Suzette Collen, Andrew McGill, Debbie Welsh, Bridie Tilse and Chris Gosewisch of South Grafton Ex-Servicemen's Club. There has been a turnaround in club profits since Ms Welsh's appointment as secretary manager last year.
Suzette Collen, Andrew McGill, Debbie Welsh, Bridie Tilse and Chris Gosewisch of South Grafton Ex-Servicemen's Club. There has been a turnaround in club profits since Ms Welsh's appointment as secretary manager last year. Adam Hourigan

New boss outlines reasons for club's record profit

A RECORD $666,936 profit last year for the South Grafton Ex-Servicemen's Club will mean some big changes at the club says the woman who has overseen a dramatic turnaround in the club's fortunes.

The first woman to hold the club's secretary manager role in its 56-year-old history, Debbie Welsh has made changes which improved the club's bank balance by nearly $500,000 in 12 months from December 2016. She said the figure was based on a $506,936 trading profit plus a $160,000 revaluation of the club's poker machine entitlements.

She said it followed a profit of $77,000 in 2016.

Club president Andy McGill said this sort of profit was unheard of at the club since the days of secretary manager Ron Gill.

"It was in the years after the fire (in 1989) and from memory the profit was about $300,000," he said.

Ms Welsh said the good news for club members was the profit would be ploughed straight back into better facilities at its Wharf St premises.

"With this sort of profit we can start looking at refurbishing the place," she said.

"We'll be renovating amenities like the toilets which have not had anything done to them for years.

"We can also look at refurbishing the restaurant and the furnishings in the club."

"The club also needs to change its street signage. There's nowhere on Wharf St you can actually see this building is the South Grafton Ex-Servicemen's Club."

Ms Welsh said she has battled sexist attitudes at the club.

"There were plenty of people who didn't like the idea of a woman running their club," she said.

"But really it comes down to people not liking change.

"When I actually got the chance to explain to people what we were doing and why, most people would come around."

The extent of the profit surprised everyone, including the new secretary manager.

"In September or October I could see we were headed for a good result, but more in the area of $300,000 to $400,000," she said.

"You never know what an auditor might take out and the poker machine entitlement revaluation was a bonus for us.

"We weren't sure which way it would go. It could have gone the other way."

Ms Welsh said the figures showed bar trading was down more than $28,000 but significant improvements in the poker machine, restaurant, cafe, TAB and Keno trading more than made up for it.

She said a campaign to ensure the club upgraded its poker machines to give players access to the latest gaming technology had paid off with poker machine revenue rising almost $74,000 to $2,373,537 for the year.

"We can't get more poker machine entitlements, but we can make sure we have new machines with the latest features in the club. That's what members want," she said.

She said the club changed its accountants this year, with Crowe Horwarth coming on board and the club had submitted to its books for auditing for the first time in many years, to accountants, Kennedy Saunders.

"Members can be assured all these figures represent what's happened at the club for the past year," she said.

Ms Welsh said teamwork at board level and from the staff was the main reason for the great result.

"I've received great support from Andy and the whole board at the club," she said.

"They've backed me completely in everything I've done."

She also said operations manager Suzette Collen and gaming manager Bridie Tilse could take a lot of the credit for the club's turnaround.

"We had a whole new managment team and they took on the responsibilties and hard work that went with it."

The club is on target for another good year with profits from the first two month's trading already at $117,000.

"They're traditionally our two slowest months," she said. "It's early days and you can never tell what challenges are coming through the year."

Ms Welsh said it was hard to anticipate what might happen at the club's annual general meeting on May 1.

"The proof of what we've achieved this year is in the figures in the annual report," she said.

"And six of the seven board positions will be uncontested, so there's not going to be a lot of change there. But I'm aware there's been some opposition to what we've been doing in some areas, so I wouldn't be surprised if there's some flak."

Keeping a low profile

THE SECRETARY manager who has led the South Grafton Ex-Servicemen's Club to a record profit has deliberately kept a low profile.

Debbie Welsh took up the secretary manager's position in late February last year.

"I didn't want to put myself up there from the outset," Ms Welsh said. "It was more important to see what had to be done and put things in place."

Prior to coming to South Grafton, she was the accounts manager at the Sawtell Bowling Club for 18 months.

Before that she had management roles at the Nambucca Leagues Club and Casino RSM.

Ms Welsh comes from a pub-owning family, but spent 20 years learning about club management at Gunnedah.