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Private clubs are always on the hunt for ways to enhance their social atmosphere. New menus, new programs, new events—Club leaders are constantly brainstorming new ways to keep members engaged in the club to ensure they remain relevant in their daily lives.
Lately, pop-up events have been, well, popping up in the club world. Pop-up events are temporary, themed affairs that are announced with relatively short notice. It is the element of surprise that distinguishes pop-up events from its planned counterpart—a characteristic that mimics the appetite for spontaneity the industry is seeing across the board. And while some club leaders have jumped on the opportunity to implement such events, others are still unsure of what they entail and how the concept can benefit their club.
For more insight on this topic, we spoke with Evan Sherwood, General Manager at Salisbury Country Club (SCC), who has worked with his team to implement a string of successful pop-up events over the last several months. Some of the benefits? Increased engagement, enhanced camaraderie, and a shift in club culture overall. Keep reading to learn more about where these ideas come from, how they are communicated, and how they can impact the social atmosphere at your club!
Evan Sherwood began implementing pop-up events at SCC last year after hearing about the success Farmington Country Club was experiencing with this type of event. “They were hosting a lot of pop-up events that were generating positive praise,” Sherwood recalls, “and to my surprise, participation was excellent.” He continued, “We ended up having to reschedule a few events at Salisbury on very short notice due to unforeseen issues, and the rescheduled event drew a bigger crowd than we were expecting for the original event that had been planned for months. I thought…Farmington may be on to something.” So he did what all great managers do when implementing a change—he talked to the members.
Each month, Sherwood hosts a “Breakfast with Evan,” a casual time when members are encouraged to share their thoughts with him in a small group setting—much like an informal member focus group. It was during one of these sessions that a younger group of members mentioned the challenge they face in RSVP’ing to events months in advance due to their ever-changing schedules. “I realized that traditional marketing is executed too far in advance and members tend to discount planned events immediately, or simply forget about them altogether,” Sherwood notes, “whereas the short notice of a few of our rescheduled events created excitement and a ‘buzz’ around the Club.” Knowing this style of event would respond directly to member needs, Sherwood began brainstorming ideas with his management team.
While SCC’s pop-up events are planned and coordinated by the leadership team, they are still grounded in member input. “We really have focused as a team on programming,” says Sherwood. “Once a month we have a brainstorming session. Of course, department heads are required to attend, but all of the staff is invited to attend as well. They have the most interaction with membership on a day-to-day basis and are most in-tune with member needs.” Sherwood goes on to explain how constructive it is to draw inspiration from other clubs in the area who have seen success with similar events.
In addition, Sherwood speaks with many of the members directly. “We get more feedback from members by simply starting a conversation,” he says. “I make a point to be very visible around the club and talk with members to see where their interests lie and what they would like to see at their club.” He adds that many conversations happen organically and informally—talking to members who are sitting at the Pub, or chatting quickly as they pass through the clubhouse. “It’s as simple as lending an ear and connecting with our membership in a personable way,” he adds.
Once the plans are in motion, it’s time to spread the word. All great general managers and club leaders appreciate the importance of having a communication plan—and knowing how to modify it when appropriate. Typically, events planned well in advance are advertised in the club newsletter, posted as a calendar event on the website, distributed via e-blast, posted around the club on a flyer—and so on. However, just as pop-up events present an element of surprise, so too should your communication efforts. So what tactics seem to be most appropriate? Well, that depends on the audience.
For Salisbury, pop-up events draw a mix of members, but most interest seems to come from 40- to 50-year-olds—those with busy lifestyles who are unable to commit months in advance. This also tends to be the group who is more likely to utilize social media and modern forms of communication, like text messaging. “Honestly, word of mouth is our biggest asset,” says Sherwood, “as soon as members hear about an upcoming pop-up event, they immediately start texting their friends and sign up right away. Social media is key, too.” In fact, Sherwood finds that while traditional flyers, e-blasts, and even Facebook garner some attention, it is Instagram that has the most following and greatest impact.
And, as they say, timing is everything. “On Mondays, we send out our ‘This Week at Salisbury’ e-blast, which could include information on a pop-up event that will happen Thursday of that week,” says Sherwood. “We get higher sign-ups from that e-blast than if we’d market the event for two months through multiple channels. The nature of pop-up events generates a sense of urgency, and urgency prompts people to make an immediate decision.”
What seems to be working? Simple themes with a creative twist! From a luau party to pizza nights to a wine event, the key is to keep it simple—and limited. Sherwood advises keeping the guest list between 30-50 members, noting that SCC’s ideal size is about 40 people. Not only does this help set your team up for success by putting together an exciting event with minimal planning involved; it also helps control cost and heightens the experience for members since it allows more one-on-one member interaction.
Sherwood also advises hosting a mix of both family-friendly and adult-only events to provide the opportunity for everyone to get involved. SCC’s most popular events are wine-related events that complement the Club’s recently-created (and increasingly popular) Wine Society. In addition, the Club’s recent Bourbon Release Party went off without a hitch. “We worked with a local producer to create a special blend of bourbon for Salisbury,” says Sherwood. “We had special etched bottles and the bourbon itself had a 27% wheat content—representing our 27 holes of golf. It was very popular.” SCC also plans to host Bonfire Fridays in the fall that will coincide with different pop-up dining themes.
“We have sold out almost every time with a wait list almost as large as the original event,” Sherwood remarks, “so we started hosting a ‘round two’ of many of the events to ensure everyone on the wait list has the opportunity to participate.” It’s even possible for these events to build on one another. For example, SCC recently hosted a Crab-Picking pop-up and ended up with leftover crabs at the end of the event. “We decided to have a pop-up Crab Sale the very next day to try to sell the crabs,” says Sherwood. “We sold out—in four minutes. It was unbelievable.”
All in all, the best thing about any event at your club—pop-up or planned—is that it fosters connectivity among members and helps create lasting memories, which is ultimately the foundation of any private club experience. “Pop-up events provide an excellent opportunity for members to meet new members,” Sherwood remarks. “The smaller setting allows for better social interactions and because they are last minute, the demographics are often very mixed. The improved member interaction is amazing, and these events are improving the overall club culture—especially for members and spouses who may not use it as often as the primary member.”
The spontaneity and unexpected nature of pop-up events may seem daunting at first, but as private clubs continue evolving to meet member needs, it’s important to keep an open mind and embrace what might otherwise appear challenging. A forward-looking approach can breathe new energy into your club and positively affect your membership. And at the end of the day, creating an unmatched experience for your members is really what it’s all about.
Have you implemented pop-up events at your club? If so, comment below and tell us what you’ve found to be most successful!
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