Tennis Industry magazine


Facility Management: Event Tracking — the Next Level of Service

By Rod Heckelman

It’s 1 p.m. on a Tuesday and out of nowhere, you are slammed with an unbelievable number of members and guests. Your staff is well-trained, but such unexpected numbers are overwhelming.

The tennis courts are swamped with players having to wait an extra long time to get on. There’s not enough help in the pro shop, too few lifeguards for the outdoor pool, and your front desk staff is struggling to handle the check-ins and the concerns of members. Both members and staff are stressed and conflicts and complaints begin to erupt.

Only a week ago on the same day of the week, the facility operated wonderfully, with every member having plenty of space and allowing your staff to perform without a hitch. So how did this happen?

While your software provides member tracking, it does not provide you with any warning of a possible spike in attendance. Like most facilities, your actual number of members works well when attendance is distributed throughout the week, but if a large percentage of members decides to come at any one time, your facility will be overwhelmed.

With further analysis, there is a reason for this sudden increase in attendance; you just could not see it coming. In this case a sudden heat wave hit your area. Members flocked to the pool, which also increased the activity for your café. The tennis backup was the result of players playing slower due to the heat. League matches that normally would have taken an hour and a half took two hours.

But this wasn’t the first time your attendance has suddenly spiked. A month ago on a Wednesday, there suddenly was an enormous number of children coming to the club, which overwhelmed the facility. In this case it was because the school district had scheduled a teacher training day. As it turns out, parents knew about this, but not you or your staff.

These two events may appear to be anomalies, but in fact, they are par for the course. Can the software you use help you predict these events? Probably not. Even though most of today’s software has become quite sophisticated and is very accurate in tracking attendance and usage, it is not designed to forecast the unexpected.

In fact, member tracking is a high priority for most facilities when they decide on which software to purchase. One common method for tracking members is to use a membership card with a barcode that checks in the member and displays their photo for the staff.

Programming ‘Event Tracking’

Whatever the system, the purpose is to track usage and understand the flow of the club. Statistically these are accurate systems, as long as you are diligent about checking in every member. But still, the software is not capable of forecasting the weather or the scheduling of special school days. So again, what is the solution?

It’s called “event tracking” and it can be programmed into your personal management schedule. Event tracking begins by recording spikes in attendance then associating them with a cause. This cause is then entered into your programming much like the way Microsoft Outlook provides you with a calendar for scheduling. Alarms are placed on your calendar that can connect with events that spike attendance.

For example, since your local weather is usually forecasted days in advance, you can set up alarms to notify you of an impending heat wave or storm. This is similar to the technology ski resorts use to forecast winter conditions. This same type of warning system can be integrated into your software to remind you of other events that take place in schools or the community. As much as you would like to follow a pre-determined calendar, you will want to be reminded monthly, if not weekly of any special events that impact children’s school attendance. Maybe it’s a parent/teacher day, or a special day off for a school district — whatever it is, it can dramatically impact your club’s attendance.

Even scheduled holidays can cause disruption in the attendance of classes. For example, if you do spin classes, normally you’ll have plenty of bikes for early morning or evening classes. On a holiday, members who would normally be at work may suddenly want to attend a day class. Now you could have a problem that can be difficult to handle.

If you have a child-care center, this area is very sensitive to increased numbers. The last thing you want is to turn away members because your child-care staff is outnumbered. Even worse is having your staff try to handle too many children at any one time. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. Are you aware of any events in your community that will impact the attendance in your child care? Is there an event that would close day-care centers in your community resulting in members having to bring their children with them to the club? These questions can only be answered if you are able to keep in touch with local schools and communities.

Tracking Exceptional Flow

So what makes event tracking so important, and what makes it the next level of service for your membership? The obvious answer is that it gives you the information you need to properly staff your facility. It also allows you to know how many members can attend your facility given the amount of space and equipment you have.

But here is inside knowledge that few facilities are willing to let their public know: It gives you the ability to optimize the number of members that your facility can accommodate. Consider your parking, your shower usage, the size of the classes you provide. Also consider the number of tennis courts you have, or the size of your pool and, of course, the amount of exercise equipment you provide. Given these numbers, if you have optimized your membership count, you will have far more members than any of these areas can accommodate. This is why it is important to understand how to track not just the normal flow of members, but the exceptional flow of members.

It’s at these times that your club accessibility is truly measured; the times when members most want to use the facility. This is what makes event tracking so important.

Ask any member at what point is their membership most valuable, and most will tell you it’s those times when they most need it. Just think about this mindset. When is a gas station most important to you? It’s always there, but when it’s not available due to a sudden increase in demand and you really need it, you’ll take your business elsewhere.

If you integrate event tracking into your system, you will be able to properly forecast and adapt to these sudden spikes. Now instead of a member being frustrated by the lack of space or service, they feel more like they are part of a successful, well-organized, popular operation, full of activity and excitement.

Rod Heckelman is the general manager at Mount Tam Racquet Club in Larkspur, Calif.

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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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