In this month’s Think Rink, we are sharing insights from Andy Knapper, Club Manager at Whiteknights Indoor Bowls Club in Berkshire.
When Andy started at the club in 2014, membership was declining year on year. Fast-forward to this year, and the club has just welcomed nearly 200 people at its open days. 40 of those people have already signed up, and a further 70 have committed to coaching sessions.
Andy says the key to the club's success is that they treat it like a business.
Here are his tips:
“Everything that used to be done at the club was run through a board of directors and myself,” Andy says.
“Any kind of open days and taster days would be planned by the board.” Andy says that the problem with this is approach is that in committee meeting environments, people go off on tangents and you start hearing a lot of different opinions. “You lose track of stuff quite quickly. The focus goes and, before you know it, you are on to the next thing, having not given the original matter the amount of time and effort that it needs.”
His suggestion is to break down some of the projects and set up sub-groups within the board to look at specific areas in more detail.
“The Marketing and Membership sub-group consists of five people who meet on a monthly basis and are specifically focused on member retention, going out and raising the profile of the club and planning and organising open days.”
Andy recommends assigning action points to each person, that they then report on when they’ve been achieved.
At Whiteknights, one person is responsible for social media. The club uses Facebook and Twitter for general, generic posts, while also posting on the pages of local groups that are in the area (for more detailed social media advice, take a look at our last Think Rink post).
Another person on the sub-committee is responsible for magazine and newspaper coverage, which includes free publications in the area. They invite editors to visit the club, then follow up with a press release and photos.
As well as organic social media, the club ran paid Facebook campaigns. They also printed flyers ad targeted 30,000 homes in the area. The cost of advertising and marketing club open days is in the region of £4,000, which may sound steep but Andy says it has already more than paid for itself.
“We had 195 people through the doors on the two days,” he says.
Before the pandemic, the club would run open days on the first two Sundays of the season from 9am until 4pm.
However, they found that people would arrive between 9 and 11am, with only a handful of people staying for the rest of the day.
There would be an initial flood of people, who’d get rushed around the club so we could move onto the next group. He calls the experience “awful” and says they weren’t selling the club as they should have been.
To solve this issue, they implemented a booking system. This means the open days have structure, and they know ahead of time who’s coming. They can then assign coaches and volunteers to each rink and make sure the sessions run smoothly.
Tailor the experience to the person
When people arrive for the open day, staff on the front desk ask what they’re looking for in a club. Based on whether they’re looking for a social or more competitive experience, the club can then tailor activities for them.
This initial conversation is also a chance for them to find out how the guest found out about the open day which, in turn, helps them to understand if they’re allocating their advertising spend wisely.
Give your visitors a full taste of your club
After guests have checked in, they are taken to the rinks. The coach does a brief session – nothing too technical – then visitors are taken for a tour of the club, before ending up in the lounge for refreshments and a talk from a volunteer about their experience of bowls.
Andy would also recommend producing membership welcome packs for each attendee. These really help prospective members get a feel for the club, by breaking things down simply and concisely.
The packs contain a membership form, as well as a list of matches and social fixtures. Andy believes they’re worthwhile to produce as they look professional and provide all the information prospective new members need in one handy package they can take home with them.
After a successful open day, the next steps are crucial. A lot of new members are unsure when they first start, and require some guidance.
At Whiteknights, new members are contacted regularly and guided towards a number of initiatives. This includes new bowlers’ roll ups, a welcome coffee morning, and new bowlers’ leagues where everyone gets an opportunity to play.
Many people join a bowls club is to be part of a community, so Andy recommends running social events to enhance that community feel.
Andy regularly sends emails out to large businesses in the area. “It’s amazing how people talk and the ball starts rolling,” he says. “We had an NHS group that came to book a room for a meeting. When they were here we put on a little bowling session for them and that led to an eight-room booking for the year including food and drink.”
This NHS group booking then snowballed and led to another booking for 50 people at Christmas.
“If you do it well, you can undercut the places they are going to. We can do a buffet for half the price that a hotel can, while it still is very profitable for us. If you can get them on the green too, it is even better.”
Ultimately, what it comes down to, is clubs need to be thinking about what they can do that they’re not already doing. They also need to think about what they charge against running costs, especially with those costs going up at the moment. Make sure your club isn’t underselling itself!
Andy’s final takeaway:
“Nothing will change unless you start being proactive and plan. If you can do that and do it well, other clubs will be copying you. Clubs are not in competition and the reality is if one goes down the pan, it will negatively affect your club. We should be doing more to help each other.”
Be sure to check back in as we’ll be posting regular top tips on our blog. The team at b4b, the Poole-based marketing agency behind the Bowlr system, can offer a range of marketing packages to help you spread the word about your club. They will be able to help with some of the things Andy suggested, such as flyer design and printing, paid social ads, and writing press releases. Get in touch with them today on 01202 684400 for more information!