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Where Innovation, Modern Luxury and Tradition Co-Exist Happily
In an industry steeped in tradition, yacht clubs are typically associated with luxury and comfort rather than innovation and progressive management practices. However, Sarasota Yacht Club, located on beautiful Sarasota Bay, has managed to integrate all these elements.
Founded in 1926, the club has always enjoyed a reputation for gracious living, which more recently has expanded to recognition for its cutting-edge approach to programming. While it may seem to be an unlikely combination, Sarasota Yacht Club has braved a downturn in the club industry, embraced a new generation of members and come out at the top of its game.
Just one step into the recently renovated facility gives the first indication that this is a progressive club. The 23,000 square foot clubhouse, totally remodeled in March of 2012, now boasts a standing-seam metal roof, coastal contemporary feel and nautical details like sail shades, high ceilings and a floor actually built from a deconstructed yacht deck. The details, carefully mapped out by DSDG Design and a committee of members during the design process, incorporate traditional design elements with a contemporary vibe.
Just as the exterior of the club has evolved in the past two years, the spirit of Sarasota Yacht Club has evolved as well. While always synonymous with laid back luxury, the club and its senior management, including General Manager Bernie Kloppenburg and Sales and Marketing Director Dana Soldati, were met with a challenge after the renovation: should they adapt their membership model and offerings to encompass activities for members of all ages or should they maintain their traditional approach? The forward-thinking management team chose to set goals to expand their more traditional membership base to include younger families and to offer programming that keeps members of all ages interested.
Recent programming additions support that goal — focusing on luxury offerings for the whole family. A new sailing program has been added, along with a water sports program, fishing clubs, family nights, , water aerobics classes, wine dinners, a concert series and a refurbished fitness center. The club has found that members are eager for a additional offerings that span beyond dining and boating, something not all clubs provide.
In order to better meet the needs of their growing membership base, Sarasota Yacht Club recently introduced a business membership program for area executives. This is just one of many membership options, including marina, social and seasonal options. There are a number of seasonal members who reside in other parts of the country but see the value of membership at Sarasota Yacht Club for times when they vacation or summer in the Sarasota area.
Soldati and Kloppenburg’s efforts are paying off. With private clubs across the country facing tighter budgets and dwindling memberships, SYC is part of a small percentage of clubs that have managed to grow. Research by the Sports and Leisure Research Group identified that in the past two years, 81 percent of clubs either stayed stagnant or lost members. On the other hand, in the past year, Sarasota Yacht Club has signed more than 100 new members and continues to see monthly growth at more than 100 percent of what they saw last year. In addition, the average age of members has dropped by 20 years, from 74 to 52, since 2010.
Sarasota Yacht Club has found new life by expanding to non-traditional markets and embracing non-traditional offerings. Their proactive approach to the state of the industry has positioned the club as an industry leader and a place members are proud to say is their home base. The club’s growing reputation is such that it isn’t surprising that celebrities and local dignitaries are frequent guests. Recently, Sarasota Yacht Club hosted a luncheon and premiere party as part of the Sarasota Film Festival that attracted stars like Geena Davis and The Artist’s Penelope Ann Miller. Justin Timberlake launched his 901 Silver Tequila at the club and Mitt Romney visited the club just last year.
“We’ve made sure our members and guests have access to classes, events and programs that are second to none in the yacht club industry,” says Kloppenburg. “In turn, we’re proud to boast a membership base of involved leaders and professionals of all ages, from a variety of places.”