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Entries in Cecily Spearman (1)

Tuesday
Aug182015

First Person: Cecil Spearman

You’ve been a successful club operator since the 1970s, and now own and operate three large multipurpose facilities. The reasons for your success?

We carefully select each location, and own the property, as well as the club. We try to offer something for everyone, train our professional staff to treat our members well, and constantly work to add value to our memberships.

Obviously, tennis has played a major role in your life. In your view, what’s right, and wrong, about the game today?

One good thing is that clubs can use social media to spread the word about tennis in an affordable way, and a growing membership provides economies of scale. One concern, though, is that baby boomers, who made the sport popular in the late ’60s, are giving it up because it’s hard on their bodies. And, for Millennials, playing tennis costs too much.

Clubs must offer affordable memberships and services that appeal to families, including quality tennis lessons for boys and girls. We welcome players of all ages, and encour- age reentry for people who haven’t played for years.

You’ve been an IHRSA member since 1984. What one thing has surprised you about the association the most?

I joined the day I met John McCarthy, IHRSA’s executive director emeritus, at a tennis trade show in California. With him at the helm, I was confident that what was then IRSA had a great future, but its tremendous growth has been a pleasant surprise. The industry, and the association, will grow even more as club attendance becomes established as an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

In 1985, you launched women-only clubs. Your thoughts on the current trend toward market segmentation?

I thought they’d require a smaller upfront investment and deliver a good return on investment (ROI). But they couldn’t match the performance of a multisport club. My sense is that today’s small specialty club operators may experience too much turnover for an acceptable ROI.

Technology is here ... What’s been the effect on your clubs?

Currently, 70% of our new members come from referrals, and, clearly, the Internet plays a significant role. Many people learn about us from our Website, so we’re upgrading it so they can tour a club and make a decision to join. Tech- nology is critical to success. We can change with the times, or risk becoming a statistic. Because we expect our referral rate to eventually drop to 50%, we work to keep members happy, so they’ll keep referring their friends.

Over the past 30 years, you’ve sold a number of clubs. Any suggestions for owners about buying or selling?

It’s important to plan for your exit before buying. For example, I built my first indoor tennis club in an upscale industrial park, reasoning that, if it failed, I could then convert the building into a warehouse. The club did well, but I sold it because it was twice as valuable as a warehouse.

Yours is a family business, and you’ve been transferring duties to your children. How’s that’s going?

Jean, my wife of 56 years, as vice president of operations, oversees cleaning and renovations. My three sons run the business day to day. I serve as CEO, and when we do strategic planning, I settle any disagreements. My son, Steve, a CPA, is CFO. Scott, who’s skilled at management and fitness, is a general manager. Mark, a former all- American tennis player, handles all tennis matters.

Consultants are helping Jean and me decide what to do when we can’t handle our duties any longer. We hope that our sons and grandkids will work together as well in the future as my wife, sons, and I have in the past.