Tennis Industry magazine


How to Become the Perfect Manager

New economic challenges are putting managers to the test. Here are some of the characteristics they’ll need to acquire to meet these changing dynamics.

By Rod Heckelman

Darwin would be pleased to see that his evolutionary theories have progressed all the way from the Galapagos Islands to impacting the managers of modern day tennis and fitness facilities.

In an industry that has evolved so rapidly in the last few decades, managers who could not keep up with the changes have been left behind, or have become extinct. Those who have been able to keep up, and who now are weathering economic woes, may well be evolving into near-perfect managers.

To be fair, no one’s perfect, but in this business climate, the manager often is asked to perform at that level. Put it in perspective and you’ll see why. The purchase of a membership is, in most cases, an option for the consumer. Despite your arguments that everyone needs to partake in some sort of health and fitness program, it’s still the consumer’s choice. The fact is, most people have their natural environment or can attend public facilities — options that are free. Now factor in the challenging economic situation facing today’s consumers, and managers are really being put to the test.

Those who do survive will truly become the cream of the crop. They may even evolve into the “perfect manager.”

What are the characteristics that these managers will acquire to meet today’s new challenges? What will it take for someone currently in the position of tennis director to become general manager? If a personal trainer aspires to become the fitness director, what will they need to learn?

Saving Money and Time

The first step will be to learn and have the ability to multi-task. This is more than just being able to sit at the front desk while an employee takes a break, or correcting the height of a net when playing with members on court. This is all about being able to save money and save time.

As a manager reviews their responsibilities, they will transition from overseeing different departments to being able to run these departments. Instead of calling in a consultant to help with sales, the manager becomes astute enough to know how to properly market his product. He or she can create, design and properly place ads where those ads will get the most bang for the buck. They become experts at analyzing the market, using everything from Google Analytics to caller I.D. feedback. They become experts at selling memberships and, in turn, can organize and guide their sales staff from the experience of their own success.

Instead of calling in a temp when their accountant or bookkeeper is unable to work, they can step in and handle the paperwork, everything from billing to payables. They can author, publish and print the club’s newsletter.

If a pipe breaks, they may not be able to fix it, but they can certainly address the problem from the standpoint of either guiding someone through that task or knowing how to limit the impact a broken pipe might have. If a sprinkler head blows up and sprays water all over the courts, instead of being dependent on a maintenance person who may not be on hand, they know how to turn off the valve. They even go out and dry the courts for play. This list of what a perfect manager can handle becomes longer and longer, demanding that they evolve.

They know how to make the cafÇ an image of the members’ desires and needs. The perfect manager creates a menu that is geared to what is most likely to cross the counter and increase sales. They’re able to do this not only as a result of interacting with members and their staff, but by also having a complete knowledge of the software so they can access the statistical information concerning the turnover of inventory. They take it one step further, forecasting trends and making available new types of healthy products that will sell.

An integral part of the food service will be the organization of social events. The task of overseeing the calendar of events will be only a portion of the job. Promoting events to take place at the club and then making sure that these events run on time and are properly serviced by the staff will become second nature for the perfect manager. The manager will format a program that creates a ritual for the staff to follow for all events. This reliability will provide much more time off for the manager while still being in control and on top of the profit/cost of these events.

Health & Fitness Trends

Although the perfect manager may not need to conduct yoga or spin classes, they will know how those classes are taught, and as a consequence, what teachers are best suited for the job. In the field of fitness, the staff is all-important. The quality and enthusiasm of a teacher can make all the difference in attendance. A knowledgeable trainer can both attract and retain memberships. With the rapid expansion in the fitness industry, it will be important to stay in touch with the most recent advances, both in equipment and in classes.

The more insight the manager has, the more they will be able to distinguish between what is a fad and what has practical application. Is it what the members want or is it what a sales person or an enthusiastic fitness person believes you should have? Is it a fiscally responsible move or a reaction to a few vocal members? Only a manager that has stayed on top of the fitness industry and has been a hands-on person can really answer those questions. Looking in on the fitness area throughout the day, or occasionally discussing fitness issues with staff, will not provide enough up-to-date information.

Small tennis clubs feeling the financial pinch may be forced to cut costs by hiring tennis pros, or directors, that also can serve as club manager. This will be the ultimate test of multi-tasking. Pros who want nothing to do with management may become obsolete.

Pros who realize their close relationship with members makes them the perfect choice to manage the club will not only save their club money, but will also give them job security. Their rapport with members and other employees will help greatly in membership retention. During difficult economic times, the emphasis must change from acquiring new members to retaining current members. A change in management or bringing in new faces can sometimes upset the stability of a facility and cause members to leave.

More Interaction

The perfect manager will more willingly take on interaction with both members and employees. They may maintain a chain of command for better organization, but they’ll take the time to interact with the whole staff and as many members as possible.

More interaction means optimizing more ways to communicate and pass on information. The use of the internet, emails, the phone system all become elevated and, in turn, this manager can interact more quickly and more accurately. Capitalizing on modern-day technology will allow managers to interact from anywhere at any time, without compromising their own personal freedom.

Instead of managing their staff more so that they can work less, managers will become more efficient at delegating responsibility so they can create more opportunities to be more productive. This task of becoming more time-efficient requires the acquisition of more knowledge and information. Attending conventions, reading articles, interacting with others in the industry all help to create shortcuts in both problem resolution and the skills needed to avoid problems. This is a big change. No longer can managers just be on top of their own operation. They will need to learn more about the entire industry. This process of collecting more outside information will provide the insight that will allow the perfect manager to be part of a rapidly changing industry.

Disappearing Status Quo

Change will be considered normal. The status quo for any manager will disappear and there will be no resting on one’s laurels. No matter how much success a manager has experienced in the past, they will be judged on their daily accomplishments and what they are planning to achieve in the future.

When it comes to motivating and educating staff, the perfect manager will need to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk. It will not be enough to remind members or staff of how things worked in the “good old days.” Forecasting the future will not always be adequate; there will be a need to be the future — one step ahead of the industry and the competition. The perfect manager will achieve this by learning from their past and moving on, willing to accept the risk of attacking probability.

The industry has entered a new, economically challenging era. Managers will be asked to cut costs and increase services. Although that may sound like an oxymoron, it is what these new economic challenges demand. The sooner a manager realizes that and approaches these challenges aggressively, the more likely they will achieve job security and financial rewards.

As you read this, there are many out there looking to hone their talents in club management. Most likely they will be the person who is willing and able to do many things very well. This will be the survivor, the one most likely to evolve into the perfect manager.

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About the Author

Rod Heckelman  is the general manager at Mount Tam Racquet Club in Larkspur, Calif., and has been on the faculty for The Tennis Congress.



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