One resident’s feedback on CA’s new membership and price

This resident agreed to allow me to share his/her feedback on the new membership structure and pricing.  I did not change any part of his/her email.


Dear CA Board Members,

Having previously served on the CA Board, I’ve been aware of long-standing concerns by residents about CA’s recreational membership and rate structure.  But, unfortunately, CA staff’s current recommendations in its 4/8/16 memo do little to alleviate those concerns.  I suggest that you vote against the staff’s recommendations, or, at a minimum, table the issue until you can consider a proposal that is responsive to the serious concerns shown below.

CA has been pricing itself out of the market.

In recent years, many of CA’s recreational rates have increased to the point where people see less value in purchasing CA memberships.  The staff memo indicates that there are currently 19,379 memberships.  According to CA’s records, that is 3,674 fewer memberships than in FY2007, translating to a 16% reduction in CA memberships, even though the population of Columbia and Howard County has kept increasing since then.

CA is steadily losing market share in Columbia.  In FY2007, CA had 48.6% of Columbia’s residents purchasing CA memberships.  In FY2012, that figure was down to 42.1%.  And now, given the latest membership numbers, resident market share is possibly below 40%.

If CA is to reverse this trend, increase the volume of memberships, and increase income, it will need to lower prices to be more competitive with less costly public and private facilities in the area.  CA staff says that reducing prices could reduce income, but reducing prices could actually have the opposite effect and increase income by attracting new many customers and significantly boosting income from new memberships.

CA’s membership options are not appealing

For years, CA staff has configured membership options and prices that attempt to drive people to purchase the most expensive package, Package Plan Plus, even though few people actually have the time or inclination to use most of the facilities in the package.  The staff now recommends a membership structure that makes the situation even worse.  For example, the less costly regular Package Plan and Package Plan Without Golf would both be terminated.

People look for flexibility when considering a purchase of a membership option.  And, the staff memo does have a section on an alternative called the A La Carte Membership Structure and Aquatics Membership, which provides that flexibility.  But, staff shows no price charts in its memo to accompany this promising alternative.  This alternative deserves a more complete analysis and serious consideration.

CA does not sufficiently reward customer loyalty

Too many CA customers feel that they are taken for granted and not rewarded for their loyalty in purchasing memberships year after year.  Renewing a membership provides so meager a discount that people see little downside from letting a membership lapse.  This is an especially important problem as demographics change and the proportion of seniors in our community increases.  And, many Columbia residents feel that, in return for choosing to live in Columbia and being subject to a hefty annual charge, they should pay much less than what non-residents pay for memberships.

CA’s rate structure needs an overhaul so that people can rely on consistent and significant price differentials to reward loyalty.  For example, the price for  renewals could be consistently set at 25% less than new memberships.  The Senior discount could be set at 20% for new memberships and 30% for renewals.  Prices of memberships and classes for Columbia residents could be consistently 50% less than prices for non-residents, as was the policy in the earlier years of CA.  And, to be responsive to a larger senior population that leaves the Columbia area during winters, restoring the previous policy of allowing temporary suspensions of memberships to take into account “Snowbirding” by seniors.  Sufficiently rewarding loyalty in these ways has the potential to induce many more people to buy and retain CA memberships.

Thanks for considering my suggestions,