Anticipating Member Needs
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Change can come slowly to the club world. Members are lovingly wedded to tradition — comfortable in their deep leather chairs — and can be reticent to fix what hasn’t been obviously, glaringly broken.
Still, competition is heating up, member needs are changing, and we’re all increasingly focused on the bottom line. And for many in the club world, old structures are showing signs of age and in too many cases, frankly, suffering from decades of poor and inefficient planning.
In measured steps, clubs are finding ways to embrace what’s good about the past (the leather chairs can stay), while making sure the future embraces all that’s necessary to remain viable — successful — in the future. The Charlotte Country Club (a Chambers project, pictured on the cover of our Club Road E-zine and throughout the article) is a case study in point.
Much has been written already about its recent renovations and the infrastructure issues that, while nearly invisible to members, nearly threatened the future of the club. But one has only to walk through its warm, glowing halls to see the balance of tradition and new amenities that are characteristic of clubs’ evolution in recent years.
Early 20th century Parisian tapestries were lovingly restored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Italian crystal chandeliers were painstakingly cleaned and refurbished. The old oak plank floors truly glisten. Look a little closer and you’ll now see a small trap in the ballroom floor that hides “enough electrical to power a 30-piece band,” says club CEO Damon DiOrio. “No more ugly extension cords run from every outlet we could find within 50 feet,” he adds. Cell phones and smart phones still aren’t allowed in the dining rooms, but open an inlaid panel door nearby and you’ll find a fully wired “phone room” with soundproof walls and an exceptionally comfortable chair.
Meeting and banquet rooms still maintain old world charm while plaster relief moldings and appliques have been stripped of dozens of layers of old paint to reveal their former glory. Still, peek beneath the table in one of those meeting rooms and you’ll find Ethernet, phone and electrical connections carefully tucked away.
Greater efficiencies won out too. From grand scale — a hallway was added to adjoin the women’s locker room to a dining room they could previously reach only by going up and then down stairs again, and 10,000 square feet of new storage space was gained with some reconfigurations and a slight addition — to smaller ticket items, like the addition of a door off a banquet room that saves service staff valuable time by creating a straight path to the service bar.
“We’re seeing clubs focus on long-term solutions over short-term ‘fixes,’ “ says Chambers Chairman Bob Hickman, who drove the interiors work at the venerable southern club and has seen a marked shift to more forward-looking solutions than in any time in his 40+ years in the club design business. “We’re best when we can solve problems, not just ‘fix’ them,” he says, “and that’s how Damon approached Charlotte’s recent renovation.”
The Charlotte Country Club may look much like its 100-year-old former self. Elegant, stately…traditional. But a closer look (one could say this about Chambers, too — also more than 100 years in the making) and you’re likely to agree — “We’ve come a long way, baby!”