Wes Czarnecki knows that in many Saskatchewan communities, the curling club is “The Place”, the social hub, and he’s determined to foster that small-town, welcoming, inclusive atmosphere, even in the city. As General Manager of the busy Tartan Curling Club in Regina, Czarnecki is using savvy business initiatives to bring curlers – new and seasoned – through the doors of his club and keep them coming back for more.
Innovation is good, but the historical legacy is strong at the Tartan, too. When it opened at its current location in 1958, it was the home club of the Team Richardson, who own a slew of Canadian and World championship trophies. But with three busy and well-established curling clubs in Regina (also home to the Highland and Caledonian), Czarnecki says it’s important to ensure his club has its own “image and identity.”
“At the Tartan, we have made a concentrated effort to appeal more to the recreational curlers and make sure it’s known that everyone – regardless of skill or experience – is welcome at our club,” he says.
So here’s the approach taken by Czarnecki and his team at the Tartan Curling Club to provide members the best curling experience possible and draw new members – and business – through its doors.
How are you increasing membership and giving curlers the best experience possible?
When I first came into the role of General Manager, one of the first things that I did was start up a member survey. From an operations perspective, members were strongly in favour of an online registration and payment process. Not only does that make things more accessible and convenient for our members, but by making the small technology investment to bring that to life the club will save significant time and money in office administration.
In addition, member feedback lead us to offering new daytime stick leagues, as well as the city’s first doubles league, and we simplified our pricing model, including the introduction of “Unlimited Curling” pricing in place of multi-league pricing. The thinking behind that from a business perspective is that if dedicated members have the desire to come out to the club as much as possible we should be removing barriers to make that happen, and the additional league spots that they are able to fill provide a way to stimulate more traffic and business for our restaurant and lounge.
Finally, one major challenge that we find in attracting new members is fitting yet another activity into their busy lifestyle and the perceived burden of the time commitment required for a full season of curling. To try to open it up and get new members to give curling a shot, we also introduced half-season registrations. Our hope is that once people come try it out we’ll be able to convert some of those part-time curlers into passionate year-round members.
It’s vital to promote your facility and its many programs and initiatives. How do you do that? How do you get the word out into the community?
A big part of our strategy to grow our club is to introduce more programs to cater to (people who can’t commit to playing on a regular basis) and get them back on the ice when it works for them.
One of our most successful events is our “Blender”, where we take drop-in curlers and teams, and for only $10 per person provide four ends of curling, a glass of beer and live entertainment. We’d previously run these on occasion to fill open slots in our weekend schedule, but the huge turnout (with over 120 curlers showing up for some of the events) has lead us to an untapped market in our city.
While increasing the frequency of the Blenders, we are also working to build upon that concept in two different ways – on the ice with drop-in family curling events, where parents and kids can come out and enjoy the game together, and off the ice by offering more events in our lounge. Leveraging the customer base we attract for Blenders, and our kitchen and lounge facilities, we have run a few tasting nights in the offseason.
While this is a great way to draw new customers to the club, it has also served as an effective way to keep our members engaged in the off-season and help generate new revenue streams in a quieter time around our club.
In addition, we’ve tapped into the interests of our community and members with Rider game day parties (of course!), trivia nights, and live music events. Overall it’s our unique blend of people that keep the club going, and while we can’t be everything to everybody, we do our best to try to offer something for everyone.
Any other unique initiatives happening at the Tartan?
(We ran a tasting night) to unveil some renovations to our lounge to members, as well as introduce our new kitchen manager and some of the new menu items he was testing out. It was a great way to get members engaged in trying the new menu and providing their feedback on the food that we served, which we could then incorporate into our plans for the upcoming season.
(Another event) was more focused on the lounge and introducing new drink options to our customers. By bringing in experts from our beverage partners for our “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” tasting night, we were able to provide a low cost way for our members to test out some of the new & unique items available and understand more about the staples of our drink menu.
For both events we were able to draw in people who had never been to the club before with some of our online promotions. We used paid advertising to boost awareness of our events on Facebook, and sold tickets to the events on Eventbrite, reducing the administrative effort of printing tickets and enabling us to reach a much larger market than we generally can with our member newsletters and club’s social media channels.
You’ve said, “The curling club is THE PLACE to be in a lot of rural communities.” How does that work at The Tartan?
That is especially true in Saskatchewan, where the curling rink is known as a sporting facility, a hall, a coffee shop and so much more for people that grew up in and around small towns. In the city, when you’ve got a large facility with thousands of people through the door in a year, it is hard to replicate that feeling, but we have made it a point of emphasis of building that community feeling in our club.
Whether it’s for curling, tasting nights, Blenders, book sales, wedding receptions, or any number of events that we host, we consistently receive positive feedback from customers on how welcome and “at home” they feel at the club. It starts with our staff, the atmosphere in our lounge, the comfort food in our kitchen and, above all, the congeniality and camaraderie between members.
It’s no small task to take people from all walks of life and build a sense of community with people that they may never even share the ice with, but that is what we’re striving for at the Tartan.
What’s your advice to other clubs who want to improve the experience for members and attract new members to their clubs, wherever they are?
First and foremost, listen to your members! The amount of feedback that I’ve received just by asking, whether it’s in a survey, on the ice, or while socializing in the lounge after a game, has been hugely influential in moving the club forward. The people around your club are the ones that are most passionate about ensuring your success, so tap into their knowledge and enthusiasm and you can get some great ideas on what you can do better.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to do things differently. The regular leagues are what our clubs were built on, but we took a leap of faith based on research and feedback and cleared time in our schedule for casual curlers. While it was tough to redo our schedule (and admittedly lose a few teams) the upside has been huge, and with some of those new people through our doors now progressing into league curling, we are seeing firsthand how this shift in thinking can help grow our membership base and the sport of curling.
I’m not saying the exact things that we’ve done will work for everyone – each club and situation is unique – but if you know your members, the market you’re in and the image that you’re building, then you’ll be in a much better position to find that winning idea.
To check out all the great things happening at The Tartan Curling Club in Regina, visit their website, here.