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Anatomy of a Rescue

Stand Up Scottsdale Becomes Laugh Factory

April 14, 2013 By: Kristen Santoro


THE BAR

After cruising the LA comedy circuit and a painful divorce Howard Hughes moved back to Scottsdale where he teamed up with investment banker Nathan Learner and opened Stand Up Scottsdale in 2012. Enamored with the comedy scene, Nathan put up $180K with the plan of having Howard act as managing owner. “When he offered the money I said ‘why not,’ how hard could it be” said Howard.

Upon opening it became clear that Howards background as a comic didn’t translate to running a business. Within the first month of opening they lost $19K and Howard admits “I didn’t know how to do anything.” Instead of growing into his role of managing owner, Howard preferred to preform, dominating the stage every night, leaving his staff and business in disarray. “I think Howard cares but I don’t know how seriously he takes it,” states one of the employees. Howard’s bad decisions also affected staffing when he started hiring women to distract him from his divorce.

Now, Stand Up Scottsdale has a reputation with customers and big name comedians alike for poorly run shows and bad service. Each month the bills continue to pile up and the club is about to have its last laugh. “I’m more frustrated with Howard than anyone,” states Nathan. “We’ve lost about $50K” in addition to the $180K initial investment.

With the club about to get the hook Howard has agreed to pull back the doors, bust open the books and make the curtain call for help to Bar Rescue.

THE CHALLENGE

Scottsdale Arizona has been named as one of the New York Times most happening places in the country. With a median income of $72,000, compared to the national average of $45,000 and a median age of 36 its desert climate, spas and golf courses have made it an attractive oasis for affluent visitors.  But Stand Up Scottsdale has failed to grab the areas disposable income. Jon Taffer has been called here to keep the comedy club from getting the red light and closing for good.

The 3,600 square-foot comedy club features a front lounge with displayed kitchen, a small green room behind the main stage and a large VIP area in the back of the show room. Now, a comedy show only runs about 90 minutes. So, there’s limited time in the show room to create revenue.  The front bar of the comedy club should be responsible for 20% of the beverage revenue. Which Stand Up Scottsdale is currently not achieving.

During the recon Franky gets so frustrated at the front bar that she heads into the main room without a drink. She is then put in the back VIP area when there plenty of open seats right in front of the stage. Franky is told that there is a two drink minimum however 20 minutes in she still hasn’t received the drink she ordered when she first sat down. With the slow service there is no way that the staff has the change of selling three drinks per person. Howard is oblivious to this. He should be serving these tables himself if his staff is struggling. In addition, shake drinks should never be made inside the show room. They make too much noise and interrupt the show.  Howard gets up on stage to start the comedy show and he is destroying the business with every word that he says.

Professional comedians only come back to clubs where the rooms are properly managed. When there are loud noises, hecklers and other distractions it throws off the comedians flow and can completely ruin the experience for the quests. People are coming to the club for an escape. They are coming and saying to themselves ‘make me laugh’ and that is clearly not happening.

The club is a disaster. The staff can’t get the drinks out fast enough and they couldn’t seat the room properly. Howard created a horrible environment for the comedians and then abandoned his staff to pout when things got tough.

THE TURNAROUND

To help safe the bar Jon has brought in world renowned mixologist and New York City nightlife scene fixture, Franky Marshall. In addition, comedy expert, Gianluca Rizza, formally of the Improv, who has been in the business for over 20 years, has been brought in because he knows what it takes for a comedy club to succeed. Franky and Gianluca immediately get to work teaching the staff the basics on running a comedy club smoothly.

Franky introduces a new drink menu that is made up completely of stir drinks in order to keep the noise level down during the show.  She works with the bartenders to hone their skills and make sure that they are fast enough to get people a drink quickly in order for them to move into the main room. Gianluca works with the staff in the main room on proper seating, service and run of show.

Jon also brings in a surprise third expert, Owen Benjamin. Owen is known for his comedy central one hour special and is currently one of the hottest comedians in the country.  The first think that Owen notices is that there is a lot of dead space and that the room should be as packed as possible. “The closer the better so you get that pop laughter” states Owen. Laughter is thirty times more frequent when people are in groups than alone.  Therefore, when people are in a comedy club, audiences that are packed tightly together their laughter literally becomes contagious.

Scottsdale is third behind New York and Las Vegas in tourism therefore Jon has used his personal connections to get Howard and Nathan a meeting with Jamie Rasada, owner of the nationally recognized Laugh Factor in Hollywood, CA, one of the greatest comedy clubs in America. However, it will be up to Howard and Nathan to negotiate the deal and prove their up to Laugh Factory standards.

THE RESULT

Taffer and his team turn Stand Up Scottsdale in on one of the Laugh Factory locations.  They provide a separate closed space for the kitchen with a service window for easy access, all new furniture and a separate area for the comedians to relax pre and post their acts.  With the Laugh Factory branded club Howard has a golden opportunity to make the club a success. Now it’s up to him to keep the club in line with Laugh Factory standards and the business thriving.

Six weeks after the relaunch, Howard and Nathan are still in negotiations with Laugh Factory to retain their brand.  Howard has become an attentive manager and performs his own stand up only on open mic nights.

  


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