2 March 2011

Curbing Club Membership Decline:Clubs hard at work to combat loss of aging members

Thanks to televised car auctions, other auto-themed shows and the Internet’s ability to deliver the hobby into homes at any time, the collector-car hobby is as far-reaching and accessible as it has ever been. But that increased visibility hasn’t necessarily translated to increased membership for the hobby’s oldest communities —car clubs.

Car Club Challenges
It’s no secret that clubs worry about how that old cliché  — “the graying of the hobby” —is resulting in declining membership.

“One of the biggest challenges for the club is the age of members,” said Dick Maury, president of the Jaguar Clubs of North America. “The average member is over 50, probably 60 years old. In 20 years, we won’t have a lot of members.”

“Our membership is, unfortunately, declining,” said Al Kroemer, president of the Classic Car Club of America. “This trend was very slow until this past year.” He explains that the single largest factor is demographic. “We took an extensive survey of our members 15 months ago and found our average age of 67, with over 25 percent being over 75.”

Even though hobbyists pass on, their cars remain. In the past, successive owners often joined the club, replacing the car’s previous owner, according to Gil Fuqua, president of the Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club. Unfortunately, that tradition seems to be getting lost. He admits that “we used to see the [same] turnover in membership — 8-10 percent, with new members coming in at the same or increased rate — but now the new member rate is not as fast as the outgoing rate.”

Curbing the decline in club membership
Clubs are keenly aware of the obstacles, and are taking significant steps to combat declining membership caused by aging members. One method of encouraging club membership is to take advantage of modern technology and the cost-effective way it delivers information.

“We have a helpline for members and we’re sourcing parts for members only [through the website],” noted Maury of the Jaguar Club of North America, which experienced an uptick in membership last year.

Meanwhile, The Rolls-Royce Owner’s Club offers technical resources on its website that can save members hundreds of dollars, adding value to the price of membership dues. “A full set of workshop manuals can run 1,000 pages, but obviously, it is very expensive to print and mail those, so we are moving that stuff online and they can download or print it for free,” Fuqua said.

While the Internet can bring the hobby into homes of prospective members, many clubs still see value in bringing the hobby off the computer screen and onto the streets, particularly to encourage tomorrow’s hobbyist.

“We’ve tried to have a youth program,” said Joe Gagliano, president of the Antique Automobile Club of America, which saw an increase in members last year. “One of the things we are trying to do is work with trade schools to introduce antique cars and information into the curriculum.” Gagliano noted the club’s youth-judging program (in partnership with Hagerty Operation Ignite) during AACA events also engages children in the hobby.

For other clubs, such as the CCCA, attracting new members is much broader initiative. “When I joined this club 40 years ago, it was very much a closed society,” said Kroemer. “Now, we are inviting members of other car clubs to come in and visit with us.”

The CCCA is also taking steps to reach out to the public. “This year, our annual meeting was in January in Palm Beach, Florida, and we had 40 Classics in the parking lot and we had people coming from all over to look at the cars and talk to the owners,” Kroemer said.

According to the Jaguar Club of North America’s Maury, the bottom line to club health is to adapt to members needs, be it socializing at shows and on tours, to attract new people to the club. “Make it fun — eventually, the kids will be interested.”

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