05 Apr

The Art of Planning on a Budget

Four Value-Driven Qualities to Search for in a Master Planning Firm

It is no surprise that selecting the right planning partner can make or break a club’s master planning process. You want facilities that wow current members, improvements that strengthen operations, and amenities that attract prospective members… all at a price point that suits your club’s budget.

While a plan’s features are certainly important, the numbers that support the plan usually garner the most attention from members. Remaining within – and preferably well below – budget is essential, but it can also be one of the most difficult aspects of the planning process. “One of the greatest challenges any master planning company faces is providing a high level of value while remaining within budget,“ says Chambers’ Vice President and Director of Planning John Snellinger, “We want to give members exactly what they want without eclipsing the club’s financial restrictions.”

It may be challenging, but it’s definitely not impossible. There are qualities you can search for in your planning firm that will help you gain the most value from your plan – financially and otherwise. To maximize the benefits of the master planning process, a club’s ideal planning firm will…


Prioritize Carefully

Everyone can agree that keeping your club’s amenities up-to-date and on-trend is essential for retaining current members and attracting new ones. But if most private clubs acted on every single enhancement or improvement project they needed at once, they would be immersed in debt. Of course, this is one of the main benefits of drafting a master plan — to see the club’s goals laid out and broken down into manageable phases.

Having carefully outlined phases significantly scales down the plan’s budget, making the financial burden easier on members. It also ensures that every aspect of the plan is fulfilled in the most time-efficient (and budget-efficient) manner. The most thoughtfully divided phases will address the club’s problems strategically, minimize operational interruptions during construction, and lay the groundwork for future phases that may not be an immediate priority.

However, phases are only as good as the data that shapes them. A quality master planner will ask the membership what matters most to them through useful tools like surveys and focus groups. They will also interview department heads and other club leaders to determine what the club needs from both an operational and infrastructural perspective. This gives planners a variety of qualitative and quantitative data to support the plan’s development and ensure accuracy.


Design Holistically

After identifying member needs and desires, it’s important to design facilities that are aesthetically pleasing, maximize functionality, and – most importantly – address the club’s needs from a holistic perspective. To gain this all-inclusive insight, clubs should select a planning partner that is intimately familiar with every aspect of the process, ranging from club operations to the design process, from the capital planning to the construction of the facilities. “Viewing the plan from a global perspective is important. You need to understand what the members want and incorporate what the club needs from an operational and infrastructural standpoint. It is a complex process. In order to create a truly effective plan, it also helps to have active experience in today’s design world, knowledge of contemporary club trends, and a deep understanding of accounting and finance,” says Snellinger.

Engaging a planning firm with a diverse team and comprehensive resources will result in a plan that is tailored to every aspect of the club, giving you the most value for your investment. “Many planning firms make the mistake of narrowing their focus. They ask clubs ‘What is the specific problem you’re trying to solve so we can give you a solution?’ Instead, what they should be asking is ‘How can we improve the overall experience for your members and encourage future growth?’ This is usually a complicated problem with no single solution,” says Snellinger.


Build Consensus

Though developing the plan is incredibly important, it is equally vital to master the art of building consensus among the membership and club leaders. After all, the process is for naught if the membership is unmoved by the final product. Master planning firms that excel in building consensus are able to avoid creating failed plans — a waste time, energy, and capital. Of course, it’s not all about the mighty dollar. Failing to pass a master plan can highlight political divides among the membership, which takes time and effort to repair. Ultimately, if the firm truly listens to member needs and educates them on how to meet those needs, then the Master Plan will be approved.
Lack of communication is one of the primary reasons that plans fail to pass. A quality master planning firm helps club leaders provide continual communication throughout the planning process. Chambers’ own 95% approval rating can be largely attributed to our suite of communication services, which allows clubs to educate members on their options, keep them informed about the project’s progress, and address member concerns before the plan goes up for a vote. Ultimately, these communications make members feel more involved. After all, it’s their club experience – and money – at stake. They deserve to feel not only heard, but also empowered. If there is ever a time for private clubs leaders to be transparent, it is during the planning process.

Create Accountability

It’s no secret that the primary purpose of a master plan is to lay the groundwork for implementing new facility projects that respond to member needs and position the club to embrace emerging industry trends. But it’s also important that the proposed enhancements and associated costs are realistic. One way to ensure accurate cost estimates is by selecting a planning firm that is accountable for the budgets they create.

Hiring a master planning firm that offers both planning and design services provides continuity between planning and implementation phases, ensuring that the vision is properly executed. This structure also incentivizes financial accuracy and accountability. When these firms develop cost projections for their master plans, it’s not about presenting numbers that members will vote for – it’s about offering a carefully scoped project that is accurately budgeted and responds to the membership’s financial threshold. This business model ensures that clubs can actually execute the project that the members loved at the cost that was agreed upon.

Want to learn more about selecting a master planning firm that will give your club the most value? Email our Director of Planning!

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