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Seven top tips on retaining sailors from Open Days

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Workshop topic has sparked a lot of debate

Is big always better or is the old adage that small is beautiful sometimes more pertinent when it comes to the size of your Open Day?

With Open Day season and Push The Boat Out looming, the Club Development Workshops have focused on making the most of these events to grow your membership. 

Good open days and taster sessions work in terms of gaining new members and participants. But the key word here is 'good'. On average 12% of visitors to a PTBO/open day in the Midlands are retained - book onto a course or join the club - but some clubs in the region and beyond are retaining 30-40% of the visitors to their day. 

How? Here are seven top tips on converting attendees...

The numbers game

Do you want to raise awareness of your club and sailing locally or do you want to sell courses, grow membership etc? If it's the former then you might not mind 300 people turning up and only three signing up, but chances are you probably aren't going to want to put in all that effort for so little return. In this case less in most definitely more...

Who are you targeting?

If you're going to try to attract fewer visitors but try to keep more of them, who are you actually going to try to get along? If your club average age is 40-60, and what you offer suits that age-group, then that is probably your target group. Likewise families, or young professionals or juniors. The bigger the club, the more target groups are likely to be accommodated, which then brings the question what are you selling them?

The perfect package

You know who you want to target so what 'products' do you currently deliver that are, or could be, packaged for a specific target market and promoted easily during your open day or at the end of a taster session? Ladies that launch? Senior Sailing? Junior club? Fun Fridays? Pay and play? Silver sailing? Rush hour sailing? Give these products their own stand / area at your event and have people who take part in them 'selling' them - a bit like a university Fresher's Fayre. If it’s right, it fits, it’s visible and it's sold correctly people will sign up.

Don't let communication let you down

One size no longer fits all when you're trying to tell the world about yourself anymore. Different groups communicate in different ways so use the right channels to access the people you want to attract. Even if you're looking at two or three different target groups tailor your promotion - and the language you use - to that group accordingly. Below are some ideas...

Beyond this year

There is retention from your open day, then there is retention of someone who genuinely falls in love with the sport and your club. You might get a new member or course sale out of this summer's open day but if that person doesn't return next year, and you effectively end up starting again to replace them, you're making it hard work for yourselves. That's why getting the right people in and selling them the right thing is so important right from the outset, because they are more likely to stick at it.

The Del Boy bit

How do you actually seal the deal? Convert interest into a sale? Follow these six steps:

  • Product Knowledge - know your subject. People can be put off by vagueness.
  • Approach - make yourself available and approachable. Introduce yourself if someone looks lost.
  • Needs Assessment - have a chat and find what they're actually interested in and why
  • Pitch - let them know about what you have to offer and why sailing would be great for them
  • Close - complete the membership form/course form with them
  • Follow-up - what comes later in terms of your post-event communications with that person

Hold their hands

Maybe not literally as such overfamiliarity might scare some people off! But putting visitor experience at the heart of your open day, and really thinking about what people might want from you not what you want to force on people, is a sure fire way to make someone feel welcome, the first hurdle in enticing them in. We wrote an article about this in last month's newsletter and in case you missed it here it is again - Putting visitor experience at the heart of your Open Day 

The final word

"There were some real lightbulb moments at the workshops," reveals Gareth Brookes, Midlands Regional Development Officer. "You could actually see the penny dropping with some people that despite the buzz of seeing your club packed and people having a nice time for one day, that might not actually be helping you achieve your long-term objectives. 

"Small is definitely beautiful sometimes. If you have 60 people attend a well thought through, targeted open day and 30 of those join, that's got to be better than accommodating double that number at a more general event but having half the number of joiners?

"More people than ever are discovering our sport through open and taster days so getting it right is key. We hope the retention workshops have helped your club develop a greater understanding of the opportunity for increasing membership, potential customers requirements and how you can engage those customers to become life-long participants in sailing."

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