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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 1 week ago

Yacht club, among sea of challenges, boosts membership tally

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Bird Key Yacht Club is adding members while others lose people.

Going on 60 years, the Bird Key Yacht Club, like many other membership-based leisure businesses lately, was on the struggle boat to recapture its glory days.

Yet instead of retrenching, the club invested in multiple upgrades big and small in order to “take it into the next century,” General Manager Scott Brynski says. In the process, club leaders learned two key lessons in building and maintaining a membership base in a fickle environment: Don’t skimp on details, and employee retention, particularly in hospitality, must be paramount to uphold high customer service standards.

On attention-to-details, examples abound throughout the facility nestled in Bird Key, between downtown Sarasota and Longboat Key — starting with the front door. That’s where Brynski put down a welcome mat, “something we never had here before.” Upgrades range from new couches and chairs in the lobby to a $325,000 project to redo the back outdoor dining area, the Aft Deck. Other projects include $15,000 for a new sound system and $50,000 on locker room enhancements. This comes on top of a $2.5 million marina renovation project completed in 2016.

Meanwhile, Bird Key has improved its employee benefit program, to include, among other features, a matching 401(k), which is unusual for both a leisure club and small hospitality business. The club recently promoted some people, including a server now the catering director, and has around 45 employees.    

How has all the work translated to membership?

For one, membership attrition, Brynski says, was 7% two years ago and 6% last year, below the industry average of 10%. On the flip side, membership has increased from less than 250 members in 2016 to 316 through October. “That speaks volumes to how far this club has come,” Brynski tells Coffee Talk.

Brynski hopes to reach 350 members by June 2020 and then cap the membership rolls, per the club board’s request to maintain an intimate feel. Bird Key Yacht Club was built in 1959 on the site of the New Edzell Castle, the first mansion in Sarasota built with electric lights, steam heat and hot and cold running water. Members don’t have to live in Bird Key, and they come from as far away as Lakewood Ranch and south Sarasota.

“I’m really excited about what has gone on here the last three years,” Brynski tells Coffee Talk, “and even more excited about what’s going to happen in the next five.”

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