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Building Your Granddaughter’s Club: Strategies for the Future

As we begin to emerge from this pandemic and learn to live and manage with COVID-19 and its subsequent variations, the club industry has used the last year and half not just to survive but to chart a path of thoughtful strategic planning. I have read more interesting strategic plans in the last 12 months than I read in my 32 years of club management. I have seen a deliberate change in strategic planning with many clubs looking 10, 20 and 30 years ahead. This is a remarkable change from the typical 1- to 3-year strategic plan and it appears our industry has used this time to reflect and look multigenerations ahead of us.  

Today, when I’m in a committee meeting generally surrounded by senior club members talking about the future of The Union League of Philadelphia, my first questions are, “What would your granddaughters want and need in the future? What would they say about our discussions today?  How can we best make decisions now so that your granddaughters will covet membership and be a part of our great multigenerational institution?” 

Differential Authentic Experiences 

Our unscientific research seems to be working well. We conduct focus groups with individuals under 40, both members and nonmembers, to gain insights to help us strategize for the future. We have found three distinct concepts emerging from our conversations with the next two generations of members. First, future generations will continue to value authentic and differential experiences over material items, with urbanization continuing its strong pull as part of that lifestyle living strategy. Existing city clubs are well-positioned to take advantage of this trend, and suburban clubs have plenty of opportunities for real estate in hip urban areas that have become available due to retail stores morphing to an online strategy. 

Building on this concept, The League has purchased amenities in our region that will satisfy the next generation with their desire to have differential authentic experiences. We have added three country clubs with three distinctive golf courses to complement our Center City clubhouse as well as two independent member-only restaurants, one on the Main Line outside Philadelphia and one “down the shore” in N.J. Most traditional suburban country clubs can easily add a downtown location. Most urban areas attract from a 360-degree radius thus enabling a country club from any side of a city to easily open an urban location. Regarding Philadelphia and The League, we had to blanket our entire surrounding area as we have members to the north, south, east and west.  

Social Network Values 

Secondly, there are serious social dynamics that are changing with the next generations of members. One simple example is the advent of communication technology. The next generation of members have 50 close friends and more than 500 social connections. A typical 1975 club member had five good friends and 25 social connections. One can argue the deepness of those relationships but there is no denial of the sheer expansion of our social networks. Out of this technology has come the concept where we see future members who will highly value individualism and diversity with a determination to belong to a club that is inclusively exclusive with world class service and a purpose. As always, high quality, purpose-driven clubs with excellent amenities are timeless. At The League we have doubled down on our motto, “Love of Country Leads,” with support of the U.S. Constitution, the free enterprise system, limited government and the unalienable rights of every individual as our purpose-driven mission. 

Good Change 

Finally, our research has shown something that is probably pretty obvious. There is a quickening pace to the idea of instant gratification with every passing generation. Amazon Prime is just the tip of the spear. Our strategic plan addresses this real expectation by spacing our improvements out as best we can so that members have something new and shiny to enjoy every year. We have built this Kaizen principle (Japanese for “good change”) directly into our 20-year strategic plan.  

A good example is when The League bought its first golf course seven years ago. Golf was waning, and we were thinking of ways to grow the game and satisfy this instant gratification concept for the members of tomorrow. We innovated by offering all golf members complimentary golf lessons, including their spouses, children and grandchildren. New golfers now get instant gratification from improving their golf skills from day one. This year we had 17 members whose score never broke 100 break 80.  

In the end, understanding what your granddaughters will want and need in the club of tomorrow should be exactly how you should set your course today. The future is extremely bright for private social clubs who craft the right long-term strategic plan.  

Jeff McFadden is the CEO at The Union League of Philadelphia and a director of the National Club Association. He can be reached at [email protected]