When you’re in your 20’s, going to clubs and bars is a great way to meet new people and a fun way to spend time with friends. Add in the motivation, the promotional chops, and an entrepreneurial itch, and it can also be a great idea as a way to start a business.
Many entrepreneurs that start their own club say that it’s more of a lifestyle than a career choice. So how do you start a club? It all begins with location, location, location:
Finding a Space
The location of your nightclub is far and away the most important element to your success. A solid club needs access to lots of foot traffic – and not just any foot traffic. You want to be in an area where you have access to the right type of patrons you want to frequent your establishment. This might mean 20-something party-goers, trendy businesspeople, or some combination of demographics. Find a location that isn’t near any other similar nightclubs. Like a good drink, competition can be stiff, and you’ll want to attract as many of the right people as possible.
When you assess your location options, consider the space you’ll need for a bar, dance floor, seating area, balcony (if appropriate), fire exits, etc. If you’re not finding the right lease agreement for your needs, look into other options beyond the obvious club-like spaces. Would an old art space work for you needs, or a retail storefront? Could you see your club taking over the top floor of a building vs. the ground floor?
Do you want your club to be romantic? Dark and mysterious? Party central? The theme and décor of your club will lay the foundation for many things: the type of customer that you’re more likely to attract, the types of events you’ll hold and the kind of entertainment people can expect to find when they come to your establishment. Consider whether you have the room for (and weather for) extending your club into an outdoor space as well. Rope in a dream team of architects, designers, and realtors to help you make the right decisions.
You’ll also want to put a lot of time into determining what your exterior facade might look like. You’ll want something that entices folks to enter your doors, and carries out the overall theme you’re going for.
Getting a Liquor License
In addition to the other administrative tasks you’ll undertake to get your company up and running (including putting together your business plan, defining your market and projections, getting funding, incorporating, and setting up business licenses), you’ll have to obtain your liquor license to serve any type of beer, wine, or liquor at your establishment. You’ll want to do this fairly early in your planning, because depending on the system in your area, this could be a lengthy (and sometimes expensive) process.
Stock Your Bar
Many – if not all – clubs are built around alcohol being a major component of the environment and experience at your club. You’ll want to stock your bar in a way that doesn’t empty your wallet. Consider saving money by buying liquor wholesale. Surprisingly, some of the best prices you can find on liquor may be at your local Costco or BJ’s. Or, if you work with a distributor, you’ll want to work with someone who you trust – someone who is flexible, offers competitive pricing and great customer service. You’ll also want to work with a liquor provider who can keep you clued in to the drinking trends that are happening in your area. What beers, liquors, cocktails, and other mixers will you want to have on hand for your growing client base?
It’s likely music will be one of the other major reasons patrons go to your club, so you’ll want to contract with a professional electrician or sound system engineer to assess the electrical set up in the location you’ve committed to and to make recommendations that will result in the best possible sound design. You’ll want their input on relocating power sources and positioning of speakers, visual elements, a DJ booth, sound equipment and other system elements to get the maximum impact for the music and entertainment you plan to provide at your establishment. Keep in mind that your music should “fill the space,” and not necessarily be emanating from one particular source.
Unlike some other types of small businesses, running a club is NOT a one-man show. Hiring a staff requires specific knowledge of each job within the club. From front of the house waitstaff to bartenders, security, DJs, and other event staff, each person needs to be the best at their job in order for your club to run smoothly. There are many temptations available to your employees when they work at a club (to steal alcohol, money, serve friends for free, etc.), so be sure that you are armed with a clear-cut employee manual for each new hire, and you may consider conducting background checks when hiring for certain positions.
The key to building buzz for your new club is to have a coordinated promotions and public relations plan. You’ll want to start planning this and planting the seed for a grand opening early on. You’ll not only need to connect with potential new customers via social media and email, but you’ll also want to have a targeted advertising plan. Should you take out an ad in your local newspaper announcing the grand opening? Could you spend some money running Facebook ads, targeting 20-somethings in your area? Consider inviting select groups and other targeted audiences to a “trial run” of your grand opening, where you whip up amazing cocktails and provide them with free drinks or discounts. Award free VIP membership to the first 100 people into your club and be sure you communicate your promotion efforts with every member of your staff.