The Fate of Private Clubs

Vancouver Private Clubs | BCBusiness
This old dog’s club is about to learn some new tricks.

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Inside the regal rooms of B.C.’s esteemed business clubs, thousands of deals have gone down. Plenty of handshakes offered; plenty of partnerships signed. But these are different times and the oldest and most revered clubs are re-inventing themselves to keep up.

The first private business club in B.C.—Victoria’s Union Club—was established in 1879. In 1889, the Vancouver Club opened its doors, and the Terminal City Club (1892) wasn’t far behind. However, as storied, rooted and as important as these clubs have been on the B.C. business landscape, they certainly are not insulated from the fast-changing ways of the business world.

Opening the doors to women (as late as the ’80s, these were male-only establishments) was a requisite start, but other changes have—and are—occurring.

Noni Bruyere, director of sales and marketing for the Terminal City Club, says, “We’ve seen family play a much more significant role in the club. Not only are we planning industry-specific events, women’s-only lunches, discussion groups and so on, but we’re planning social events where children are the focus. Women make up over 20 per cent of our membership. Seventy per cent of our members are 59 or younger. And they want their families included. We’re happy to embrace this.”

The Terminal City Club’s membership has held steady: 1,599 members in 2004, 1,606 in 2009 and 1,722 today. Memberships are priced by age, with members aged 45 and older paying $8,849 and those under 35 paying less than half that. Spouses pay $1,900.

Obviously, a driving force behind any club is attracting new members and retaining existing ones.

“We have to give them value, that’s the bottom line,” says Kelly Thomas, sales director at The Vancouver Club, which recently underwent a successful re-branding by melding traditional business values with a social scene that’s family-friendly. It’s a move that’s been extremely well received by the growing segment of businessmen and women in their 30s and 40s, especially. “People are constantly being transferred, moving, retiring and working independently from home,” says Thomas. “It puts pressure on us, no doubt, but our membership is strong and new people are always coming.”

Attracting new people at the Union Club in Victoria, which currently has just over 1,400 members paying $148 monthly after a $2,000 initiation fee, has been bolstered significantly thanks to a partnership with the local Chamber of Commerce. “If you join the local Chamber, you are eligible to join the club for just $500,” says general manager, David Hammonds. “These types of partnerships are vital.”

The club, located in Victoria’s historic district, also recently opened its doors for the public to stay in the beautiful 22-room hotel, creating awareness and income for the club.

Embracing mobile media has also been critical. “Ten years ago, using your phone in The Vancouver Club didn’t fly. Now, with our Wi-Fi lounge, it’s a different story,” says Thomas.

Another challenge is the opportunity for business people to network through LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. “Obviously, these are powerful tools,” says Hammonds. “But the necessity for face-to-face meetings will never go away. Our meeting spaces are booked solid. It’s the business relationships forged by personal interaction that speak the loudest. Business clubs facilitate this. In B.C., it’s a 134 year-old tradition that isn’t fading.”