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Are You a Customer Thief?

By James Cronk


How is business? Do you expect more golfers this year than last year?

Do you expect your membership to grow? Your revenues to increase?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you either have a magic ‘weather-maker machine’, or more likely, you are planning to do what most golf clubs are striving for in this very challenging industry… to steal customers from your competitors!

Stealing customers and stealing members?  That’s a harsh way to describe it isn’t it?  Well, are you worried about being politically correct or are you more concerned about growing your membership, or increasing revenues per golfer, or keeping the bank manager from calling you at home?

If you operate in a golf market that has an oversupply of courses and more thirty year olds who would rather tap on their IPhone then tap in a birdie, you have declining options for growing your business.  No doubt that the investment to build a golfer from scratch is a very important and worthy effort for the long-term health of your business, and having a robust junior program and a successful ‘learn to golf’ effort for adults will ensure you are able to retire one day.  But that is helpful only if you last that long! Increasing costs, more demanding members and customers, and new pressures such as water and pesticide restrictions might force you into early retirement without giving you the proverbial gold watch.

So what do we do to grow our business NOW?

Well, if we sold widgets for a living, we would be focused on one thing – selling widgets to people who need them.  So if we were really good at finding these widget lovers, would we be successful? The answer is sadly no ladies and gentlemen, because golf is not a widget.  Our amazing and wonderful activity called golf isn’t a necessity (although some of our members think it is) but an option.  Our customers choose to spend their hard earned dollars to pay a green fee, or a membership, and to take time out of their increasingly busy lives to tee it up.  With the state of their world these days, it seems that in many places there are less people seeking our widget product, and worse still, it’s likely that in your county or country, there are too many widget sellers and many of them are offering their widgets for half price.

So, how do we survive and grow? Well, if there are only X number of buyers and Y number of sellers, and X is not growing but Y is, we must convince the customer that our widget is best.  If needed, we must steal away these limited customers from our competition, and we can do so by delivering the three principles that will make us a successful widget company.  First, make a great widget.  Second, make sure every widget buyer knows we have a great widget. And third, deliver such a great widget experience that our widget buyer never wants to go elsewhere for his widget!

So enough about widgets… it’s more the ‘wedges’ we are after.

Hands up those clubs who are increasing expenses in 2013? Okay, the two of you should skip this article and pick up a copy of the classifieds and look under the employment section for a job that is titled ‘seeking newly displaced manager with blinders on’.  Even if you have the money, you should stash it away for the day for when you really need it (like next year).

The responsible thing to do in a challenging market with an oversupply of competition and a shrinking market is to reduce our costs.  But…and it’s a big but…we must find ways to save that doesn’t impact the quality of our product.  If we need to reduce our costs, and we all do, we should do everything possible to not let the quality of our product suffer, since that is usually the first thing our loyal customers and members will notice.  When was the last time you heard one of your golfers say about another course, “They have really let the (insert ‘greens’, ‘fairways’, ‘clubhouse’ etc) get in rough shape”.  It was likely the last time you chatted with a member! So, reduce operational hours, find partners instead of suppliers that want to promote to your clients or better yet, improve the efficiency of your staff and reduce your labour costs, but whatever you do, don’t stop mowing greens, picking weeds or cleaning the parking lot.

If you have a great product, are you shouting it from the rooftops? Does every single golfer within 100km/miles know what you offer that other facilities don’t? Do you pride yourself on having the best conditions, best service, the best hot dog or the best bang for the buck?  No matter what your unique selling proposition, does every possible widget buyer golfer know who you are, what is your promise and what they will get by choosing you over someone else? If not, make this a number one priority. We must be a difference maker. If their option is course A or course B, we must be able to clearly and effectively communicate why choose us? Every element of our communications and marketing needs to clearly describe our features and benefits and more importantly, a call to action.  If you are challenged by coming up with creative ideas, no problem but then find someone who does (like LEGENDARY of course), or at least pick up one of the million books available on effective sales and marketing.

Finally, and most importantly, are you delivering such exceptional value and experiences to your customers that they are so loyal they will promote your course to their friends? Do you provide custom experiences that fit their needs? If they only want to play fourteen holes will you make that happen? Or will your staff say. “Fourteen holes? Are you absurd? Do you realize the history of our course? Do you understand that our course was designed by (insert non-recognizable name to the masses here)”?  We are in the entertainment business, and when our customers choose to spend their entertainment dollar, they want to see that staff make an effort to meet and exceed their expectations and that we don’t take them for granted.  People who work in the golf business sometimes have a tendency to believe that customers are here because they want to play golf, and that as an employee I have little impact on their choices. The reality is that each of us who love this great game of golf, who believe so strongly in the values and benefits that the game has to offer, must do everything possible to convince people that playing just ONE more round this summer is good for them (while being good for us).

In most parts of the world, not all, but most, it is time to start casing out your competition, be the best that you can be, and grab the loot wherever you can find it.


James Cronk is principle of Cronk Group, a golf industry consulting company in Canada.  With over twenty years experience as a golf professional and club manager, he is a speaker, trainer and consultant who has worked with hundreds of clubs and organizations, including NGCOA Canada, NGCOA United States, Canadian Society of Club Managers, Golf 2020 and many private and public golf facilities. For more information visit www.cronkgroup.com .

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3750 St. Paul’s Avenue, North Vancouver, BC V7N 1T3

O) 604.986.1824 C) 604.889.4707 E) james@cronkgroup.com




Download and apply these 10 ‘POWER ON’ principles and see immediate improvements in the satisfaction of your staff, your guests and your bottom line!

James Cronk

For the past twenty-five years James Cronk has been helping business owners get themselves, their people and their customers powered on. He uses a unique blend of creativity, experience and proven systems to help golf clubs achieve their goals and increase their profits by improving their systems, their service and their people!
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