Back during my August trip up to Yellowknife, I chatted with the folks extensively about how to grow their program. Quality coaching is important, yes. Cost management is important, yes. Marketing? Undoubtedly important as well. But what if there was a simple way to structure your entire program so that it naturally fit with consumer demand? What if we were to schedule and price our programs based on the needs of our customers rather than our availability? I’m talking about applying the concept of elasticity to our training programs.
First, we need to define what exactly I mean by elasticity – cue investopedia:
Elasticity : A situation in which the supply and demand for a good or service can vary significantly due to the price. The elasticity of a good or service can vary according to the amount of close substitutes, its relative cost and the amount of time that has elapsed since the price change occurred.
Inelasticity: An economic term used to describe the situation in which the supply and demand for a good or service are unaffected when the price of that good or service changes. Inelastic means that when the price goes up, consumers’ buying habits stay about the same, and when the price goes down, consumers’ buying habits also remain unchanged.
How does this apply to a sailing club or program? It’s extremely important. Consider our customer, the parental unit. Do not for a moment confuse the athlete with the parental unit as the customer, unless it is the ten year old paying for his or her own sailing lessons. What are the needs of the parental unit? In an age of busy and stressed out parents, the needs rank first as childcare, then education, then a combination of wholesome living, activity, socialization, and perhaps a smattering of fun. I know I know, we as coaches cringe to read this as all of our years of training, development, and effort are diminished and we are relegated to the role of babysitter.
So what does elasticity have to do with the needs of the parental unit? Well, logic would dictate that the older the child, the less likelihood there is that this child will require babysitting. In fact, one can pinpoint the age of 12 as a critical age at which point children, our precious athletes and future Olympic hopefuls, become certified to babysit others. This means they do not require childcare. This in turn means that sailing shifts from being an essential cost for the parental unit, to a discretionary cost. In other words, the athlete must WANT to come sailing, rather than be required in order to prevent an episode of Lord of the Flies down at the local playground. The second critical age for our athletes is 15, the age at which they may legally be employed. Now our programs are competing not just with other sports as a discretionary cost, they are competing with jobs themselves.
What does this mean for our actual programs?
- Athletes and parents are more likely to be introduced to sailing at an early age, specifically before 12 years old, and to return for the purposes of childcare.
- As athletes grow up, our programs face more competition in the form of jobs and other activities, while the market actually shrinks since childcare is not required.
- Athletes over the age of 15 are less likely to try sailing for the first time until they are adults.
- As athletes grow up, sailing lessons become more elastic, which means they become more price sensitive.
Using Elasticity to our Benefit
If we know that sailing becomes more elastic as children grow up, we also know that the younger they are, the more inelastic sailing becomes. This means that parents are less price sensitive to lessons for younger sailors, particularly Opti aged sailors under the age of 12. I’m not saying that we should inflate our prices or gouge parents. What I am saying is that this is the optimal age at which to attract new sailors into our sport. Many programs have traditionally started intro sailing at 12 years old in Club 420’s. Then Opti sailing is added as a means of catering to additional demand, and often as an afterthought. That additional demand? It’s there for a reason; that’s precisely the market that clubs should be targeting.
Many clubs have also traditionally structured their boat and fleet purchases based on safety ratios. This is extremely important, but so is realizing that maximizing your course capacity based on safety standards does not mean that there is sufficient demand to actually fill the course. Advanced courses, or courses catering to athletes aged 12 and over should consider catering to those athletes who are moving into intermediate and advanced skill stages, since the focus at this point is on athlete/customer retention. Sure there will be some new sailors in the age 12 to 15 range, but far fewer than we previously thought.
This fall, while clubs are cleaning up after a hectic summer and evaluating their seasons, and while they begin in earnest to set up for next year, I urge a look at the program structure. Does your sailing program fit the needs of your customers? Are you turning away some customers in the younger age brackets while advanced courses sit with minimal enrollment? Before you undertake a new marketing campaign, take a look at the actual allocation of your enrollment and consider whether it meets the needs of your market. You may be surprised by next summer’s enrollment. And for those coaches out there? Once you’ve got those athletes on site…give them everything you’ve got.