Rod Heckelman's career
started in 1966 when he began his five-year role as a teacher at John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch in Carmel Valley, California Later he opened as the resident pro for Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch on Camelback in Scottsdale, Arizona. In 1976 he took over as head pro/tennis director at the Mt. Tam Racquet Club in
Larkspur, California, and added the title and responsibilities of general manager in 1982. In 2010 he was awarded “Manager of the Year” for the USPTA NorCal Division and the “Manager of the Year” at the USPTA World Conference.
He has written several books including, “Down Your Alley” in 1993, “Playing Into the Sunset” in 2013 and most recently, “250 Ways to Play Tennis.” He also produced the “Facility Manager’s Manual” and the “Business Handbook for Tennis Pros,” which is distributed by the TIA.
Calming Waters, But Still Treacherous
By Rod Heckelman
We can see some hopeful signs that we are heading in the right direction. Still much is unknown and as a result, much new treacherous business turf to navigate. To say the tennis industry survived is the best and most encouraging comment we can make at this juncture. Sadly, many tennis facilities, tennis pros, basically anyone affiliated with a tennis club or organization, are all on thin ice for a while.
Our first step, assuming we are still afloat, is to assess the damage and the losses. We lost members, lessons, sales in the pro shop, and most importantly, maybe some valuable staff members. We will be up against the obvious challenges, the loss of members due to their own personal financial issues and the spillover effect of the local businesses suffering. These issues will just require a little financial aid and time for the economy to turn around. No short cut here, simply hard work.
The one issue we can immediately address, but only if we recognize it, is the issue of our public relations with the members and the community. When many clubs had to suddenly close, there was an inconsistent response to either stopping dues, or reducing the fees that clubs were charging monthly. Some clubs were quick to set up a policy, but many had to deal with the reality of keeping their staff on payroll. There was also the agonizing fact the when dealing with the government, it can take forever for someone to throw out the life preserver. The P. R. issue will vary from club to club, depending on the loyalty of their membership and the dynamics of the interaction that took place between the membership and those in clubs making these big decisions. Add to that, the many different types of clubs that operate financially in so many ways, and it was hard to find a guideline or direction to follow. A private business would react completely different than a public or non-profit organization, or even a membership owned club. Slow polices, or vague policies resulted in rumors and insecurity.
Many clubs had to deal with unhappy and concerned members who for years had relied heavily on using the club, both for exercise and their love for the game. They also lost that especially important factor of their social relationships with other members or events held at their club. With so much frustration, it was inevitable that some would vent their anger towards the management or ownership of their club. No one here is to blame, after all, one of the commons means of torture is to isolate someone and take them from their routines and normal world…which was, unfortunately, the necessary result of Shelter in Place.
So here are some solutions and hopeful outcomes. The loss of some members will most likely be a short-term situation. Because we came out of a strong economy, getting a foothold and regathering the troops will be difficult, but doable. Hopefully, clubs put together a database of all the members that left, as well as keeping a good relationship with your staff so they can quickly get back into the mix.
This is also a great opportunity to investigate creative membership sales that provide an easy entry back into your club. Leagues will take a while to come back, so put your energy into programs and social events that capitalize on the fact that tennis is by nature a sport that has a distance between participants. This is very relevant to the children, remember that other team sports and activities will continue to take a hit over the coming few years…the gathering of large groups and the travel will not sit well with many parents. Gear up now for many young learnings getting back into the game. These people could be your best solution to filling up those empty courts. This sport could very well be on the precipice of a tremendous boon.
Get involved with your community. If you want to improve your image, that is where it will begin. There will be hundreds of opportunities to help out others, and though you may not have the finances to help, you do have a facility and that can provide a place and location for everything from fundraisers to special programs. If you have a Café or Restaurant, share your space with the struggling local venues that are having trouble getting off the ground…what a great way to increase your traffic for your facility.
Schools will be looking for help. Clubs can provide this help by having recreational events…they don’t have to be tennis. Think about how summer camps will go this summer, they are going to be under great demand, how will they be modeled to adjust to the new health parameters.
Traveling is not going to be on anyone’s list for a while. What are your community people going to do to stay active, healthy and have fun? Put your mind to work and think of ways to bring in everyone in your community, member or not, to be able to have a great experience at your facility. This is a gigantic opportunity…we have a captive audience.
Those in our industry became masters, or at least more capable, of providing on-line instruction and programming. Don’t stop doing that. When you go back to a live audience, record those sessions, investigate inexpensive camera companies that can record and share information. Remember Track.Tennis?
Lastly, we discovered that staying in touch with our membership became more important than ever. Members wanted to know when those Zoom classes were and how they could reach out to other members. Software like MyClub, again very affordable, provides an organic way for members to mingle, find others to play with, acquire court time and keep up with all the events and activities that are on the schedule.
You know the saying, some see the glass half full, others half empty…well, in this case, the glass was nearly empty, but as luck or opportunity may have it, we could very well be experiencing the glass overflowing.