At Green Acres Country Club in Northbrook, Ill. (suburban Chi-cago), the management staff prides itself on being able to meet any member’s request.
“If a member prefers a brand of bourbon we might not have on hand, we’ll get a bottle for each bar, even if it means making a special trip to a liquor store,” says Jeffrey Plain, the club’s General Manager. “If someone tells us they’re planning to come here for dinner and would like a three-pound lobster for their meal, we’ll do all we can to have our fish man find one in time. We don’t want to ever say no.”
Not saying no—unless it’s part of “no problem”—can go a long way towards earning business from the Green Acres staff, too. It was certainly the key—especially when it came to a newly purchased, but wrong-sized shoe polishing system—for how the club found a new locker room equipment and amenities supplier last year.
Beyond the YMCA
Green Acres CC traces its history to the early 1920s, through a connection with an A.W. Tillinghast-designed golf course that was first operated by the Illinois Golf Club. Once one of the highest-end clubs in the Chicago area, the Illinois GC didn’t survive World War II—but the course was purchased and revived when a new club, Green Acres, was formed shortly after the war.
Over its own 60-plus years of existence, Green Acres has had several renovations to not only the course, but other facilities. But its clubhouse locker rooms never got much of a makeover, reports Richard Wiese, who has been at the club for 32 years in dual roles as Food & Beverage Manager and clubhouse manager. In fact, Wiese says, until recently the rooms with all-metal lockers always looked “barely a step above the YMCA.”
That changed dramatically, however, when the latest renovation was set in motion last year at the 275-member private club—and the locker rooms were identified as a priority for receiving long-overdue attention.
“We finally decided to do it right, for both the men’s and women’s rooms,” Wiese reports. “Beautiful cherry-wood lockers, granite counters, uplighted ceilings, steam rooms—everything that goes with having first-class locker rooms. And as part of that, we wanted to upgrade all of our amenities, too—towels, soap, skin care products and everything else that could enhance quality and the overall experience for our members.”
The changeover created a timely opportunity for Country Club Supply, a full-service amenities supplier that had been trying to earn Green Acres’ business. Green Acres had a long-standing relationship with another company, but Sales Manager Brad Dodds and others at Country Club Supply had maintained regular contact with Wiese, just in case he would ever be interested in rebidding the business. The locker room renovation—and the issue that arose with the shoe system—created just such an occasion.
As part of the upgrade and redesign of Green Acres men’s locker room, Wiese ordered a new shoe polishing system for Locker Room Attendant Roger Carreto. But after it arrived, it was found to be too big for the new countertop where it needed to be positioned.
When Wiese reported this to the company he’d bought it from, he was told it couldn’t be exchanged. But when he told Brad Dodds about the situation, Dodds said no problem—because his company’s philosophy is to satisfy customers at any cost, and the equipment was something Country Club Supply sells every day, he said he’d be happy to take it from Wiese and provide a properly sized system.
“That really made the difference to me [in deciding to consider a switch in vendors],” Wiese says. “You’re not talking about a small cost for one of those systems.”
The deal was then sealed after Wiese took a closer look at Country Club Supply’s pricing and overall approach to customer service. “Since we were really going to start over from scratch, I figured I should see how their pricing would compare to what we were getting,” Wiese says. “[Brad] came back with prices that were unbelievable in how much lower some of them were. It was clear they had a full product offering to make sure we’d always have what we need, and that they’d be able to back that up with good service.”
“But what really made the difference was that they said they’d take [the shoeshine system] off our hands,” he adds. “That said a lot about what we could expect from them.”
For Country Club Supply, making the exchange was “all just part of customer service and doing whatever you have to do to solve a problem,” says President Tom Zabkiewicz. And as the relationship has evolved, Green Acres has more than reciprocated, by proving to be a progressive partner.
“This is a customer that is not afraid to step up and try some of the new high-end items in our line,” says Dodds. “We see so many clubs spend a lot on new locker rooms, but then they don’t support that investment by carrying [supplies and amenities] that fit with the new look and feel that they want to have. Green Acres has followed through in every way, and the members really identify positively now with all that’s been done.”
The new look in the Green Acres locker rooms includes customized Corian dispensers, towels, shoe bags and other logoed items. Wiese also likes the way that he and his locker room managers have been able to pick and choose from a wide variety of available items, without having to be concerned about getting stuck with too much of something that might not prove as popular with the membership.
“If we find we’ve ordered too much of something, [Country Club Supply] has been very willing to take things back,” he says. “I have a lot of roles here and use a lot of vendors, so we need to work with that kind of company.”
Most importantly, a steady stream of positive member feedback confirms that the new partnership is paying off. “We really needed to change [the locker rooms] to match the rest of the clubhouse, and everyone now says what a beautiful, nice place they have become,” says Roger Carreto, who has been the men’s locker room manager for six years, after caddying at the club for eight. “Everything is much more professional, and everyone is very happy.”