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Management Shakeup
at National Croquet Center
by Bob Alman
Photo by Joe Camosy
Posted May 8, 2007

Related Links
CFA letter to the membership, May 8, 2007
Colbert creates a croquet circus, February 2007
Jenner hired with new development funding, December 2004
Center prepares for first high season, October 2002
The preview opening, October 2001
The clubhouse rises above the lawns, April 2001
Bob Alman's move to Florida, December 2000

It's an annual happenstance, but no less upsetting to the people invested - both financially and emotionally - in the future of the magnificent National Croquet Center founded and initially financed by Chuck Steuber and opened to great expectations five years ago this month - in May of 2002. In six successive generations of club management of many styles and tenors, not one of them has lasted through an entire summer, since the clubhouse opened.

Although in many ways overall operations at the Center have been streamlined and improved over time - especially in the bread-and-butter sphere of event marketing and sales - in the one vitally important area of membership, it has gone steadily backwards. Membership reached a high of 350 in late 2003, a year and a half after the clubhouse opened but a full three and half years after the lawns opened for club activity.

Many people do not realize that the Center opened substantially without development capital and was financially strapped from the day the clubhouse doors opened, in May of 2002. (It was not until the Stueber family made possible long-term financing in the spring of 2004 that sufficient development capital was finally available for hiring marketing and sales staff and undertaking other expenses associated with a normal course of development.)

Some of the dark clouds of rumor and speculation hovering over croquet's premier facility have been dissipated by recent deliberations and decisions of the board of the Croquet Foundation of America in re-charting the National Croquet Center's future.

After the departure of Bob Alman in July of 2003, who had started promoting club enrollments in late 2000 and opened the club on the completed lawns in December of 2000, there was vitually no pro-active onsite marketing and development until Mike Jenner was hired in the spring of 2004. By the time Jenner started his one-year tenure, the membership structures vital for development had already been fatally compromised in various ways, and Jenner make it clear to everyone that "membership is not the priority." Jenner concentrated on event marketing and cutting expenses. By the end of Jenner's one-year tenure, membership activities and morale were at an all-time low. Jenner had eliminated the novice-level "associate" membership, which had been the driving engine of membership growth for two years. Membership numbers began a precipitous decline.

The next manager was chosen with all good intentions from the sphere of professional club management, but unfortunately he had no experience in marketing and development; his solution to problems and challenges was to hire somebody to do them, and he hired people who couldn't do the job. His highest priority was restoring growth of membership, and he failed in that task. His contract was not renewed in the spring of 2006.

Backed by tremendous personal popularity and a good showing on the USCA Planning Committee, Terry Colbert was engaged as General Manager in the summer of 2006, charged with the single over-riding priority of building membership. Colbert was unsuccessful in achieving significant growth results, despite a high level of energy and enthusiasm, and despite excellent work in improving Center graphics and print pieces.

On Colbert's behalf, it must be said that he inherited a membership program in a complete shambles, and he was making some headway in repairing the damage by restoring the original membership structures and categories that had supported the club initially to the level of 350. But as of May 1, 2006, with membership around half its peak numbers of four years ago - at only 175 - and with expenses mounting, the Foundation Board, after much deliberation, found it could not justify the enormous expense of the General Manager job as it has been structured for the last General Manager cycles.

The Center can continue to function well in the short term with an excellent trained staff and club volunteers in key positions and ultimate responsibility in the hands of committed high-level, unpaid volunteers. The long-term prospect is less certain. The following announcement from the Croquet Foundation of America board begins by dispelling persistent rumors of the Center's imminent closing and proceeds to outline some funding possibilities.

CFA Board Meetings held May 6th & May 7th, 2007

Dear Fellow NCC Members:

The Croquet Center is NOT going to close.

The Croquet Foundation of America (CFA) Board of Directors met May 6th and 7th to ensure the continued operation of the Center, to deal with the future issues that we face, and to dispel the many wild and false rumors.

The decision to terminate Terry Colbert was upheld by the Board. Although Terry brought much energy and enthusiasm to the Club, he was unable to act or comply with other hiring directives.

Gary Weltner has agreed to remain as acting General Manager for the remainder of the summer. At the beginning of September, Stewart Jackson will take over the duties of General Manager, which involve the day-to-day running of the Center. All staff will remain to continue daily operations.

Here is some history:

The Center has operated since May 2001 until present with an annual operating deficit of approximately $100,000. This has been funded by a $500,000 mortgage from a member. The anticipated shortfall for 2007 might be as high as $200,000. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.

Short-Term Solutions Suggested

- Tax Deductible Donations from members to the CFA (a 501c 3 organization) for the NCC. Objective: $150,000 - Through suggested $1,000 - $5,000 donations per member. (Those who would like to donate larger amounts are welcome.) CFA will match up to $75,000 (50 cents per dollar). Total $225K.

Please give us your thinking as well as your support. Call John, Stewart or Gary or any CFA or CE Board Member for info and/or your opinion.

Longer Term Solutions Suggested:

Management - Starting in September Stewart Jackson has volunteered to act as GM. Gary Weltner will remain President of Croquet Enterprises. Stewart will be seeking to hire someone as Membership Director on a Commission Basis.

Membership - Introduce a Friend. Everyone should try to bring in a new member; we hope this will bring in $50,000. Also, management sales initiatives hope to achieve another $25 - $50,000.

Simplified Membership Categories - Dues will be raised approximately 25% and an initiation fee has been suggested. Vote! Should it be $1,000? More? For New Members only? Everyone? Let us hear your thoughts and ideas.

Fund Raising - $25,000 annually through silent auctions, live bidding, private and corporate donations. One to 4 times a year?

We all want the NCC to succeed. It has been a learning process to find a level of dues to support growing operating expenses.

You will see more energized committees with croquet and social activities - announced programs we can commit to, subject always to tournament or catering demands.



John Curington, President, CFA - Phone 904-273-0806
Stewart Jackson, Board Member, CFA - Phone 561-514-9007
Gary Weltner, President, Croquet Enterprises - Phone 561-753-8865

The change is seasonal and almost imperceptible

Every spring since 2003, club management at the NCC has changed. It's hardly noticeable, because of the radical downshift of activity that happens seasonally at this time of year: the snow birds go north (and there are many among the membership); the Center hours and dining and bar service are reduced; and member play continues - largely in the mornings as a bow to the heat of the Florida summer.

Members of the NCC and the USCA alike can breathe easily knowing that their world-class headquarters facility will continue to be maintained in good order as a membership club and as the hosting venue for many of the major events in American croquet, as well as major international events, which are likely to include the official World Championship in May of 2009.

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