Monday, August 11, 2014

Is a Facility Required?

By Tim Vande Schraaf, President/CEO, Eastside Volleyball Club
In order to run a successful club volleyball program, do you need to own a building? Eastside Volleyball Club (Illinois) is going into its 19th year of running a successful program in Central Illinois and we have never owned a facility. Thousands of girls have benefited from our creative court scheduling. Have we looked at opening facilities in the past? Of course the answer to that question is yes. Our current model and process is one that any club can use, as long as they have the initiative and passion for the sport.

Some information on our club: Club Volleyball to us is not a business and we do not operate that way. We are a genuine grass roots effort. Our goals are very simple, we want to better the sport of volleyball and afford opportunities to our participants. My wife Diane and I were cornerstones of the organization when we laid the foundation of our idea 19 years ago. To this day we still operate with those principals. Our model for facilities is entwined with our club philosophy so one needs to understand our approach first.

This past season we had 35 club teams and 8 Mini Volleyball teams. Our club utilized 6 facilities:  1) RiverPlex is our Primary Hub, 2) Germantown Hills Middle School (SE - 15 minutes), 3) East Peoria High School (S - 10 minutes), 4) Robein Middle School ( S - 10 minutes), 5) Eastside Centre ( S- 10 minutes) and 6) Dunlap High School (N-25 minutes). On a given night I would probably put 50+ miles on my vehicle traveling to the various facilities. Our club purchased net systems for most of the facilities.

Our club’s practice structure consists of one practice night that is longer and focuses on technique and positional training. The other practice nights are what we consider team nights and teams each have their own court. Friday nights are normally free in many gyms. Our Mini VB program has 15-16 players and practices on 1-2 courts.

In our consideration of purchasing a facility, we felt that by opening a facility, we would lose some of the passion that we have for our current effort. We would also be tied down worrying about facility finances. We have bargained and negotiated for every hour of time we have used for our program and successful tournament series. One key element is that when negotiating for time, we demonstrate and stress what the community and schools are going to receive from our hard work. The facilities we use are owned by other community partners, such as schools and park districts. Our club program has the same philosophy.

The following are a couple tips for a club to operate without a facility successfully.

·   Establish your club playing fees as low as you can. Our club is not set-up as a money making proposition. Our leaders and staff have other livelihoods for income. By keeping fee structures down, communities are more willing to partner with your program.

Give back to the community by offering assistance for community projects related to volleyball. Help start other grassroots efforts in the community.

We work with schools and park districts on their dead time for our practices. For example we use a local school and bank $X.X per hour per court for practices. The school has nothing in the gym and the staff is present in the school during clean-up, so this income is residual to them. Our primary practice facility that is owned by the Park District has a similar arrangement, except it advances to a different level. We host tournaments at this facility and pay them $X.X per hour per court. They also work and receive proceeds from the admission gate. Our club keeps a running tally on expense to tournaments, and as long as our expenses are covered, we issue refunds to some of the facilities in the form of gifts to schools that have members that are coaching for us.

In order to avoid double booking, we try and stay ahead and communicate a lot with facilities so we can be proactive on finding alternate sites when conflicts come up. We normally do not have too many issues since we have a strong line of communication. Most times last minute conflicts can be avoided.

Pros of using this system: 

  1. You are able to keep costs down by using gym time that is not being used by other programs. Many gyms like to get tenants they can always count on.
  2. We don't have to worry about business expenses such as utilities, custodial, etc..
  3. We don't have personal capital financial outlay by funding a building for business purposes.
  4. There are ancillary items such as training machines, etc. that the facilities have for their programs we are able to access. For example the RiverPlex has 10 nice Sand Courts that we are able to use for our program.

Of course for all the good, yes there are some cons to not having your own facility:

  1. Creative scheduling needs to be done and we visit the schedule often to try and head off duplicate booking. With more communication we do not have to many problems.
  2. We dont have the luxury to say, this is our own home, but that doesn't seem important for parents that are wanting to meet a home budget.
  3. The distance between practice facilities can be challenging for a managing aspect, but we have a set location for our teams to practice that doesn't fluctuate.
  4. When we do not control the facility, you could have to deal with emergency changes that alter our schedule, but again our parents understand, and some having played with clubs that own their own facilities, that aspect doesn't seem important.

As long as clubs are good stewards in their community, and partner with local facilities, they should have no problem being successful without ever owning a facility. This model may not work for some, but it has worked with us. Feel free to call me at (309) 635-4179 or email at any questions on this idea or others we have used. We are here to help and assist where we can.

For additional information on this topic view the PowerPoint from Tim’s presentation at the 2007 AVCA Convention Grassroots Volleyball: Negotiating for Success with Facilities. A Total Community Effort

For more junior volleyball education for club directors and coaches, click here.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Making a Big Impact: The Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls

The Sanford Pentagon is host to the Pentagon Volleyball Club. With 14 teams in its first year, the club is off to a great start. Pentagon Volleyball Club is a proud member of the JVA and have organized the Northern Plains Power League with JVA host clubs Omaha River City Juniors and Nebraska Juniors. The NPPL is part of the Mizuno JVA Power League Alliance, which includes the Great Lakes Power League, The Southern Alliance Volleyball League and the Southern Power League. 

The Sanford Pentagon is a 160,000 square foot, multi-purpose facility in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The facility was built by Sanford Health and opened in September of 2013. In the planning stages of the facility, Sanford Health knew they wanted a volleyball academy in the building, similar to what they already had established with basketball, baseball and football. They hired Mark McCloskey, former club director at TEVA in Kentucky, and high school coach at Lexington Catholic High School.

Mark started the club program at a local church with 2 courts while the facility was under construction. He ran camps and lessons in the summer and continued that when the building was done in the fall of 2013. The club started in November with tryouts and has taken off since.  The main challenge for Mark, along with many clubs utilizing a large multi-purpose facility like this, is competing with basketball for court space.  Although there are 11 courts, Mark think a few more would help as he hopes to add boys volleyball and sand volleyball, as well as expand on the number of girls teams.   

The Pentagon is capable of hosting 11 volleyball courts in a tournament setting, or 14 courts in a   The building is in the shape of a pentagon, with courts along the outside walls of the building. In the center of the building is a 3200 state of the art arena, which creates a great atmosphere for any volleyball match. The Sanford Pentagon has been chosen to host the 2016 NCAA Division II Women’s Volleyball Championship, as well as the 2015, 2016 and 2018 Division II Women’s Basketball Championship and the 2017and 2018 Division II Men’s Basketball Championships.     9 full time staff, Army of part time staff who work events, etc. NBA D-League teams plays its home games here. Affiliate of the Heat.
camp/clinic setting. All courts are suspended wood floors, similar to those found in NBA arenas and practice facilities around the country.

The Sanford Pentagon is a part of the Sanford Sports Complex. This includes the Sanford Fieldhouse which houses the Sanford POWER Sports Performance Program. The fieldhouse has 62,000 square feet of field turf, a state of the art weight room and a state of the art sports medicine facility. The club teams train 1-2 times a week with a coach at the fieldhouse. There is a full time athletic trainer who covers the club during practice.

This is a community facility with tremendous resources that has made volleyball one of its priorities. Mark is looking forward to helping grow the game in South Dakota and the region.  
For more junior volleyball education, click here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When Is It Time to Expand?

By Rick Butler, Club Director, Sports Performance Volleyball Club

The Great Lakes Volleyball Center in Aurora, Illinois home to the Sports Performance Volleyball Club, the Great Lakes Power League and several other junior tournaments has added four additional courts and is now a full service 12 court volleyball only facility.  The expansion was a 4 month project that took place over the summer and was completed in October just in time for Fall/Winter programming.  

The need for additional courts came about primarily for two reasons.  The first was that the Great Lakes Center is host to many events and the amount of money and hours that was being spent on outside court rental and running offsite venues had gotten extremely costly.  Now the Great Lakes Center can host 96 teams on site per day (am & pm waves) and while the strain to have to manage off site facilities will not be completely eliminated, for now it will be much more manageable.  The second reason for the expansion was that the Sports Performance program is going to restructure their youth development program (7th grade and under) to move away from the traditional club model to an Academy model where players will have multiple training options.  

The primary focus of the Academy will be physical and technical development with competition  being a secondary element and all travel will be eliminated except for the most elite players who have long term experience.  This model will be much more cost effective in a sport that is out of control in regards to what youth and junior players are currently paying in travel fees.  It will  also allow young athletes to start playing volleyball at a much younger age while they are still involved in multiple activities and have limited time to focus on any single sport.  

Added along with the four additional courts is a 1,300 square foot parent / player lounge where parents watch their kids during training and teams can rest and relax during tournaments. The youth training center uses balloons, light balls (smaller balls bought in Japan), blow up beach balls, hula hoops and cones for agility and coordination training.  There are also several boxes that are made by SPVB staff and are basic coaches boxes.  The facility uses the Schelde net system that goes all the way down to the floor.

The expansion of the Great Lakes Center also included a new 300 car parking lot that is across the street which brings the current parking to 500 lot spaces plus parking on the street.  The Great Lakes Center now has a full service retail store and concession area, 12 courts that all have a rubber padded wooden sub-floor under the sport court playing and two restrooms each for both Women (23 stalls-8 sinks) and Men (8 stalls-8 urinals-5 sinks)

The center is not even 2 months old, but the hope if for the club to see a very large increase in overall participation among the K-7th grade age groups, especially now that the variety of youth programs allow players to receive volleyball training while also being able to participate in other sports and extra-curricular activities.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Real Votes Show Up

By John Brannon, Club Director, Carolina Union VBC

In the last blog we had found the location for our facility and next it was only a matter of start-up funding coming together.  Initially, we had been working with a couple of capital investment companies, as well as one or two potentially big private investors.  But the private investors' primary interest was in real estate (minimum $2 million project), and when we got our quote back from the capital investment companies, the terms were prohibitive from a business perspective (no early payoff allowed, basically end up paying double for all of the equipment when all was said and done).  

At that point, I had given up the ghost a little bit and decided this would be a next year project; all the plans were ready, but without the money to make it happen there isn't much that can be done.  But then something funny happened in a single week's time; while at high school volleyball matches and being in the community, talking about our situation, people started to ask about investing $10k, $20k, as much as $40k in the project.  So in a single week I went from giving up on the idea to having almost $100k of investment promised if I signed the lease!  
Two weeks later... the lease was signed, and the conversion began!  The real nerve-racking question was whether or not this would be a field of dreams experience or not!  Only tryouts would tell the real story.

Tryouts are now finished and the new location is turning out to be a huge draw.  From last year to this year, our tryout numbers grew from 230 players to 291 players (over a 25% increase).  Best of all, we are getting new talent in the gym from parts of South Carolina and North Charlotte, places that we had pulled from previously but in very small numbers.  We will have 16 teams this year (2-13s, 3-14s, 4-15s, 3-16s, 2-17s, 2-18s), and the only thing stopping us from having more is that we will likely not be in our new facility for the first couple of weeks.  As I've told people, the only thing worse than not being able to offer enough teams for players that are good enough to be on a team is offering teams and not having enough space!
To the facility itself, we are currently going through “change of use” reviews with the city.  As is often the case with government programs, we are delayed a little bit!  My best advice for anyone that will go through this process is to make sure to ask multiple people in the same department the same question.  For the first three weeks after we signed our lease we were operating under a couple of key assumptions because of what two individuals downtown had told us…came to find out that they were wrong, not just in interpretation, but on the existence of certain regulatory rules in general.  So don’t worry about upsetting people because you keep asking the same questions or ask a bunch of people the same question.  It's better to get all of the correct information in the first shot than to be delayed a month!

All-in-all, the excitement around the club and the volleyball community as a whole is palpable.  We’re excited about our future and growth of volleyball in the Charlotte area! 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Louisville: OVVC Gets the Ball Rolling

Louisville, Kentucky
By Ron Kordes, Club Director of Kiva and Head Coach at Assumption High School

In 1993 I was fortunate enough to have a local contractor’s daughter playing on my high school team.  I coached and still coach at a private high school named Assumption High School.  We were playing and practicing in a high school gym that was not much larger than many walk in closets that you see today.  One particular day we were having lunch and we drove by a construction site as he needed to check on a job they had going on at the time.  In talking volleyball, I told him about a facility in Chicago that my club team had played in called the Great Lakes Center owned and operated by Rick Butler and Sports Performance Volleyball Club.

About three days later I get this phone call and he asked if I was interested in pursuing the notion of building and operating a volleyball center.  Obviously, I was in his office in less than 15 minutes.  We laid out the initial plans, and he began the construction project while I focused on the volleyball side of things: vendors, equipment, programming, etc.  The start-up capital was provided by my partner.  At the time, banks were not fond of lending money for a volleyball center as there was no track record of success to reference.  My partners' borrowing power made it happen.  Even his bonding company questioned him as to why a contractor was getting involved with a volleyball venture.

Just over three months later we opened the Ohio Valley Volleyball Center.  When we built OVVC, there were very few volleyball facilities in the country.  We started with four courts and were at capacity with adult night leagues within a month.  At that time we also rented space to a local junior club I was associated with called KJVA.  Approximately 18 months later we expanded to 6 courts of which we have today.

The features of the OVVC:

6 indoor volleyball courts using Sport Court playing surfaces
SENOH net systems
NEVCO electronic scoreboards
Full service grill 
Pro shop
Weight training room 
Spacious mezzanine for watching games and socializing
Televisions and arcade games

In the year 2000, we formed the Kentucky Indiana Volleyball Academy, which operates out of the center and today includes about 30 girls teams.  Today, our revenue is spread among KIVA club activities, hosting junior club tournaments, adult night leagues, camps, clinics and numerous other junior events.  Since we opened in 1993, there have been four other sports centers that opened in the metro Louisville area.  This has provided the opportunity for so many young girls and boys to get involved in the great game of volleyball.  We will be celebrating our 20th anniversary next summer and look forward to many years ahead.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Is the Location Right?

By John Brannon, Club Director, Carolina Union VBC
I ended the last blog by asking, “Do I want to let the perfect be the enemy of the very good.”  For about a week after my first visit, I kept going back to the building at all hours with some of our coaches to get their opinion.  They all loved it!  But coaches don’t pay the bills, they are the bills, so I knew that it was imperative to get the opinion of some of our club parents who I knew, who I trusted, and who lived in the south side of Charlotte (where about a third of our players live). 
This was a fascinating exercise, because each of them had the same reaction when I first mentioned the location; they winced.  I wasn't shocked by this reaction, because part of the difficulty with perception in the greater Charlotte area is the way the counties are set up; on a map it looks like gerrymandered political districts because there’s no good explanation for the random county lines.  In any case, a lot of the South Charlotte area parents live in Union County, the same county as our current high school home (Weddington High) and our former sports facility practice location.  But getting to that sports facility from South Charlotte during rush hour is a nightmare, it’s an easy half hour for most of our kids, the new facility is a few miles farther away, but the drive is about ten minutes shorter. 
So I asked them to drive during rush hour to really get the feel for what travel to a club practice would be like.  Every one of them came back with the same answer:  “That was an easy drive!”  And all of a sudden, the shift in locations (southeast to southwest) was seen as a benefit rather than a detriment. 
Next, I told some of those parents to start talking around the idea so that we could get a read on our players and parents. While I don’t believe that we should make all of our decisions based on majority opinion, in this case I did think it was important to have the majority of our customers on board.  We place a high value on our players feeling like this is their club, so it was important not to move to a place that cut off most of those kids. 
But ease of access had other benefits long term.  For a couple of years we have pulled several players from places as far north as Hickory, NC (about 45 northwest of Charlotte), and as far south as Columbia, SC (90 minutes from Charlotte).  The new location is one minute off of the main highway that runs north and south through North and South Carolina, enabling us to draw more players from cities along this route.
It was early August, and at this point all signs pointed to go.  All we needed was our startup funding to come together …

Saturday, September 29, 2012

And the Search Begins! Finding the "Perfect" Facility

By John Brannon, Club Director, Carolina Union VBC 

Carolina Union Volleyball Club has been around since 2002.  We began operating out of high schools as a purely regional level club that finished the season at the beginning of April.  By 2009, all of this had changed.  We joined forces with another club and began operating out of a multi-sport facility.  We took our first teams to USAV Nationals that year, and began to send teams to AAU Nationals the following year.  Things were moving in a positive direction!
But early on last club season we began to notice a change in the direction of our relationship with this facility.  We had to cut our number of travel teams from 15 to 12 because of a lack of court space, we would have three or four teams practicing on two side courts (one basketball court) while other courts sat empty for hours on end.  Local programming was the focus for the facility owners rather than elite level volleyball.  All of that meant that we weren't serving as many young athletes as we wanted, and the athletes we were serving were often frustrated because of what they saw going on around them.  So in April, the decision was made that our club would have to find a new home, or move back to high schools and churches for the foreseeable future.  

We immediately began to look into options and started off by having conversations with potential investors.  Then we began working with an industrial broker to find empty and convertible warehouse spaces.  We also created a start-up and operating budget, and began putting a business plan together.  In the process, everyone received a real life education in starting up a business. 

[As an aside, in a previous post, Delaware Juniors Club Director Steve Lenderman mentioned the challenge of putting together a business plan, and he was absolutely correct.  I would encourage anyone interested in this to do some research and be willing to pay the $200-$300 for good business plan software.  It was a phenomenal assist for me and the best investment that I’ve made for this fledgling business so far!]

As we worked through the months of May and June, we saw a few places we liked, but nothing that jumped out at us as a viable option.  Charlotte is built like a wagon wheel, and in the past we had been operating out of both the south east corner and the southern end of the city.  The southeast part of Charlotte had the advantage of numerous existing warehouse spaces, but the disadvantage of being very difficult to get to after 4:00 in the afternoon.  In addition, these spaces were significantly more expensive than those in the Southwest part of Charlotte.  The southern part of the city was the ideal spot, but there was no existing warehouse space and as we did more research and spoke with investors, building a facility looked more and more like a 3-5 year plan (it is still in our big plans!). 

At this point, we went back to the drawing board.  We knew that we could always operate out of schools if we had to, but that also represented a significant setback; it would limit our growth potential because most schools are booked up with basketball during the winter months.  It would also limit our ability to unify the whole club under one training system, hamper our athletes who wanted additional private training, as well as our young coaches who wanted to make coaching more of a full time job, reduce our ability to run extra clinics and training sessions for our players and the community.  Most importantly, (as one of our athletes pointed out to me in this process) 4) it would put a huge dent in the “family” atmosphere we try to create amongst our teams and families.  The last of those points has always been a staple of our club and one of the things we value most.

In late July, my broker called me up and said, “I know this isn't your ideal location, but I want you to come take a look at this space.”  It was toward the Southwest side, but it was off of a major highway right near restaurants and shopping centers so I figured it couldn't hurt to go look.  I happened to drive there from the southern part of the city during rush hour (about 5:30 pm) and had no trouble getting there at all, because most of the traffic was headed the other way.  This checked off concern number one, ease of access for the majority of our athletes.  The warehouse park was three turns and less than a minute off of the major highway, which was great, and right behind a Costco, a Hilton, a Chili’s, and a number of restaurants (something for parents to do!). 

I also noticed that in the front of the warehouse park there was a police outpost, which checked off concern number two, safety!  Our space was in the back of the well-lit park (check), which meant that there was plenty of parking (check) and limited traffic (check).  When I entered the building, the columns were 40x40 (check), the ceiling was 26 feet high at the peak and 24 feet clear from column to column (check), and it had an existing and well kept bathroom (check, having to install bathrooms can range anywhere from $100k to $300k).  In addition, despite being 95 degrees outside, the temperature inside was relatively mild (check, as the $150k bill that comes with putting in HVAC is out of our reach at this point). This 16,000 sq. ft. space would allow us to put three full courts with ten feet of serving space (BIG check), a half court that we could utilize for full team training (check), and an area for fitness training (check). 

As I was standing in the warehouse, I remembered a favorite question of a friend:  “Are you going to let the perfect be the enemy of the very good?”.  .  . 

To be continued next week... stay tuned!