Q: When it is time to change the concept of a venue? I am a general manager for a nightclub concept in Washington, D.C., and my owner has had a long nine-year run, but we went from being the hottest place in town with 2,500 people coming through the doors daily to 150 during the week and 300 on the weekends. I have told the owner it’s time to reinvest and change the concept, but he is still holding on. Meanwhile we lose good employees and good customers because it’s so slow. We have tried lots of promotions and different entertainment but after nine years we still get customers that say, "Well, we see nothing’s changed here in the last nine years.” How can I convince the owner that it’s time for a change and re-investment in the property? Are there “parameters” I can show him?
A: A club's lifespan depends on a couple factors, but the most important is the size of market that you are in. In a major metro city a long lifespan is about eight years max. Smaller towns/cities can allow a club to have an extended lifespan as competition is almost non-existent and patrons have no choice. People upgrade computers and cars fast nowadays, so I can only imagine how tired they are of a club that’s 8 to 12 years old!
Today's consumers are more aggressive when it comes to their nightlife choices. They want the newest and best of atmospheres within nightlife. Convincing any owner is never easy. But as a GM you are his right-hand man/woman with the most influence with his/her business. Ask your owner to drive a 12-year-old car, and when he says you’re crazy, and then tell him to go to his 12-year-old club. Ask him where he goes out to take a date; I bet it's not his club. Explain to the owner that [declining sales and traffic] numbers do not lie, and that there is a solution. Remodeling during this recession is smart, as your competition is scared to do so. With the economy as it is, consumers are seeking the best bang for their buck and new is exciting and refreshing.
Key indicators for a remodel/rebranding is the decline of business numbers (i.e., numbers of patron and sales) and staff quality. Get true feedback from local nightlife patrons and hear the answers that are obvious. Be careful though; do not allow an owner to meet you half way with a name change or a remodel! One without the other is disastrous. If you change the name and branding you will be the same pig with a new name and the clientele will feel betrayed and lied to. If you remodel and keep the same name, people will be less likely to return to see the new changes and it will be a losing uphill battle to get them in as you are trying to recover from the expenses. You must execute both, and that will bring in new staff — refreshed and energetic to claim the business's, and their, new legacy.
Also, I say, don't go down with the ship. As a GM you have a reputation; explain this to the owner and explain that you need a new ship and crew. Your career is as good as the club you work in. Sometimes it is wise to not go down with the ship. This might be the wake-up call the owner needs.