18 Oct 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
 
 
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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2017 issue 10

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Leisure Management - Staying Competitive

IHRSA update

Staying Competitive
Catherine Larner
Clubs must work smart to stay relevant according to Laing
Branston Golf and Country Club is spread across 110 acres of land

The Branston Golf and Country Club is an independent spacious facility that has the good fortune both to be situated in an oasis of English countryside and to be a leader in its market. Despite these advantages, its managing director Ben Laing knows that it’s foolish to take anything for granted. That’s why Laing has turned to the resources IHRSA has to offer to inform the changes and investments the company intends to make over the next 18 months.

“We’re positioned at the premium end in terms of products and quality of service for a country club facility,” he explains. “However, over the past 12 years, we’ve seen a rise in the number of local independent facilities and national chains. And, over the past 12 months, there’s been an explosion in the number of competitors in the budget club segment.”

It’s clear to Laing that some of Branston’s current offerings are being challenged, and that his club needs to respond to remain relevant and successful. But this is nothing new.

STAYING RELEVANT
Some 25 years ago, owner Roger Kerry transformed what was then a tired and shabby local authority-owned golf course into what Branston is today – one of the leading golf clubs in the Midlands, with a picturesque 18-hole course overlooking the River Trent.

From the outset, however, Kerry realised that the remarkable 110-acre site needed to offer much more than tees and beautiful greens in order to remain competitive. To that end, he created a 30,000-sq ft clubhouse, which includes a well-stocked, 3,000-sq ft gym, several studios, a pool, spa, restaurant and conference facilities.

Effectively, he turned a male-dominated golf facility into the comfortable, lively and social family club it is today.

Currently, the club has 3,500 members (2,500 of them fitness-only), with an equal number of men and women, who pay up to £740 (US$1,000) a year for their membership privileges. “Now, we need to ensure that when people join us specifically for health and fitness, they’re getting the very best,” points out Laing.

As a result, he plans to expand the gym, providing a larger space for group exercise, adding a second pool and upgrading the changing facilities. But, before “the spade goes in the ground,” he’s tasked his team with sourcing reports, analyses and opinions from throughout the greater IHRSA universe.

Having worked for Marriott Hotels for 11 years before he joined Branston four years ago, Laing understands the pros and cons of operating a standalone facility.

“There are politics and bureaucracy in a corporate chain that can be frustrating,” he acknowledges.

“Here, we can make decisions for our business today, and implement them tomorrow. But we have to work to find industry best practices, sourcing information from as many organisations as we can.”

He also recognises that, as an independent operator, there’s always the risk of becoming somewhat insular. “We’re not part of a chain or group with the ability to observe what’s going on elsewhere so that we can benchmark against other clubs,” he says.

“But IHRSA has given us the opportunity to tap into rich resources, identifying best practices and new trends in the wider market.”

Branston has been a member of IHRSA for more than 20 years, and its team has regularly attended its annual convention and trade show in the US, as well as its annual European Congress, which, this year, will be taking place in London on October 23–26.

INTERNATIONAL INSPIRATION
In recent years, however, the club's management team has sought support with respect to its specific needs via IHRSA data, reports and webinars, and visits to other member clubs.

“Not all of the latest trends emanate from the UK,” Laing concedes. “The US is certainly a big leader in the country club market.” And there’s much to be learned from its service culture, he says. “Whenever I come back from the States, I’m always aware of the high standard I’ve observed there.”

To gain firsthand experience with other clubs, Laing has called on IHRSA to arrange a number of club tours in the US and Europe, including one trip to Germany several years ago.

“We gave the IHRSA staff a briefing on what we were looking to achieve, and they set up visits and introduced us to the operators,” Laing recalls. “At the end of each day, we shared our observations with the local people, who gave their views and understanding of that particular European market.”

During these visits, Laing discovered how different clubs were embracing technology, and how they had developed procedures to maintain high operating standards. “We observed how those in the premium market always made sure that they delivered on their promise of quality.”

IHRSA’s distance-learning options are also proving to be a huge benefit for this UK club. Recently, for example, Laing downloaded a webinar on marketing, and shared it with his operations and sales team. “It’s proven very beneficial,” he attests. “The webinars are useful because the people leading these sessions are actual operators. They’re tapping their own practical experience. It’s not theoretical.”

Being able to learn from your peers – people who often face the same challenges that you do – is one of the “priceless” benefits of IHRSA membership, reflects Laing, who clearly appreciates how willing other IHRSA operators are to share the lessons they’ve learned.

What has he gained from IHRSA resources that will help Branston continue to be successful? Well, among other things, increased confidence in challenging times. “If we’re providing a great experience, great service and great technology, then I think we’ll continue to have a winning product – one that continues to set us apart from the competition.”


About IHRSA
IHRSA is the global trade association which represents 10,000 health and fitness facilities and suppliers.

Locate an IHRSA club at www.healthclubs.com

Learn how IHRSA can help your business at www.ihrsa.org


Originally published in Health Club Management 2017 issue 10

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