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USATT Hall of Famer Larry Hodges

Fill the Club

Fill the Club
By USATT Hall of Famer Larry Hodges

Want to fill your club and make it successful? But I repeat myself.

Far too often I’ve seen clubs struggle and fail because they focused on having a really nice club that people would pay good money for, and figured they’d gradually build membership up. The problem is a club with few members isn’t very enticing for most new players, and so you lose them as fast as you get them. So the first goal is to fill the club, which will make it successful, as well as having a nice club. (Nice club generally means good playing conditions – floors, lighting, and enough room; clean and neat; and various programs, such as private and group coaching, a junior program, leagues, and tournaments.)

In addition to just having a nice club, here are three rules I believe are at the core of most successful clubs. (Much of this applies more to full-time clubs, but it also applies to part-time ones.) There are of course other models, but I believe that the bulk of the successful ones understand and follow these principles – and is a primary reason why we’ve had so many successful full-time clubs pop up all over the country over the past eight years, many of them following the model created by the Maryland Table Tennis Center, which I co-founded in 1992 and became the first successful full-time club centered on coaching and training.

  1. Fill the club. That should be your primary goal. Keep membership rates relatively low until the club has filled up. If the club needs revenue (as is the case for most full-time clubs), then filling the club up is the answer, not charging high membership rates. If you fill the club up, those players aren’t just buying memberships; they are paying for private coaching, weekly group coaching, training camps, junior programs, leagues, tournaments, equipment, and food and beverages. Plus, lower membership rates lead to more members, and you likely end up with more revenue that way than with higher rates but fewer players paying them. (If your club relies almost entirely on memberships for revenue, then they are losing out on a lot, though of course many smaller clubs or ones with an inexpensive facility can get away with this.)
  2. Start out with programs once a week. Don’t make the classic mistake of offering group sessions (junior or adult) or leagues multiple times per week right from the start. Offer it one day a week, and fill it up. After you fill up the first day, offer a second, and then a third, and so on. If you start on multiple days, you end up with a low turnout on each, and when people see how few others are there, they tend to lose interest. This is true of most programs, but especially of junior programs – when a kid comes to the club and sees only a few others, he loses interest. If necessary, invite local juniors in for free at the start to make sure you have ten or more kids at the start. This idea also applies to training camps – rather than offer them every week all summer and get low turnouts, offer perhaps one a month until you fill them up. (What type of programs should your club run? Weekly junior training and/or adult training; training camps – mostly during summer and school breaks; and leagues.)
  3. Let full-time coaches keep most of their private coaching money. Many clubs make the mistake of requiring their full-time coaches to turn over a good portion of their private coaching fees, sometimes as much as half. This results in the coach having less incentive to bring in new students (i.e. new players for the club) and work long hours. You end up with fewer and less active coaches who aren’t bringing in many students, and who have incentive to find another place to coach at.Instead, the implicit deal with your full-time coaches is that in return for their bringing in new players (i.e. filling the club) and working long hours, they get to keep the bulk of the money they receive from private coaching. For example, the coach might give the club $10/hour for coaching privately (out of the typically $40-$60/hour they charge), with perhaps a maximum $500 or so per month, so that the coach has incentive to bring in lots of players and coach long hours.You want your full-time coaches to become rich because if they do, the club prospers from all the students they bring in. You want coaches who bring in students and fill the club, and those new players pay for memberships, weekly group coaching, training camps, junior programs, leagues, tournaments, equipment, and food and beverages. By letting the coaches keep the bulk of their private coaching fees you make your club an attractive place to coach at, and so you get more full-time coaches, each bringing in new players. (Coaches not only bring in new players, they keep current ones active and so you don’t lose them. Info on bringing in new students is in the Professional Coaches Handbook – see below.)

    The idea of letting coaches keep the bulk of their private coaching fees mostly works for full-time coaches. Part-time ones usually get their few students from current players, and so don’t really help the club financially from their coaching except by the money they turn over directly to the club.

    The club should take a higher percentage from group sessions (weekly ones or training camps), either paying the coach an hourly wage, or a percentage of income. That should be a good source of revenue for the club.

Here are other resources that might help.