On Realists, Rebels and Retros (Part 2)
Nightlife has adapted to the economic, political and social environment we live in. The operator who thrives now is the one who sees her venue as less of a counter culture haven for social interaction and more of a pure business investment. The design of their spaces, the music being played or performed there and the patrons that they attract are less a reflection of their own personalities and more of an attempt to offer the market a service that will generate the most revenue. Their connection to the industry is similar to your attachment to your stock portfolio. You love it when it makes money. When it doesn’t, you are more than willing to cut your losses and move on.
The methods realists use to serve the market will be familiar to anyone who has gone out in the last 15 years. Promotion companies fill up venues using flyers, email lists, social networks, and text messages. Exclusivity is a function of price above any personality characteristic. The bottle service model allows the operator to rent small sections of the club’s floor space at premium prices. Celebrities and pseudo celebrities are paid a fee to attend the club and their presence is used to market events. The market is segmented in ways that isolates different demographic groups from each other to maximize revenue. Instead of one huge club that plays different kind of music all night, you get hundreds of small venues that cater to individual tastes. In an attempt to retain the cache of the hot new club, some operators will close venues every few years to reinvent the same space with a different name.
Now before you roll your eyes and curse the evil promoter, owner or manager, keep in mind that their motivation is to offer a service that will generate the most revenue. They have a pragmatic interest in creating a business that makes money. They act and react based on the preferences we exhibit when we decide where to spend our money. If hundreds of thousands of patrons didn’t fight to be in the same room as a rapper or a reality TV star, operators wouldn’t bring them in. If we wanted to spend time mingling with different types of people and were willing to listen to different types of music, the niche market lounge wouldn’t work as well as it does. If people didn’t buy bottles, clubs wouldn’t sell bottles. The realist simply sells what we are willing to buy. They are really no different than Apple, Gap or Starbucks. If there is a problem with what happens in modern nightlife, at least part of that problem can be traced back to us as patrons and what we are looking for.
Most of the operators, promoters and managers I meet in the industry today are realists. Many of them are outgoing, ethical business people. Some of them are not. Realists tend to be younger, so they were either at the tail end of the retro era or they missed it completely. Many of them have backgrounds in marketing and finance. Some of them want to build a long term nightlife business while others just want to get a return on their investment and move on. Whatever you think about their motivations and methods, keep in mind that they understand the market and have kept the doors open in the face of exploding real estate costs, increased government regulation, aggressive community boards and the impulsive tastes of their clients. They understand and cater to the nightlife business. Until someone comes up with a better way to conduct that business, realism will continue to be the dominant theme.
There is one other group of nightlife operators that attempts to combine the business skills of the realist with the cultural energy of the retro. This might be the smallest group in nightlife but they could ultimately have the most impact.
Coming up next: A look at the rebel and tips for understanding operators.