THE TERM “TRIBALISM” has received a proliferation of media coverage, all noting the trend’s recent influence on technology, politics, special interests, socio economics, and more. At its most basic level, tribalism describes the innate human desire to belong to a group of people who think and feel the same as you. Although critical to the process of evolution, its rich social structure took a backseat to the shared ideals of a new America. The private club became a hybrid of sorts, designed to appeal to common interests and deliver a shared experience in exchange for mass coalescence.
Today, sweeping demographic change in the American landscape has put tribalism back in the driver’s seat. New, nontraditional and multi-cultural norms focused on individuality and close interpersonal relationships are being established, and the modern consumer wants customized experiences on demand. As a society, we rarely watch television together anymore, we’re following the whim of our taste buds and dining out more than we’re eating in, and we’re more inclined to point and click for our needs and wants rather than stroll a shopping mall with one another.
So, what does it all mean for the private club industry?
Ours is a strange and beautiful world in so many ways. We often build a home (clubhouse) that features a kitchen, dining room (restaurant), family room (bar), bathrooms (locker rooms), and formal living rooms that are reserved for special occasions and guests (banquet and conference space). We complement this with an expensive backyard (golf course) and add in the latest toys (pool, tennis courts, fitness centers, and more). We then invite as many neighbors as we need (or want) to come over to our house and play, asking that they treat each other kindly and requiring that they consume a certain amount of food, dress as they are told, and pay for the privilege of use no matter how much it costs—as long as it doesn’t cost too much. The neighbors (members) rotate in and out of the role as head of household (club presidents), and too often the neighbors (members) undervalue the good faith efforts of the other rotating volunteers (boards and committees) because their subjective interests or freedoms are not uniformly met.
The record level of capital reinvestment in our industry is a healthy sign that private clubs from coast to coast are meeting the challenges head on, but the clubs that become stronger as a result will be those who fully understand the distinct preferences represented in the tribe they serve. Only then will they be able to inspire and attract a more evolved membership base that can only be coalesced through a shared desire to enrich their own lives as individuals. The industry is poised to reinvent itself, invigorated by the both the threats and opportunities tribalism has fueled. What a ride this should be.