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Yacht club looks to build on membership surge in 2022

In 2022 the Sarasota Yacht Club is dedicated to supporting its growing membership base, starting with adding new entertainment options.

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  • | 12:00 p.m. January 6, 2022
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File. Karen Harmon and Stephania Feltz are excited for the challenges that a diverse membership has to offer at the Sarasota Yacht Club.
File. Karen Harmon and Stephania Feltz are excited for the challenges that a diverse membership has to offer at the Sarasota Yacht Club.
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Company: The Sarasota Yacht Club became a lot of members’ go-to place over the pandemic — and there’s no sign of that slowing down. 

The club had a better than normal year thanks to the level of safety its members felt. “We weren’t sure members would come out,” says Stephania Feltz, member relations director. “Our members identified the Sarasota Yacht Club as a safe place. We’ve had a surge of members bringing their friends.” 

The club was organized in 1907 on the north end of Siesta Key before moving in 1913 to downtown Sarasota, where it was known as the Sarasota Yacht and Automobile Club until 1917. The current SYC was incorporated in 1926. A new clubhouse was built in 1958 and the current 23,000-square-foot clubhouse opened in 2010. 

The boom in membership, recorded at 753 with a waitlist of 50 at the beginning of the fiscal year in October, wasn’t anything the club expected. 

“We went into the last fiscal year thinking we may be looking at a deficit so we budgeted for a deficit,” says General Manager Karen Harmon. But instead, SYC exceeded it, coming out ahead of the budget. 

The yacht club’s fuel sales also continue to exceed the budget, and it's seen an increase in dining, too. The club had just over $1 million in revenue for the year. 

Opportunities: SYC officials have already begun to work on some big opportunities, starting with upping their game with entertainment options. “We’re putting more money toward increasing the member experience,” Feltz says. 

The club is working in conjunction with the board to determine what other amenities to add. 

“With the influx of members, we need to meet them where they are,” Harmon says, adding they plan to build on the amenities and offerings the club has presently. 

Data collected by SYC shows 85% of current members were referred by an existing member. “We’ve created that culture where members want to tell their friends and business associates,” Feltz says. But with more members comes the challenge of playing to the interest of the diverse crowd.

As part of a goal to engage members across generations, the youth leadership program hosted a Veterans Day event earlier this year. The moment that stood out to Feltz was when an eight-year-old girl met a 99-year-old World War II Navy veteran. “Those are the memories that cannot be created anywhere but here,” Feltz says. “Diversity is fantastic. It’s also a challenge, but a good one.”

Threats: While SYC hasn't had the same staffing struggles other industries are seeing, the yacht club is a little nervous with the COVID-19 variants going around. 

“One thing we have to stay guarded on is not knowing what the variants are going to do,” Harmon says. “I think that is the biggest obstacle.” 

In order to stay ahead of that, the club is doing everything it can to ensure safety. One example: it recently introduced a PURE air purification system. “We are just trying to communicate to members," Harmon says, "that we are trying to keep it safe."  


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