Day At The Track

Trotting club resets business strategy

08:52 PM 13 Jun 2017 NZST
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Alexandra Park - High Street from above Alexandra Park - Apartments over track
Alexandra Park - High Street from above
Alexandra Park - Apartments over track

The Auckland Trotting Club is reviewing and resetting its overall business strategy, determined to commercially position a sustainable future for the business and harness racing, says Alexandra Park chief executive, Dominique Dowding

“We did a major organisational overhaul a few years ago with our key strategic pillars being sustaining harness racing, finding new revenue sources, and growing the club’s property portfolio. We achieved all our strategies with our urban village development being the final one and so found ourselves at a crossroads,” she says.

“Steady as she goes is just not an option so the board and management’s renewed focus is to take the organisation to the next level and ready the club commercially for the next decade.”

Ms Dowding says the process of resetting the Auckland Trotting Club’s business strategy means assessing its products and services right across its broad operations.

“Under our racing strategy we need to assist our trainers by finding a new breed of owners via syndicate participation and we see our younger Friday night racing attendees as the future of our industry. We’ll also be reviewing our function venues and attractions.

“And with our property portfolio, it’s all about continuing to create a new destination with our urban village development for entertainment, lifestyle and hospitality to ensure substantial growth.”

She says the construction of a new training centre and long-term lease by The Blues rugby franchise in 2015 has been a good move, with the club needing to not only attract further compatible tenants but increase the value of its leases.

“I want us to move from an annual total turnover of $22m to $30m, sitting on a half billion dollars’ worth of assets in the coming decade. That’s where I believe we need to be, and with a stronger commercial model we can be.

“We will also reflect on our governance structure to make sure the club is well served into the future, particularly given the increasing commercial complexity across our property portfolio and the sheer breadth of our business now.”

Ms Dowding says the club remains very cognisant of its longstanding members, and the many traditions and practices that come with a 127-year-old organisation. However, in the five years that she has been chief executive she has been heartened at members’ ability to absorb and accept necessary change.

“Our members know that if we are to remain racing in the 21st Century in Australasia’s fastest growing city, we need to fully transition into a commercial entity and this is exactly what this latest strategic reset is all about. We simply have to take a pretty aggressive approach if we are to keep growing to ensure the sustainability of the industry in the north.”

The chief executive says attendance numbers are generally up for Alexandra Park’s Friday nights at the trots. What’s more is its race-night functions are also enjoying growth helped by the likes of well-promoted themed cuisine nights, and the club’s ‘value for money’ free parking, free entry, and free race book proposition.

“We’re getting more people through the gate and constantly need to deliver a great experience so that we become the product of choice in what is a very crowded entertainment market in Auckland.

“Our products need to be well priced, relevant and constantly refreshed. As well as keeping ahead with today’s fast moving marketing channels, we also need to keep attracting new sponsors while retaining our old ones. We’re getting good results, but the best thing we can now do is eye up the next decade to lock in our future.”

She says despite years of static industry funding, moves this coming season bode well for racing. Recently the New Zealand Racing Board announced a substantial boost to stakes from 1 August, which will include harness racing. At the same time the number of Friday night meetings at Alexandra Park will increase from 37 to 41.

As well as operational success, the Auckland Trotting Club’s asset base and reach is also strengthening. This includes the amalgamation with the Franklin Trotting Club which has delivered the industry an affordable training centre.

Their large Epsom site continues to climb in value, thanks partly to the rezoning of a former carpark where 246 apartments are now under construction. More recently Auckland Council’s unitary plan has seen the rest of the club’s Green Lane West frontage zoned ‘mixed-use’, allowing for any future development the club may want to pursue.

In 2015 and 2016 the club sold nearly $300m of freehold apartments, with Colliers International statistics confirming the development commanded some of the best prices in Auckland and was among the fastest selling. It will include some leading hospitality and retailers, with a FreshChoice supermarket already leased.

“The fact we will have all these residents soon living at Alexandra Park is something we also have to factor into our planning. Not to mention all the visitors to the cafes and al fresco restaurants. Within the next two years we will have transitioned from being a trotting club and function centre to becoming a whole new urban village and heart for Epsom.

“Not only will we get a new crowd coming through our gates, but we’ll also have hundreds of permanent residents who we’ll be encouraging to take out a membership and come along to our race nights.”

The club is now actively investigating a further stage, with registrations of interest, via the development’s website to purchase any additional apartments, proving to be strong.

Testament to the club’s transformational success was winning the supreme award for ‘Excellence in Strategy & Planning’ at the 2015 Westpac Business Awards. While in 2016 the chief executive won the ‘Women In Property’ award at the New Zealand Property Council’s inaugural Auckland Property People Awards.

Ms Dowding says while the past five years of strategic planning and work has put the Auckland Trotting Club on a more commercial footing, the next five years must install commercial best practice across the business to ensure harness racing can remain a fixture in Auckland.

“Everything we do is about racing. That will never change. The club may be resetting its business strategy, but our driving vision to protect and sustain the future of harness racing remains central to every decision we make,” says Ms Dowding.

For further information contact Dominique Dowding: (021) 377-303 or (09) 630-9700 

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