (and this takes on even greater importance in light of the recent flu season).  A further story had a doctor saying that the most effective habit in avoiding the flu was constant hand washing.

These two stories combined point out the necessity of using disinfectant cleaners on any surface touched by human hand.  Some surfaces that readily come to mind are door knobs and handles, banisters and railings, flush handles on toilets, sink handles, armrests on chairs, bar and table surfaces, water fountains, ice machines, dish or glass washers, or any other surface or place frequented by members or guests, and employees – particularly those employees who handle food and drink.

Paying attention to these issues of cleanliness and sanitation will go a long way in creating the very real impression of a quality operation.  While the housekeeping staff or contractor is charged with the tasks of cleanliness and sanitation, it is still the managers’ responsibility to establish the standard and to ensure it is met.  Making all employees aware of the need for a clean and sanitized operation, and providing the necessary tools and training for each department to clean whenever there is spare or down time, will ensure that everyone recognizes the shared responsibility of keeping your facility clean.

And giving it that extra sparkle will help your operation and reputation shine!

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking hospitality managers throughout the country and around the world.

Guiding Principles and Operating Standards

Sunday, April 15th, 2018

Some time ago I blogged about a Culture of Service and the need for constantly reinforced organizational values.  Among those values I suggested the need for principles and standards to guide the enterprise.  Here’s one attempt to define the underlying values of an organization:

GUIDING PRINCIPLES: Principles that guide the conduct of our business!

  • Proactive leadership with service-based philosophy. Our leadership is active and engaged, while strictly adhering to service-based leadership principles (per Leadership on the Line).
  • Forward-thinking, professional expertise. Our professional knowledge should not only be up-to-date, but should be constantly looking ahead for cutting edge concepts and practices.
  • Proven management and operating systems. We utilize proven management practices and operating systems to efficiently organize and operate our club.
  • Sound planning and effective implementation. All of our projects and tasks must be planned thoroughly and implemented completely.
  • Innovative programs, continually reviewed. We offer innovative programs and we continually review them to make improvements.
  • A commitment to staff development and empowerment through formal, ongoing training. We operate in a detail intensive business and can only achieve excellence by thorough training and retraining.  Employees must be empowered to succeed and to solve member/guest issues whenever encountered.

OPERATING STANDARDS: Standards that form the basis for our operations!

  • Our vision and goals are articulated.  Our Club Strategic Plan lays out the long term goals for the operation.  Club Annual Goals are prepared as guides and targets for accomplishment.  We put them in writing to formally commit ourselves to their accomplishment.
  • We are uncompromising in our commitment to excellence, quality, and service.  To serve the highest echelons of our community, we have to set and commit to the highest standards.
  • Authority and responsibility are assigned and accountability assured.  Managers are assigned both the authority and the responsibility to direct their areas of the operation according to our highest standards.  These individuals are held accountable for their results.
  • We embrace innovation, initiative, and change while rejecting the status quo.  We seek continual improvement in all aspects of our operations.
  • Standards are defined, operations are detailed in written policy and procedure, and we seek continual improvement of products, services, programs, and operating systems.  Written standards (or the expected outcome of our “moments of truth”) for our products and services are detailed in written policies and procedures.  We seek continual improvement in these.
  • Member/guest issues are resolved politely and promptly to their complete satisfaction by our empowered employees.  No explanation needed.
  • Constant communications and feedback enhances operations and service, while problems and complaints are viewed as opportunities to improve.  We can never communicate too much or too well.  Informed employees are better employees.  Problems brought to our attention allow us to focus on solutions.
  • We benchmark revenues and sales mixes to evaluate members’ response to products, services, and programs, and we benchmark expenses, inventories, and processes to ensure efficiency and cost effectiveness.  We must pay close attention to what our members are telling us by their spending habits.  Benchmarking and analyzing expenses, inventories, and processes help us be more efficient.
  • We ensure clean, safe, well-maintained facilities and equipment while safeguarding club assets.  A good bottom line is only one measure of our effectiveness; we must also take care of all club facilities and safeguard their assets.
  • We acknowledge each operation as a team of dedicated individuals working toward common goals and we recognize the ultimate value of people in everything we do.  While each employee has his or her own duties and responsibilities, every member of our staff is important and works toward the common goal of understanding and exceeding the expectations of our members and guests.  Ultimately our business is about people and they must be valued and respected wherever and whenever encountered.

By themselves such statements have little value.  But by the  consistent example of management and the constant reinforcement to all employees these values are elevated to an animating spirit that permeates the organization.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking managers throughout the country and around the world.

Operating Standards

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

As anyone who has ever read my writings knows, I am a firm believer in written standards, policies, and procedures as the basis for a well-organized hospitality operation.  Here are some of the reasons why:

Written standards (or the expected outcome of our “moments of truth”) for our products and services must be detailed in written policies and procedures.

We cannot begin in any meaningful way to train our employees until we have defined for them the standards which we wish to achieve.  These must be in writing to allow the General Manager and owners to evaluate and concur with the standards we contemplate.  When written they allow us to consistently pass on the standards to succeeding generations of employees.

Policies and procedures are the “what and how” of the way we do things.  Employees should not be allowed to freelance.  “Discretion [on the part of employees] is the enemy of quality.”  Again, policies and procedures must be written for consistency sake.  Taken together they form the basis for most training material.

Standards, policies, and procedures must be continually reviewed and updated as necessary.  Continual process improvement is the discipline that will not permit us to rest on our laurels, but instead be constantly working to make all aspects of the operation better.

What are some of the reasons that managers do not prepare written standards, policies, and procedures?

  • It takes too much time (so they don’t mind wasting immense amounts of time dealing with untrained staff and a disorganized operation)
  • No one told them to do it (in other words, they don’t have any initiative; they’re not, as Jim Collins described in Good to Great,  “disciplined people taking disciplined action”)
  • Their writing skills are not up to it (so they’ve given up instead of looking for creative ways to make it happen)
  • They don’t know what standards, policies, or procedures to prepare (then why are they a manager? – somewhere in their heads must be an idea of how they want to organize and run their operation)
  • They don’t know what format to use (could copying Hospitality Resources International’s already designed format be any easier?)
  • They have no excuse.  Which is exactly right!

Having faced these issues in job after job in both hotels and clubs, I have over the years prepared an immense amount of written standards, policies, and procedures which are available on the Hospitality Resources International website.  You can join the site for free and begin downloading these resources and customizing them for use at your club.  So honestly, there is no longer any excuse!

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking hospitality managers throughout the country and around the world.


Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

Imagine two professional baseball teams.  One team measures every aspect of every player’s performance – the number of at bats; number of hits, walks, and strikeouts; batting averages against right- and left-handed pitchers; slugging averages; and fielding percentages.  They also measure each pitcher’s earned run average, number of base on balls, strikeouts, wild pitches; and so on.  The other team decides it’s too much trouble and keeps no statistics whatsoever.

These two teams will meet each other eighteen times a season.  While well matched in player talent, hustle, and desire, and though each team possesses competent management and coaching, one team dominates the other season after season.  Would anyone be surprised to discover which is the dominant team?

As everyone knows, this example is ludicrous because every baseball team measures players’ performance and uses this information to make crucial game decisions.  What is it that baseball managers understand that some club managers don’t seem to grasp?  The fact that everything in life follows patterns. When patterns are tracked and analyzed, they can be used to predict future performance and set goals.

Benchmarking, the act of measuring and analyzing operating performance, seeks to understand the patterns underlying a club’s operation.  Reasons to benchmark include:

  • Benchmarks can be used to establish performance goals for future operating periods.
  • Benchmarks help identify under-performance and best practices.
  • Benchmarks from past periods can make budgeting for future periods easier and far more accurate.
  • Tracking revenues and comparing them to historical benchmarks allows management to measure member response to products/services and new initiatives.
  • Benchmarks create the measurable accountabilities for each manager’s work plan.

The club’s monthly operating statements provide good basic information, but these summary numbers can mask troubling trends within the operation.  For instance, higher food revenues can be a result of less patronage, but each member spending more because of higher menu prices.  The manager is happy with the higher revenues, but is blissfully ignorant of declining clientele.

Benchmarking is best accomplished by department heads who have bottom line responsibility.  Most performance measures will fall into the following broad categories.

  • Revenues and expenses, both aggregate and by type
  • Inventories
  • Retail sales mix to determine buying patterns of members

Most of the raw data necessary to benchmark comes from point-of-sale (POS) reports.  Much of this lode of daily information gets looked at briefly by department heads or the accounting office and is then filed away, rarely to be seen again.  The real value of this information comes from tracking it over time to determine trends by day of week, week to week, month to month, and year to year.  This makes it necessary for managers to pull the information from POS reports and enter it into spreadsheet software.

A few caveats:

  • There are as many aspects of an operation to measure as time, resources, and ingenuity will allow. Focus on those most critical to one’s operation.
  • Data used in benchmarking must be defined and collected in a consistent manner.
  • When comparing data, always compare like to like.
  • Ensure benchmarks measure events with only one underlying variable.
  • Do not draw conclusions from too small a sample.  The larger the sample, the more accurate the conclusion.
  • When two pieces of data are compared to generate a benchmark, both a small sample size or extreme volatility in one or the other, can skew the resultant benchmark.

Benchmarking is not complicated, but it does require discipline and persistence.  It is best accomplished by setting up routine systems to collect, compile, report, and analyze the information collected.  Like a baseball team, the knowledge gained by benchmarking will bring a club to the top of its game.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

A Discipline of Planning

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Managing a club without a plan is like driving through a strange land without a road map.  Given the size, complexity, and money invested in making a club successful, why would anyone consider operating it by the seat of one’s pants?  Yet, this is exactly what managers do when they fail to establish a discipline of formal planning.  And make no mistake about it, it is a discipline – requiring managers and supervisors at all levels to conceive and document their plans for upcoming periods and specific events.  It also requires that the General Manager review all planning documents, as well as review progress toward completing those plans on an ongoing basis.

Every enterprise demands a plan.  Without a formal, written plan to focus attention and action upon the completion of specified goals within a specified time period, the club will lack clear direction and purpose.  By putting plans in writing, the responsible manager formally commits to its accomplishment.  Further, there is a common understanding on the part of both the subordinate manager and the General Manager of what will happen and when.  Often, the planning and execution of one department will impact other departments or the club as a whole.  Written plans ensure that all managers and department heads are fully informed about where the club is going and when things are supposed to happen.  Taking all this into account, planning is not a luxury, but a necessity for efficient operations.

Types of Plans.  Planning is necessary on many levels and in many settings.  Formally, the club should have the following:

  • A Club Annual Plan covering a period of 12 months, coinciding with the budgeting cycle.  This plan lays out the specific goals to be accomplished during the year as part of the club’s efforts toward continual improvement.
  • A General Manager’s Work Plan for the 12 months covered by the Club Annual Plan.  This plan lays out measurable accountabilities for the General Manager and is the basis the GM’s performance appraisal.
  • Departmental Plans for the 12 months covered by the Club Annual Plan.  These plans lay out the goals and objectives of each operating department.
  • A Work Plan for each Department Head for the same 12 months.  These plans do the same for the club’s department heads.
  • Plans for major project and events.  These are plans developed for specific major tasks or activities such as purchasing new golf carts, renovating a facility, or preparing for the Member-Guest Tournament.

Planning Tips.   Having gone through the planning process a number of times, I offer the following advice to all General Managers:

  • Start early.  Procrastination results in poor, disjointed planning.
  • Lay out the broad outlines of what the Board or GM wish to accomplish.  These outlines will impact the priorities and initiatives of the club’s operating departments.
  • Involve your staff.  The departmental plans must take into account the broader goals of the club, but will also include the plans and agendas of individual Department Heads.  Further, since no department works in isolation, one department’s plan may affect others – either materially or in the timing of events and accomplishments.
  • Challenge staff.  General Managers should explain the big picture of club direction and progress and then challenge Department Heads to work on specific initiatives within their departments, for example, implementing Benchmarking, setting up Tools to Beat Budget, reviewing departmental training material and plans, Continual Process Improvement.
  • Planning is a process.  No plan is completed after one pass.  Back and forth discussion between the General Manager and Department Heads and among the different departments will further refine plans insuring a well-integrated club plan.
  • Use planning as a team-building exercise.  Given the preceding tips, I encourage General Managers to use the annual planning process as a team-building process.  Call an early planning meeting with all Department Heads to lay out the purpose, process, and planning timeline.  Then establish a series of planning meetings at which each Department Head presents his or her plans to the rest of the management staff for input and feedback.  One Department Head’s ideas may spark others to similar accomplishment.  Encourage critical review of plans and challenge groups of Department Heads to work together to work on larger club or departmental initiatives.

When departmental plans are completed, General Managers must review them and incorporate the more significant items in the Annual Club Plan.  All this should be done in time to allow adequate review and feedback by the Board before the start of the budgeting process.

Lastly, plans must not be a one-time task not to be looked at again.  To be truly useful departmentals and the Club Annual Plan should be reviewed often.  I recommend a brief review of plans and accomplishments during the Monthly Review of Operating Statements.  This ongoing review and discussion of planning will ensure timely completion of tasks and keep the club on target to meet all of its Annual Goals.

Summary.  The importance of disciplined planning cannot be overstated.  Haphazard planning results in haphazard operations and equally haphazard performance.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.


Monday, December 25th, 2017

All of us who work in this business understand that club operations are both people intensive and detail intensive. It takes a lot of employees to provide the requisite levels of service in a club and every aspect of service involves countless details. These two facts make detailed, ongoing training an absolute necessity for any successful operation.

Types of Training. There are a wide variety of topics that must be taught to both managers and employees to fully prepare them for their jobs.

1.  Leadership Development Training for managers and supervisors – designed to enhance consistent leadership skills, which are the driving force behind any successful endeavor.

2.  Organizational Systems Training such as HR and Accounting Standards, Policies, and Procedures for managers and supervisors – designed to teach the underlying organization and operational systems that permit the club to operate efficiently.

3.  Club Culture Training for all employees – designed to foster a thorough understanding of the club’s values and service ethic.

4.  Legal Compliance Training for managers, supervisors, and employees – designed to provide all required training in matters with legal implications for the club such as Equal Employment Opportunity, Fair Labor Standards Act, Sexual Harassment, Family Medical Leave, etc.

5.  Liability Abatement Training in such matters as Safety and HR for managers, supervisors, and employees-designed to limit the club’s liability exposure.

6.  Service Technique Training for employees – designed to give each employee the skill set necessary to perform his job and meet the club’s high standards of service.

Items 1 through 5 above should be developed by the club for consistency sake and provided club-wide; item 6 is specific to each department and should be developed and taught by individual department heads.


Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Eight Key Basics to Successfully Operating a Private Club

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

The club industry is facing difficult times and while we are all facing challenges, each club faces its own particular problems.  As is usually the case when facing difficulties, this is the time to get back to the basics of our business.  Here are 8 things each club should examine:

1.  Leadership.  Clubs need clear-sighted individuals to guide them through tough times – but not just at the top.  They need strong leaders at all levels of operations.  It’s also important that the leadership styles of club leaders at all levels are congruent.  Different leadership approaches can dilute or damage the General Manager’s service message when it’s not reinforced consistently by all managers and supervisors in both word and deed.

2.  Organizational values and culture of service.  Every employee needs to understand what, how, and why you do what you do.  The basics of what you stand for as an enterprise are of absolute importance.  Defining your values is only the first step.  They must be continually and consistently reinforced to all employees.

3.  Planning.  Haphazard planning results in haphazard operations and equally haphazard performance.  Your club should have a 3 – 5 year strategic plan focused on your competitive position in the marketplace.  The club should have an annual plan for what it expects to accomplish and the General Manager and all Department Heads should have detailed annual work plans.  As important, the requirements of work plans must involve measurable performance parameters.  Detailed benchmarking of all areas of the operation is the easiest and best way to do this.

4.  Benchmarks.  You need to understand the variables of business volume and average sale that underlie all of your revenues.  Without this knowledge you may be lulled by historical levels of revenue when they are actually made up of declining volume, but higher prices and fees.  Benchmarking in detail is also an excellent way to listen to what members are saying with their buying habits.

5.  Accountability.  The club business is too demanding not to hold individual managers accountable for results.  The performance of every manager and supervisor must be measured against their annual work plan and there must be consequences for failing to meet goals.  Poor performing managers degrade the efforts of the rest of the team and drive away good employees.

6.  Employee Turnover.  There is a high cost to turnover and it usually related directly to the quality of the club’s leadership at all levels.  It is particularly costly when you do a good job of training your people.  Do not become the minor league training ground for your competitors – both private clubs and local restaurants.

7.  Training.  There is much for employees to know in serving your members.  You cannot expect that your employees will inherently know what to do unless they are systematically and consistently trained.  Training gives your employees the knowledge and confidence they need.  Confident employees are more apt to engage your members and provide higher levels of service.

8.  Member feedback.  You need to understand what your members think about your club, the products and services it provides, and the service your employees render.  Surveys are an excellent tool to do this, but you must act on the information you receive in intelligent and thoughtful ways to make the most cost-effective decisions in satisfying wants and needs.

Getting back to the basics is a sure way to regain your footing during and after the current seismic shift taking place in our industry.  The good news is, and there’s always a silver lining, that the best leaders and their operations will inevitably rise to the top.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.