Saturday, June 22, 2013

Think Outside the Box with No Fear

River Run Golf Club

Often in this space and always with the facilities I work with I champion the promotion over the discount. Simply put, the farther you move down in price the harder it is to get back; the more value you add to the proposition, the more attractive and hard to turn down. Discounting is easy, promoting requires more effort and the right idea.

One of my long-time clients and sagest friends in the industry is Hunt Crosby. Hunt is part owner of Pam’s Golf Getaway and the Director of Golf at River Run Golf Club in Ocean City, Maryland. Obviously the multiple hats  he wears cause him to be concerned when rounds are down. What I find most refreshing about our relationship and conversation is that Hunt is never without a new idea to throw at the problem, any problem.

Hunt, over the years we have had many discussions about increasing dollars per round as well as increasing rounds played and you always seem quick to the heart of the matter. What is your basic marketing philosophy that drives that insight?

My basic marketing philosophy is made up of two parts. First, know your box. Every market is its own unique box, with certain specific segments. In Ocean City, for example, and particularly at a semi-private facility like River Run, we to market to members, locals, outings, tourists and the package players that we book through Pam's. This is the box we live in and it's clich√© but we want to be everything to everybody. It is very difficult to accomplish that without conflict between segments. Basically each segment needs to be addressed individually but the effort needs to hang together coherently. The second part of my philosophy is - if it doesn't interfere with the box - Let's try it.

A few years back you enticed me to bring a group here to play River Run with a combo package of a round of golf and a steak dinner. It was an easy sale to my buddies and everyone was happy with the deal. This may not sound like a towering testimonial, but this was a tough group and this is an incredibly competitive market.

Lots of owners talk about the need to add value to their experience, but at most clubs when the staff brings up an idea they get a lecture about how much it will cost. Then one of two things happens, the idea is tweaked to reduce cost to the point that there is no perceived value to the golfer or they decide not to try it because it costs too much. Either way it is a failure. Worse, the boss blames the messenger for a bad idea, and the visionary thinks the boss is unwilling to take their ideas seriously. Bottom line you try fewer and fewer things and nothing changes.

When adding value (not reducing cost) I say go big or go home - it is usually better to try something outrageous than to worry about tweaking it. The ownership at River Run is always willing to try new ideas and the steak dinner promotion you refer to is one of our best.

The basics are pretty simple - book a round of golf after noon during our golf package season and we throw in a free steak dinner. This is the same steak dinner we have on the menu at $27. The free entre√© includes the steak, starch and vegetable, golfers are told they have to pay cash for the sales tax, gratuity and other incidental purchases. There is no doubt that the golfer perceives this as a $27 value. He/she can see the price on the menu. The course can now maintain its higher morning rate until 3PM and pays the restaurant $20. Our food cost for this is $9 - the neat thing is they typically spend another $16 per person on drinks and appetizers on which our cost is $6.

Bottom line is everyone wins. The course has had some days where we have had 100 afternoon rounds as a result of this promotion, the restaurant makes money, the staff makes money, and most important the golfer gets a "great deal".

I recently overheard you on the phone suggest to a long-time regular whose group plays every Thursday morning that you wanted to provide them with the format for a member guest tournament. I thought this was off the top of your head genius. Would you expound on this concept?

I always say in theory all any course would have to do to be successful is simply to get everyone who plays your course to play one more time per season. Great theory but can be tough to do.

Every public course has groups of regulars. What we try to do is get them to have a member guest type of event in addition to their regular play. We try and provide the same experience a member at a private club would receive. This builds terrific loyalty and because we schedule them when we need the business it generates added revenue.

Sometimes it is as easy as asking for the sale - every group we have approached has scheduled an event.

The weather in this area has caused the start of the season to seem like the light at the end of the tunnel. What are you doing at River Run to try to offset the loss of rounds both short-term and long-term?

Short-term the mind-set is bad spring needs a good summer. We have dramatically increased our email campaign to locals - the part of the "box" we know to be here. We also have a radio and newspaper campaign that offers "Pay full fare for the first round and play as a member the rest of the week which is a significant savings and yield management savvy. Long term we'll do more of the same and hope for better weather.

We have done service seminars together for your group at River Run and I know you to survey your customers both through Pam's data base and at the course. These are both customer-centric business principles that are getting a lot of talk lately. 

Service seminars are important particularly at the beginning of the season because of employee turnover. Aside from setting parameters when new employees are hired and on-the-job-training, the staff needs to continue to be inspired.

I do ask for feedback from members/regulars in a variety of ways because it's not what I think about our product or the marketing plan, it's what the customer thinks that matters. The truth be told you can garner everything you need to know by asking two questions:

How likely is it that you would refer us to a friend or colleague?

Is there anything about your experience (good or bad) that you would like to comment on?

Hunt, I really want to thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts. Are there any other words of wisdom?

You and I talk often about enhancing the experience and adding value but it starts with being good hosts. My favorite first-tee sign I saw at a public course in Florida -

"Ladies and Gentlemen Don't Require Rules"

Obviously, Hunt is willing to "think outside the box" when it comes to promotions and marketing, but his philosophy is that you have to thoroughly know and have analyzed that box. The same can be said for promoting in the shop - once the relevance to the customer is understood and believed in, you should be able to proceed with no fear.