‘Technology is the way forward to create a new generation of squash players’
By LEE WITHAM (Squash Mad Special Correspondent)
I cringe when I hear volunteers on squash committees say: “We’re not interested in making a profit,” when discussing club finances.
How else will they pay for essential maintenance? Or maybe a massive repair bill some way down the line if they are not actively budgeting for improvements to their premises?
Let alone studying trends in the leisure landscape and seeing the exciting new sports taking market share from squash.
For many years clubs have persevered with a traditional subscription model. This involves individuals or families paying for memberships, plus court-booking fees, and hopefully a secondary spend if they grab a drink and some food in the clubhouse. The pro shop also offers racket sales and stringing services.
This is all very convenient for the club. But is this a fair deal for the customer? Surely there’s a compromise? Imagine visiting a restaurant and being asked to pay a membership and then pay for meals! Just like restaurants, we want the staff on their ‘A game’ each time we visit.
If the service drops off, we can provide our opinion and hope for an improvement. If the restaurant is not willing to listen, you probably should visit other restaurants that do.
Technology gives clubs all manner of options to improve the service provided to the players who use the facility.
With the introduction of mobile Apps, the customer gains more control, from reserving courts and seeing availability, to checking in via a QR code.
One of the benefits to a club is that they still have the possibility of upfront payments but now the customer decides how much. Other benefits include data collection. Who plays when, what age, how often etc.?
An example of a data question could be, how many men over 40 years old play on a Saturday afternoon? Armed with this information, marketing can be catered to the profile of each customer.
Effectively, no long-term memberships are required, simply initiate a credit system with an option of discounts if the customer commits to multiple credits.
As an example, each court time requires a credit that covers 25% of the court fee. If you want to split a court of 60 minutes, you and your partner pay two credits each. Off-Peak times or junior rates could be charged at a 50% discount with one credit per person. Credits can be used for lessons, restrings, and pro shop purchases can be included too.
An extremely important aspect is to promote the culture within the club, with special events like ‘club night’ charged at a discounted rate to encourage a community environment within the venue.
If some players are facing economically challenging times or are unemployed, a show of appreciation is providing credits to let the person or family know they are a valuable part of the club and community.
A final point worth mentioning: many Apps are still in the infancy stage and will take time to develop to an acceptable standard. It is vital that the App or the club does not share data with third parties. This is an unfortunate reality with most of the current Apps.
However, if we are to attract a new generation of young players who have grown up attached to their mobile phones, technology is clearly the way forward.
If we want to talk to young people, we need to speak a language they understand. They have an abundance of social options at their fingertips, and to persuade them to try their local squash club we need to look carefully at what we are offering.
Courts hidden away inside dingy buildings are unlikely to tempt them inside. Which means we might have more success in reimagining how squash is presented, with indoor-outdoor courts in an urban setting that make the game visible, accessible and affordable. And fun. Don’t forget the fun.
It’s the most important part of the whole process.
Tomorrow: Look to the future with smart and sustainable building plans
Pictures courtesy of Lee Witham