This conversation come up on Reddit’s Racquetball forum. It helped trigger putting some things into words that I’d been considering for a while. What would you add or change?
As with any business, location will be critical. You want a large enough population to support your facility and yet a small enough cost for land so that you can build to the size you need to be successful.
If I were to pursue the idea of a racquet sports complex with the goal of it being self-sustaining and profitable, there are a few things that I would want to include.
1) Pro shop. The vast majority of your players will likely already own equipment when they start with you, but they will all need new gloves, re-stringing, new balls, eye protection, etc. Have some shirts, socks, shower shoes. Try to keep the quantities fairly low, especially on the bigger dollar items. You don’t need to carry every brand of racquet, but if you can choose 2-3 and carry their top end and the lower end from one brand, you can turn some inventory as players grow their game and look for new racquets to help them get there. Be willing to order for your players that want those other brands, for the goodwill and to build their loyalty. A full time stringer can bring in significant money as well, the one I used in Atlanta would get 15+ racquets done in an 8 hour shift and charged $20 per racquet in addition to the price of the string. It isn’t a ton of money, but it increases the stickiness of your facility for those players that are intermittent, i.e. the tournament-only players.
2) Food and beer. If you can afford a liquor license in your state that lets you serve bottled beer, you can attract a lot of the players that remember the good times they had at clubs before ‘fitness centers’ took over the industry. Have an area of the club where they can get a sandwich and beer after their matches and keep that money from being spent at the sports bar down the road. Consider a TV or three tuned to a sports channel for this area.
I’m not saying to go all Chicken & Pickles, but it is a concept that is working.
3) Ways to regularly spike your income. For racquetball, this means hosting tournaments. If you can hold an event every 5-6 weeks that gets an extra $40-60-80 from 100-150 players, it can really help smooth out your financial planning and pay for regular building maintenance. This also means that you need a facility with ideally 8-10 or more courts.
4) Show court(s). Have one show court for each sport that you intend to host. For racquetball, this would be three walls of glass, with plenty of seating. This should be near the entrance to the facility (and within an easy stroll of the food and beer). Ensure that the layout of this court allows mounting 2-4 cameras so that video can be broadcast on your Facebook page or YouTube channel.
5) Diversity. If you can diversify your member base, you will come out on top. Ways I would consider diversifying:
a) Wallyball. Put in the attachments in the walls to be able to put up a volleyball net, then get the adult volleyball players to become aware of your location for regular match nights (and tournaments).
b) Badminton. Use those same attachments to allow a badminton net to be strung on the court. I don’t expect this to have as big a following as Wallyball, but you can pursue it without significant extra cost.
c) Pickleball. If you can handle the additional startup cost and can get 8-10 indoor courts, you can definitely diversify your member base in a huge fashion. This will require some additions to your pro shop, but those don’t need to be the expensive paddles. Get some basic paddles so that anyone new can jump in for ~$30 per player, and carry balls, and be able to order the other paddles. Have some semi-decent paddles for rent as well. If you can manage the 8-10 courts, then you can alternate the tournament cash spikes, with one tournament a month for either pickleball or racquetball. If you have a 3 week break between either one, your staff can recover emotionally and your regular players don’t feel forced out on the weekends. 🙂 Definitely consider a show court for pickleball as well, separate from your main pickleball area, near the entrance, the food, and the beer.
Amenities I would consider even though they are simply expenses and have to be covered by your regular membership and the options above:
1) Hot tubs. One in each of the locker rooms. You’re going to have people that get tight and sore after their matches, so you need them to be able to relax their muscles before they leave. If they’ve already relaxed, they’re also more likely to stick around for that sandwich and beer. 🙂
2) Large lockers. I want to be able to put my racquetball bag in a locker while I shower. I don’t want to have to empty it out completely and flatten it with just the racquets in it to fit. 🙂 Be generous with your locker size.
3) A bag corral or large cubby area where you can fit 24-30 racquetball bags during a tournament for those players that aren’t on the court at the moment, without taking up the locker room lockers.
Things I wouldn’t include:
1) A pool. Neither indoor nor outdoor, it isn’t an expense that a racquet club needs. Same for a sauna (this may just be my asthma talking, but I don’t think it is worth the expense).
2) Cardio equipment. No rowers, no bikes, no treadmills. Everything that moves will break. 🙂 Having broken equipment generates a lot more hostility than having no equipment. Unless you plan to use it yourself (as the owners of the facility) and unless you can fix it yourself the same day, then I do not recommend spending (not investing, just spending) money on cardio equipment.
3) Weights. Weight machines are out, remember that everything that moves will break. 🙂 I might be talked into free weights (dumbbells), but find it difficult to ever recover that expense.
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