How to become #1 in your market
For his seminar at EXPO 2013, LoPinto addressed what you, the club owner, may be doing right and wrong in your market, how to adjust to your surroundings and use them to your club’s advantage, how to determine your club’s “niche,” how to build your club’s brand and most importantly, how to become “number one” in your market.
“As a quick background, I want to talk about some of the things I have done to turn the clubs around that I’ve worked with for the past 25 years. I started in the industry in 1988, my godfather had a restaurant, I was right out of college, so why not bar back? The good thing is, I got to learn a little bit about every position in the club.
“From there I opened my own club in 1991 called the 501 Cafe Club. My creative wheels really started spinning. I realized that no one was really doing two different vibes within the same room in their clubs at that time. The only thing I saw were multiple VIP rooms with the same music and set up. So I gutted the little kitchen in my club, painted the walls psychedelic, threw in lava lamps and some bean bags and made it a kind of disco funk room. People loved the option.
“From there I opened my favorite club to date in 1996 called Utopia. This was a really important club in the Vegas nightlife—it broadened the face of nightlife as we know it today. It gave the start to many club owners and operators. What we did was we brought in more of the dance/electronic music scene from Europe, while everyone else was in that area was mostly focused around hip-hop. We brought in stilt walkers, fire breathers, contortionists—a really unique vibe.
“From there I started Vegas Alliance, which is a management company, and met James Johnson, who brought me in to the Spearmint Rhino there in Vegas. The club was struggling at the time. There was no freeway access and only a few other clubs over there. So we created Vegas’s first after hours. The person I sold Utopia to still ran late hours, so I cut a deal with him to funnel all of the people after Utopia closed to Spearmint Rhino, and it was absolutely amazing. After two months we had a line around the building on Saturday nights until six or seven in the morning.
“One of the unique things I remember when I went into the Crazy Horse III was walking through the club—there were so many rooms, and we had to figure out, okay, what do we do here? We thought we could do some backdoor marketing, we could create some brands that we could advertise and market that a traditional gentlemen’s club couldn’t. We created an after hours called Obsession, we brought in hookah to a back room and called it Harem Hookah and we partnered with some famous rockstars and created Dead Man’s Hand. This absolutely worked. We were driving not only different demographics but more bodies through the club. Instead of calling the whole venue Crazy Horse III, we called it The Playground. So The Playground is the location, and Crazy Horse is the anchor. It was a way so that if certain media wouldn’t let Crazy Horse advertise, then we could place an ad for Dead Man’s Hand, or Harem Hookah, which all had the same address [as Crazy Horse III].
“Now for the topics I want to cover with you. To begin with, self-evaluation of your club. Your club’s category—what’s your identity? Are you a big club, a Tootsie’s, a Sapphire, or do you have a more cool, intimate kind of vibe? Is it high-end, are you upscale, or are you more of a bargain venue? There’s no right or wrong answer, they both work, and it depends on your area and demographic. But you have to be able to evaluate yourself and what your club is before you can move on and properly market to your target demographic.
“The competition—who is it? It’s not just the other gentlemen’s clubs in your area. There’s a much larger demographic going to gentlemen’s clubs, so you have to be aware of your surroundings and what’s happening. For example, restaurants and bars that might be doing a happy hour. Definitely know your surroundings so you can properly evaluate what your actual competition is. Once you’ve answered these questions, you can utilize them to make better judgment calls on your overall business, beginning with your infrastructure.
“This brings me to one of the most important things, in my opinion, in the business—table touching. This is how I’ve built most of my relationships. When you invite people to your club, or even with new people, you have to make it around to the tables. People love to meet and know someone higher up. Table touch is probably the most important thing as far as relationships go. Make sure that there is someone at executive level that table touches your guests. It’s so important. You go over, hand a card to them and invite them back. When they leave, they know they have Joe or John or Pete that will take care of them at this place when they return.
“Are you collecting customer data? The business card in the fishbowl idea—I like more creative ways, but the basic idea is collecting business cards and information. It could be anything from a “text this number” on your flat screens to cocktail servers with optional information sheets on their trays. Include birthdays on the information forms. Have staff turn in a certain amount of contacts every week. Offer welcome back passes to return with an incentive.
“Does the staff believe in your brand and what you have to offer? This will reflect on everything. Your staff has to believe in what you’re doing. If you have ‘paycheck collectors’ coming in to work, you’ll know it. They’re contagious; you need to get rid of them. With your staff, it’s really about the personality and the happiness and the smiles on their faces, that’s why people come into your venues and spend money.
“Keep your staff engaged. Do you offer staff incentives? Do you feature employees of the month? Do you promote from within so they know they can grow with your company? Do you schedule properly? This is very important. A lot of people just think 40 hours a week and so forth. But the staff needs to stay engaged and upbeat. So if you need a different rotation, you have to make sure it’s fresh. Rotate out and don’t overwork them.
“Next, my favorite thing is the concept of upselling. This isn’t just offering. Someone comes in, orders a vodka and tonic, and you ask them if they’d like Absolut or Grey Goose. We call this suggestive selling. And it does make a difference. Suggestive selling is taking away the option. If you offer Grey Goose or Absolut or whatever your top-shelf liquor happens to be, usually they’ll make a choice, and if not, they have to go a little out of their way to say ‘No, just plain vodka.’
“And the most important thing, as we all know, is the girls. No matter what you do in the long run, the girls are the single most important thing in the industry. Take care of them. Think of unique things to do for them. You’d be surprised how far that goes. We know in the long run it’s all about how much money they make, but I do know that loyalty [to your club] can come by being good to your girls.
“Another important topic: Marketing. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the guest so well that the product or services fits him and sells itself. Rewards programs, loyalty programs, reload programs, VIP cards and gift cards, these are all great ways to earn repeat business. The loyalty program is when guests earn credits or points that can basically be used as money at a future date for cover charge, drink or however you see fit.
“Reload programs have become more popular in recent years. The reload program is all about how you issue these cards—you issue the card and customers can earn points on it, then on a day you think will be slow—some odd Monday or Tuesday—you throw in a reload day where guests can come in and get their card automatically reloaded with X-amount of dollars that they can use at some later date. This makes that night busier, customers are coming in to earn the points and can’t use the reloaded money until a later date, so you’re guaranteed a return.
“Affiliate programs—this is the business driver. Someone in touch with day-to-day businesses in your area, someone who has the ability to direct traffic your way. Concierges, Realtors, waiters—this is the grassroots gorilla, the word of mouth marketing where most of us started from.
“Next, social media is a big part of today’s clubs. It can’t hurt to be on everything available; there’s so many platforms now. It just adds more awareness of your brand to the public, even if you only get one or two guests from the social media platform. A website is vital nowadays, but making the mobile platform available for your club is equally important.
“Theme events—these area a lot of fun. At Hustler, we do a theme night every Sunday. “Super Hero” night. “Leather and Lace” night. You can come up with anything. You might think the guests won’t dress the part or be into the theme, but it’s really about the guests wanting to interact with the staff taking part in the theme. Themes work.
“Study your area, know what’s going on. Local happenings, concerts, sporting events—any reason to tie that event into a promotion. Even funky holidays. There’s probably 20 holidays a month that you can utilize as you best see fit in your venues.
“Sponsors—you can offset quite a bit of cost for marketing through some brands (depending on your state’s particular laws and regulations regarding what brands can give). Your energy drink brands, soft drink brands, liquor brands—they will pay for marketing, for talent, for features—you just need to ask.
“My favorite subject is ‘niche’ marketing. Set yourself apart. What can you do to be unique and stand out to specific demographics? It’s not just about making money on specific items. It’s about furthering the guest experience and educating the public to new, hip trends, which in turn will lead to more revenue. It’s not just increasing spending per head, but can also increase guest stay time.
“Another consideration—offering food. I think food, any kind of food, is a must, especially in a liquor bar establishment. People use it as an excuse—“Oh, I’m hungry, let’s go to the gentlemen’s club to eat”—and they stay. Our main goal is to have multiple reasons to come, and no reasons to leave.
“I want to bring up value—this word has been misused. It does not mean how cheap. It is not the price of or how great the deal of something is. Value is the guest perception on what they feel they get for what they spend. It’s a feeling. If your guests leave feeling as if their money was not spent in a valuable way—that they didn’t get what they paid for—they will not return.”