Private clubs adapt to changing business trends

At least five times a week, Ted Reynolds can be found typing away on his laptop or conducting a conference call from the comforts of the City Club of Washington.

The private club, located at 555 13th St. NW, has become a veritable satellite office for Reynolds and his five co-workers at Troux Technologies, a software vendor out of Austin. Rather than leasing space, the team joined the club four years ago to establish a central base.

“We don’t have the scale to justify a physical office space in D.C., so it’s very economical to use City Club as a place to base operations,” Reynolds said.

What started out as a good place to hold a few meetings, Reynolds said, has turned into a better place to work since City Club completed a nearly $3 million renovation in April. Upgrades include enhanced Wi-Fi and cell reception as well as added meeting rooms.

“Before the renovations, you had pick and choose where to sit based on the availability of outlets, like at an airport. Now, there are 37 outlets along the wall,” Reynolds said.


Lobbyist James Littig with Heather Zahn, membership director at City Club of Washington, which completed a $3 million renovation in April. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

City Club is making a concerted effort to attract and accommodate people like Reynolds, who are more impressed by flexible workspace than the prestige of membership. The organization is tapping into a larger movement among private clubs across the country to accommodate telecommuters.

“You can come in here at 10 a.m. and see people at the bar using it as their office,” observed M. James Littig, chairman of the board at City Club. “People don’t work from the office the way they used to, so the club has taken on greater significance for business.”

Private clubs once were sticklers about conducting business in such an open way, some even forbidding members from exchanging business cards. But as the recession sent membership counts tumbling, clubs eased restrictions and, in some cases, added high-tech capabilities to appeal to a broader audience, namely young executives.

“If you look at how young people conduct business, technology plays a huge role,” said William P. McMahon, chairman of McMahon Group, a private club consulting firm in St. Louis, “so clubs have to respond to those trends if they want to survive.”

At City Club, membership director Heather Zahn said the organization surveyed clients to determine how it could improve facilities. Members readily asked for more space to conduct business as well as a more casual lounge area.

“Most people use our club in a mix of ways,” she said. “We want our members to connect, work, host, celebrate and play here. And that’s reflected in all of the changes we’ve made.”

Founded in 1987, City Club is one of 180 clubs, including The Tower Club in Tysons Corner, owned by Dallas-based ClubCorp. The company has 800 affiliate clubs in its network, which allows its 350,000 members to use a variety of facilities when they travel.

City Club has about 1,100 members, who were referred by friends or associates. Candidates who are accepted pay an initiation fee of $1,000, with monthly dues starting at $172 — there are discounts for younger members and pricier packages.

Danielle Douglas covers the banking industry for The Washington Post.
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