Real Business #13 - Bewl Valley Sailing Club

  • Real Business is a series of posts that analyses the marketing opportunities and challenges of real businesses in the South East. The interviews are undertaken by Keith Lewis of The Courier.

     Bewl Valley Sailing ClubBEWL Valley Sailing Club Limited (BVSC) enjoys an enviable setting. Located on one of the largest stretches of fresh water in the UK, the sailing club is the biggest in the South East with an immediate catchment area usefully devoid of serious rivals.

    The club itself was formed in 1967, prior to the creation of the Bewl Water Reservoir by Southern Water over thirty year ago. The current membership stands at around 1,000 although the number of people covered by membership through family is closer to 2,500.

    Although families, beginners and purely recreational sailors are very much the heart and soul of the club, it is also a place for the more serious and competitive breed - the latter account for around a fifth of the membership. The facilities are open 364 days a year (Christmas Day being the obvious exception), in fair weather and foul. Safety cover (where a rescue boat is on duty) is provided Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Friday mornings and at the weekend throughout the year and everyday throughout the summer months. It is a place where people come for fun, but also where others come to train for competition up to international level. It is also a place for school children under appropriate supervision and where members of the armed services are put through their paces.

    So, you might ask, what's the problem? If you talk to Club Manager Vince Nunn and Mike Wilcock, Rear Commodore Sailing, there would appear to be several.

    Annual turnover is currently running at around £600,000, but reinvestment in the club last year - a refurbished galley (kitchen), new tables and chairs, new safety and training boats and some windsurfing kit - meant that it did little better than break even. A rise in subscriptions and the recession has had an impact and added to the outflow of members.

    The management has recently come up with a development plan for 2011 and beyond, which was finally approved by members in June. The Plan is comprehensive and is broken down into five core elements: Sailing Activities, Social Activities, Training, Members and Membership and Club facilities. The Management Committee has nominated "Champions" to ensure delivery of specific objectives within set time frames.

    The Club is not short of ideas to increase its appeal to a wider section of the community. "We want to overcome the notion that sailing is somehow something just for rich kids - it is an activity that everyone should be able to enjoy", said Mike Wilcock. A radio-controlled yachting section has recently been introduced and other non-sailing ideas are also on the agenda, such creating a fitness centre and upgrading the restaurant to the point where it becomes a top class venue for diners or for larger gatherings, such as wedding parties.

    The Plan will make huge demands of both the people who are Club employees and those who give freely of their time on a voluntary basis - It will also require funding, particularly if the original clubhouse built in the 1980s is to make way for a new building. 

    The pressure is on to increase the Club's membership, which is allowed to go up to 1,300, and the increase in footfall will demand that the improvements at the Club are brought to the attention of the public, schools and others in the area. To this end, the website ( has been updated, but Mike Wilcock readily admits that marketing is not the Club's greatest strength - "We are very good sailors and trainers, and we even have a good chef, but we are only enthusiastic amateurs in terms of marketing".


    The Marketing EyeThe Marketing Eye says:

    The Bewl Valley Sailing Club (BVSC) marketing plan should include two distinct parts: activity to persuade current members to renew and a campaign targeting new members.

    People who sail regularly will know about the club or will find out about it easily, so the initial focus needs to be on the offer rather than simple awareness.

    Retaining members during a recession is difficult, particularly when combined with rising fees. The club needs to consider what more could be offered to increase the perceived value of membership. For example, they could look at packaging training or insurance into the cost of membership.

    Thinking about different markets, corporate events could be considered, perhaps involving a tie in with the subject of an earlier profile, Arena Pursuits.

    To leverage the existing membership, a reward scheme might be introduced where current members recommend a friend or sell a training course in return for a reward, e.g. additional training for themselves.  A more ambitious plan would be the introduction of an online shop for sailing clothing and supplies.

    To attract new members, the club needs to gear itself up for an upsurge in interest in sailing around the Olympics. Taster days, special offers on beginners' lessons and discounted terms for a longer term membership could all form part of a package of offers to encourage people to try sailing for the first time or renew a latent interest.

    To encourage less frequent sailors to use the club, a ‘pay-to-sail' scheme might be introduced.

    This is the point at which awareness activity should be implemented. A campaign, up-weighted around the time of the Olympics, would give people the knowledge and incentive to visit BVSC and discover the value of a membership firsthand.

    What do you think?  What advice would you give to the committee?

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