Making the club work smarter, not harder
Now that Henley RUFC has got the latest membership and EPoS technology from Open Solutions, membership secretary Martin Bidlake-Corser has already begun to transform the way the members can benefit from their relationship with the club in ways that were unimaginable only a few months ago.
Having streamlined the way the club manages itself, Henley RUFC’s members not only have branded membership and bar cards which they use to run a bar account, but they can now top up their club cards online via their smartphones. How many rugby club members can do that?!
Exploiting new technology to make things easier
With around 660 members and just two salaried employees for their bar and catering facilities, the members who lend their time to manage Henley RUFC on a voluntary basis have long known that technology was going to make things easier to manage their increasingly complex and regulated club.
Only a matter of months ago however, as Martin Bidlake-Corser explained, “Everything was being run with bits of paper. We had two stand-alone cash tills, our run of 700 or so membership cards all had to be printed, filled in by hand and laminated, our membership database software didn’t ‘talk’ to our website, and frankly, it was all becoming far too time consuming and laborious. Just to make matters worse of course, by doing things manually any ‘management information’ risked being plagued with errors.”
“More to the point, while we were struggling with all the paperwork, there were all sorts of things the club couldn’t do until it had the right kind of technology.
“For example, if a new Mini or Junior member joined, and we have around 420 of them going through our hands in any one year, I wanted the system to automatically tell the coaches of the relevant teams. With members’ contact details changing constantly, I wanted them to be able to update the club’s records themselves, rather than the club to have to ask them if things had changed.”
He continues: “The software and the hardware from Open Solutions been brilliant and very robust, but even more relevantly, as we’re a community club and this sort of thing doesn’t come cheap, the uplift in sales promises to have a positive impact on the club’s overall profitability. Building on this success over the past season, we felt confident to exploit the smart card’s functionality in assisting match day gate management”.
Finding the right partner: Open Solutions
Martin’s initial problem was finding the right software developer, and after an unsuccessful trial with one company, Martin spoke with Richmond (Athletic Association) about their membership and EPoS technology from Open Solutions.
Their recommendations soon resulted in Henley’s installation of the same software, but as Martin soon found out, they’d got far more than they bargained for, as he explained:
“With any software, especially now with all the potential new opportunities that online and mobile technology can bring, we wanted a technology partner that could not only provide us with the systems we needed now, but the capability of helping us develop new ideas as well.”
“With my IT background, what I really liked about Open Solutions was that when we asked about having something new that didn’t come as standard, they never say ‘No, we can’t.’, they say, ‘Let’s see what we can do.’ If it’s an idea they think will benefit their other customers, they’ll do it. That’s led to our members being able to top up their bar cards online via their smartphones, wherever they are and at whatever time it happens to be.”
Fully integrated membership, EPoS and card technology does so much more
This was all the more important for Henley RUFC as it was also refurbishing its clubhouse in time for the new 2016-2017 season. As Martin explained, “The new Open Solutions technology combines our membership database with the EPoS system, so that with the swipe and proximity readable cards all the privileges of our three membership categories, eg. a Gold membership, can now be recognised automatically.”
This starts from the point where they enter the club on match days, and extends to the bar and the way they can now book tables in the dining room for themselves and their guests. Because the cards recognise the different categories, a Gold member’s table booking privileges can automatically be tracked and recorded through the system, instead of each booking requiring a book of 15 tickets for each Gold member to tear off and hand over.
As Martin’s keen to explain, “That led to another way in which Open Solutions tailored our software for our particular set of requirements. Our bar and catering supplier wanted to keep their business separate from our’s, so Open Solutions set us up with shared diaries and separate booking systems to facilitate that degree of commercial separation.”
Online top up via a member’s smartphone
Martin’s particularly pleased with this new membership service, as he reflects: “Topping up a bar card is a great example of the way we can now exploit the latest in online technology to make things much easier for our members. Because our members can now use their cards to load money into their account, all they need to bring to the club is literally their Henley RUFC card. And if they need to put more money into it, no problem.”
“This capability also means they can pay their annual subscriptions online, or simply top up whenever they need to add more money to their account to pay for that table booking, an event or function, or the next round. They use their smartphone to go to our web-based membership portal, go into their account, use the online payment feature (Stripe) to pay another amount into their Henley RUFC account, and that’s it.”
Streamlining the admin side of the club
Making it easy to pay in and top up means more money is being spent at the club by more members. And on the administrative side, things are equally switched on.
With all the regulatory and RFU pressure on clubs to ensure that every relevant detail of their playing members is documented and auditable, the club’s new membership database software is proving ideal at capturing all the details required.
Better still, all relevant details of the club’s 422 (currently) mini and Junior members are being passed on to all the team coaches for their own databases, teams and matches, making this aspect far less onerous and laborious, especially for Martin as the club’s membership secretary.
“Using technology makes it far easier for crucial things like forms as PDF downloads for the coaches to provide to the ‘responsible parents’ to sign, and then be co-signed by the club. Now it’s significantly easier for us to manage complex administration requirements made increasingly detailed with additional ethnicity, medical and disability requirements.”
“It’s now a pretty simple matter for me to see all sorts of things: who’s joined recently, how much members are spending, what bar products are the most popular, or how effective a promotion has been. It means we can now make sure we’ve got every detail we are required to hold about every one of our playing members, and comply 100% with the RFU’s own very comprehensive and onerous database requirements.”
What’s next for Henley RUFC’s members?
Martin’s very excited by the new possibilities that having the latest Open Solutions technology affords the club, as he outlines: “With Open Solutions, we’re able to almost future-proof the club. We’ve completed the first stage of development in terms of our new technology, and have plans for another EPoS till as well. With the newly refurbished clubhouse there are all sorts of other ideas bubbling away.
“We want to have stewards using tablets at the point of gate access so they can check the validity of anyone coming to our club on match days, whatever their category of membership – or not! Wifi proximity could give us the ability to send members welcome messages when they arrive with their guests for pre-match lunches at their pre-booked tables. Simple, but it makes Henley RUFC look very switched on.”
Martin summarises, “Almost overnight our little club is as 21st century as anyone would want it to be, while retaining all the characteristics our members love: very friendly, sociable, human scale.” As the club starts to find ways of both retaining and increasing its membership, the feedback from all the members that have started using all these new technology-driven capabilities has been terrific, and the bottom line’s improving as well. It is proof that Martin’s mantra of ‘Work smarter, not harder!’ is really paying dividends for Henley RUFC, both now and well into the future.
" I can now get all the information I need, and that makes it far more straightforward to manage a very active, busy club with over 1,000 members. That in turn means Farnham RUFC is on a very sound footing as a business as well as a club."
" Absolutely tremendous, I couldn’t speak more highly about it. Besides the highly effective training, when support’s needed the user gets straight through to a real person that can talk them through whatever it is they need to do."