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Private Club Success in a Post-Pandemic World: Frank Vain, CEO–The McMahon Group.

As life after the pandemic starts to resemble pre-2020, private clubs face a crucial question: are they equipped for the future? Gone will be the days of long waitlists with members fleeing at assessment time. Today's landscape demands fresh thinking to attract younger generations and retain seasoned members.

Why? A generational wealth transfer of over $16 trillion from Boomers to their families is set to occur within the next decade, according to the New York Times. This means millennials with discretionary income will choose how to spend their time and money with family.

A New Golden Age Arising

Frank Vain, CEO of The McMahon Group, believes this convergence of wealth and a post-pandemic club resurgence paves the way for a "Golden Age" for private clubs. Clubs are innovating, driven by pandemic changes but also recognizing the shifting demographics of potential members.


Millennials, now entering their club-worthy years, see the social and financial benefits of membership. The key lies in creating experiences that cater to both younger and older generations. While the average member age remains in the mid-fifties, the 42-year-old couple with young children is the prime "joiner." This group, along with the 80 million "older Millennials" behind them, represent a massive pool of potential members with disposable income.

"It really ought to be something that lasts for quite a while. And I would say it's, you know, six, seven, eight, nine years you can look out there and all these factors seem to be playing into (the club’s) favor," says Vain.

Building Family-Focused Communities

The key is building a sense of community for these families with amenities that appeal to everyone–including long-time members. This may mean reimagined pool experiences with waterscapes, slides, and fountains. It could also include adding pickleball or advanced tennis and golf instruction for members’ children to hone their skills while also keeping the "old guard" happy, which requires balance.

"I've often said that the young members coming to the club today are bringing their children with them. But the punchline for all that is that they expect you, the club, to be actively programming and taking care of those kids while they're on campus,” explains Vain. “And the kids aren't coming to the club to be disciplined or to be told to sort of sit down and be quiet. (The parents) want them in."

Change can be challenging, especially for clubs steeped in tradition. Where children were once "seen and not heard," clubs are now renovating with families in mind, says Vain. However, he reminds club leaders to not alienate long-standing members and find ways to make all parties happy. When considering capital expenditures, think about initiatives that benefit both younger and older members.

“You know, you can't just go one direction and say, okay, we're going to focus all our energy on the pool. If you're doing that pool, you ought to be giving the golfer something at the same time,” says Vain. “You tend to want to spread that around a little bit.”

A universal enhancement at most clubs is dining. Dining experiences are where change is moving fastest. Regardless of their chosen activity, all members share an interest in diverse culinary options, including those they might find outside the club.

"(Members) all have the ability and interest in using the food and beverage facilities. So I think that's been the top reinvention area that we've seen," said Vain.

Adapting to New Realities

For clubs struggling, Vain warns: over half the nation's private clubs have waitlists. These underperforming clubs should consider innovating to attract new members and retain existing members. For successful clubs, it's time to evaluate, he says now is the time to adopt a long range approach to change. Strategic planning shouldn't be a one-off event; it should be part of a long-term vision.

Vain believes clubs tend to view strategic and capital planning in an “episodic” way. He says they often create a strategic plan as a one-off event rather than making it a part of a long-term vision.

Vain’s approach is different. He says the great clubs have adopted a “flywheel” approach that begins with understanding what people want in a private club. Next, they push forward the initiatives that will meet the demands of new and prospective members. That is followed by an evaluation of club facilities that are in need of updates and finally, make necessary investments in the club. Then, the flywheel starts again by understanding what people want in the club.

“If they could take on a more consistent way, manage their resources—working under the concept of a long-range plan—and always be looking ahead, that's what the great clubs can do. It is what great organizations can do.”

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