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June 2017

Polishing A Gem

polishingagem.jpg‭By Kyle Darbyson

Springfield Country Club was falling on hard times, so one enterprising member decided to take what he’d learned in the jewelry business and use it to save his beloved Massachusetts club

When Camile Hannoush joined Springfield Country Club 25 years ago, he says the club’s reputation was the biggest draw. “It was definitely known as the club where you could have the most fun.”

Over the years, Springfield was where Hannoush forged some of his strongest friendships, closed business deals and, in his words, “played a lot, a lot of golf.”

The past few seasons have seen membership numbers dwindle. This didn’t just put a damper on some of the social aspects of life at the Massachusetts club, Hannoush says it also began squeezing budgets. “I started to notice little things like quality of ingredients start to slip, [and] the number of staff members decrease.”

When on-course conditions started to deteriorate and assessments began to pile up, Hannoush knew he had to act. He and his family had built a business empire on service, and learned cutting corners like this made long-term survival nearly impossible. “People join private clubs to be pampered, and if that level of service isn’t there, they’ll go find it somewhere else.”

Hannoush admits he wasn’t the most active member when it came to the business of running Springfield. “I own my own business, so I looked at the club as a place to relax.” Still, he knew the club had accrued debt to facilitate some capital improvements. Servicing debt on dwindling revenues with declining levels of service—even someone without Hannoush’s business savvy could see how tenuous that situation was.

“As a concerned member, I went to the board and said, ‘What do you think about me and my family coming in, purchasing the club, paying off all the debt, and helping the club go on another 120 years?’”

Club officials jumped at the chance, working to release Springfield from its not-for-profit status and secure the two-thirds majority they needed to finalize the sale. “It all took about six months,” Hannoush notes.

Now, Hannoush and his brothers are getting down to the business of turning around the facility. He admits he doesn’t have experience running a private club, but says he does know a thing or two about running successful businesses. “We built our first store in 1980 with no name, no reputation,” he explains. “Slowly, day by day, we built a reputation as a great jeweler with spectacular customer service.” Today, the family runs dozens of stores across the country.

This model obviously worked for their jewelry business, and Hannoush and his brothers are positive it will work at Springfield, too. “It’s about customer service. Period,” he posits. “If we can deliver that service in a way that is economical and still exceeds expectations, we can make the numbers work.”

Members can expect to see this approach manifest in both staff levels and training. “It’s the most important investment we can make.”

The Hannoush family is also spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovations to update the clubhouse facilities and expand outdoor dining (see “Fine and Dandy” below). “We want to energize members, get them talking, invite their friends, and then I think we’ll see word of mouth really take off.”

A similar method is being used when it comes to guest play. “We think if we bring down our guest rates significantly, we can easily triple the amount of play we see through this channel.” Hannoush points out that triple the number of paying guests is also triple the number of diners, pro shop customers and on-course beverage purchasers. “And if we do our job delivering this five-star service when guests are at our club, I have no doubt we’ll increase our membership size.”

Hannoush and his family are pouring in resources and expertise to try and turn the club around, but Camile says he didn’t necessarily convince his brothers to buy because he thought it was a good investment. “Sure, we get a large chunk of land that’s worth something, but really this is about the members and keeping a great tradition going.” He adds that he’s lucky enough to belong to several other clubs and has never come across anything quite like what he sees at Springfield. “The level of camaraderie is unbelievable. I couldn’t let that go.”

For the time being, Hannoush will act as the general manager. “I have a lot of experience managing construction and facilitating organizational change, so it made sense.” So far, 50 new members have signed on, and buzz in the community is growing. “We hope to make it profitable, but really we just want to bring the fun back to Springfield.”

Kyle Darbyson is a Vancouver-based freelance writer.

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