Thursday, April 23, 2015

Can Disruptive Innovation Benefit Associations?

What do you do if participation is dropping? Not just once but often enough to be a trend.

It could be membership ... Or convention attendance ... Or readership.

Two entertainment industries – bowling and golf – illustrate the challenges of declining participation.

Rather than sitting around and talking about negative trends or "fussing" about Millennials, two businesses within these industrie shave refocused and created innovations designed to re/engage participants and recruit new ones.

They are TopGolf and HeadPinz. More on them in just a bit.

First, let’s talk a bit about disruptive innovation:

  • A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology.
Associations representing industries or professions should be scanning the environment to discover any disruptive innovations that might impact that industry or profession. This scanning should help guide your strategic planning as well as your plans on working with your members as they work through disruptive innovations.
  • If you represent the time piece industry, what does Apple watch mean to you and your watches?
  • If you represent the imaging industry, what did digital images (smart phones) do to the film-based businesses.
  • If you represent publishers/printers, how are you adjusting to digital technology?
Now, let’s look at Topgolf and HeadPinz and the innovations they have developed to change their operations and, they hope, to reverse the negative downward trends within their business segment.

Traditional golf has experienced negative trends over the last decade:
  • Number of members down. 
  • Number of rounds down. 
  • 1 golf course is closing every 48 hours. 

Topgolf – a rapidly growing, golf-centric, entertainment company – decided to change the game.

Here are a couple of key points on Topgolf from a recent news story:

  • A Topgolf "store" is typically a combination three-level driving range, upscale sports bar, pro shop and nightspot. They can exceed 70,000 square feet and sit on some seven acres. The driving-range tiers have dozens of tee-off bays opening onto a course with nine sunken, circular targets, each of them divided into pie-like sections, appearing a bit like a dart board.
  • The microchip-carrying Callaway balls play just like a regular ball. An electronic system keeps score and tracks distance and allows for a number of game formats. Players can compete with others in their group, try to beat their prior best scores and climb the "leader board" capturing everyone playing at the entire location.
  • "We take away a lot of the traditional barriers" that keep many people today from taking up golf, May argues: The game takes one or two hours instead of five, it's unnecessary to buy equipment, the "cart lady" is always nearby for a food or drink order, and there are heaters and misters for when the weather's too cold or hot.
  • So Topgolf is growing rapidly and bringing in huge numbers of participants.
  • Interestingly, Topgolf management views their centers as a means to help turn the corner of “regular golf.”
If you represent the golf industry (courses, superintendents, manufacturer), what do Topgolf centers mean to you. (One golf company – Callaway Golf – actually purchased 20% of Topgolf.)

Like golf, bowling participation, has declined since the start of the 21st century. It even led to Robert Putnam’s highly read book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.
  • Putnam warns that our stock of social capital – the very fabric of our connections with each other, has plummeted, impoverishing our lives and communities.
  • Putnam draws on evidence including nearly 500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We’re even bowling alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues. Putnam shows how changes in work, family structure, age, suburban life, television, computers, women’s roles and other factors have contributed to this decline.

HeadPinz has taken on the challenge of bowling participation by expanding the definition of “bowling alley.”

Here are excerpts from a local story headlined Fort Myers entertainment complex to feature bowling, laser tag, ropes.

  • It's not your father's bowling alley and it may be unlike any bowling center you've ever seen.
  • HeadPinz Fort Myers, under construction on the west side of Treeline Avenue near the airport, is expected to open in mid-June.
  • The 50,000-square-foot center is much more of a multi-use entertainment attraction than what keglers at other Southwest Florida bowling locations have experienced.
  • That's because this location will feature a two-story laser tag arena, a suspended aerial ropes course and an area featuring more than 40 top arcade games.
  • "There's nothing like it in Florida," said Mike Cannington, director of operations for Bowland Centers. "You have to go to Atlanta or Dallas (or another major city) to find a building that has all these pieces."
  • Oh, and there's bowling too. The center will have 28 lanes — 16 in a traditional setting, eight in a boutique area with its own bar and four "old time" lanes with pin setting by hand and a vintage look.
I’m not sure these two stories reflect true disruptive innovation but they do reflect changing the “we’ve always done it this way” philosophy to a “what if we tried this” mentality.

Yes, HeadPinz and TopGolf are NOT associations.

They do, however, demonstrate the kind of thinking associations will engage in as we face challenges of retiring Boomers and engaging Millennials.

And, the experiences they offer their customers (many of whom are prospective association members) impact the expectations our future members will look for when deciding whether or not to join an organization.

Recognizing that changes in the industry impact the association representing that industry, are you able to use disruptive innovation to help you? Or, do you sit back and get run over.

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