During a recession, one might think that business club memberships would plummet as companies cut costs – but that’s not necessarily so.
Membership at many local clubs is level or has increased, despite the gloomy economy.
It’s all about value proposition. If business owners can see a return on investment, they tend to keep their club memberships.
Membership in the Colorado Springs Executives Association has “held steady,” said Executive Director Patricia Muehlbauer.
Although a couple of members “dropped out for economic reasons,” several more joined. The association allows only one type of each business.
“Once you get in, you don’t leave because you know the value of it,” Muehlbauer said. “It’s a way of life for these people. They count on each other and are pretty darn committed to the group.”
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a tough time to be a membership organization.
“In our community, we’re just above level,” said Dave Csintyan, president and CEO of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. “But we’re working hard to stay level.”
Chambers should be countercyclical, he said. “In tough times, we bring a lot to the table.”
While the economic pressure has affected membership, Csintyan said, “If people can clearly find a value proposition, we don’t lose them.”
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is evident in the small business community.
“Once their business needs and revenue are taken care of, people say, ‘I’d like to be part of the solution set for this community. Where can I help?'” Csintyan said.
The chamber’s Small Business Advisory Council has grown substantially, the Military Affairs Council has doubled in size during the last two or three years, and its Rising Professionals group, for ages 21 to 39, has “grown by leaps and bounds,” Csintyan said.
People succeed in business and they, in turn, help others.
Networking, community involvement and return on investment keep membership levels steady.
And some clubs carry a social label, but actually generate business relationships. Amidst the genteel halls of the El Paso Club, hundreds of high-powered business deals have been brokered since the 1870s.
General Manager Adam Merilson said membership has been “maintaining its average” during this recession.
West of downtown, the posh Garden of the Gods Club is doing business as usual, although 2009 will probably not bring in as many new memberships as last year, said General Manager Clay Meininger.
And just north of the city, in Monument, the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce had a net gain in membership of 20 percent during 2008, said Dave Van Ness, executive director.
“They stay with us because there’s a lot of value for a little bit of money,” Van Ness said.
Many of the business owners track how membership helps business. For instance, Impact Marketing Group attributes 46 percent of last year’s business to its chamber membership.
And the Residence Inn by Marriott had 778 room nights last year that were directly accountable to Tri-Lakes Chamber membership, Van Ness said.
Although that’s not to say the economy hasn’t affected companies – it has.
Susan Davis, president of the local chapter of Executive Women International, and vice president and trust officer at Wells Fargo’s Private Bank, said there has been a shift in the people involved with EWI.
“In the past 90 days, there have been more layoffs, or companies sold – mergers and acquisitions – so the firm has to change who they send as a representative,” Davis said.
People who have been laid off can still attend meetings as part of a “transitional category,” so they can keep networking, which may help with their job search.
“We have more people in transition than ever before,” Davis said.
And, of course, the economy will improve. It goes in cycles.
Meanwhile, membership organizations must bring a “solid business value to the table,” Csintyan said. “You can’t fake it in this economy. Business owners are very smart, and every dollar counts.”
So this is the time to build resources and relationships for the future.
“If you’re not networking now,” Muehlbauer said, “you’re missing the boat.”