Thursday, 1 October 2015

The death of the Irish nightclub? Not if they get their act together.

It's all about product.

I can think of few jobs more difficult than running a nightclub on a busy night. From shrieking, hormonal girls with a naggin of vodka surreptitiously strapped to their thighs to herds of howling idiot lads doused in Calvin Klein and chanting incessantly, it seems exceptionally awful. With that in mind it might seem a bit cheeky for me, somebody with no experience owning, operating or indeed working in a nightclub, to lecture nightclub owners on how to improve their apparently ailing business. It'd be a bit like me giving Eamon Fitzmaurice a ring talking through where I think he went wrong tactically in the final and giving him a few tips for next year. But having spent enough time awkwardly loafing my way through nightclub corridors and attempting to dance on their dancefloors, I do feel I have some pearls of wisdom to impart.

Back in August, you may or may not remember, an article appeared online written by DJ and writer Dave Haslam documenting the precipitous increase in British nightclubs closing in the last decade. Even though his article was actually quite upbeat (he was celebrating the emergence of alternative nightlife spots like music bars and underground clubs) it led to widespread analysis of the decline in nightclubs and possible explanations as to why it was occurring. Since the popular Twisted Pepper nightclub in Dublin closed its doors shortly after Haslam's article was written, Irish journalists decided to extrapolate his analysis on UK nightclubs to Ireland and ask a question nobody was really asking before that; are Irish nightclubs dying?

A number of these articles popped up in the newspapers within a couple of days and they broadly all came to the same conclusion; yes, Irish nightclubs were dying a death. Why? Well no one could really agree but it had something to do with younger Irish people enjoying pre-drinking and Tinder a bit too much and older Irish people enjoying craft beer a bit too much (And by older I mean people in their mid-20s). These articles all seemed to be written by people who last set foot in a nightclub when corduroy trousers were in vogue and Maniac 2000 was in the charts. So why do I, somebody who has some experience in modern nightclubs, think they're struggling? As Stringer Bell would put it, it's all about the product.

To my mind, most nightclubs seem about as innovative and creative as a 15 year old drawing dicks on his friend's pencil case. Yeah, they're a deft hand at marketing on social media but when it comes to actually improving the product they have to offer they hit a bum note. Nightclubs have a tried and tested formula and they very rarely change their style. The biggest issue, more than music, vibe, anything, for most people when it comes to nightclubs is cost. Nightclubs have to show more innovation when it comes to pricing. Look, we know nightclubs need to make money but they can sometimes take the proverbial. You'd be hard pushed to find a night club that charges less than €5 on the door and many places charge upwards of €10. We all know nightclubs make most of their money off the sale of alcohol so there's no reason why they can't show more flexibility when it comes to entrance fees. Sure, if a nightclub has a special event on, maybe a popular DJ will be playing or it's New Year's Eve, then people are more willing to splash out on a ticket but on a bog-standard Saturday night people are looking for value for money. 

Late bars, which thanks to our strange liquor laws, are allowed to stay open till the same time as nightclubs (unless a nightclubs applies for a license to open later) have started popping up more and more recently and, when given a choice, I would always pick the late bar. There's usually some sort of a dancefloor, bars have better seating arrangements and outdoor facilities and, most importantly, it's rare you'll be charged more than a fiver for entry. Win-win-win!

So what can nightclubs do? They have to show more innovation. I know that sounds overly-simplistic and I'm beginning to sound like Steve Jobs but here's what I basically mean; nightclubs have to show that what they can offer is unique to what bars can offer. They have to introduce new ways of enticing customers. Drinks offers are an obvious avenue. Something which has caught my eye in recent months is stock exchange. Stock exchange is something which I've heard a number of nightclubs, including Voodoo Rooms in Cork and Queens in Ennis, introduce. What happens is this; the drinks counter has a ticker running across it showing the price of drinks. The prices go up and go down. Every so often the 'market' crashes and you could be getting something like a shot of Sambuca for €2. The possibility of a stampede which it creates notwithstanding, this is a rather brilliant idea. I'm not sure who came up with it, if it's an Irish invention or not, but this is what nightclubs need more of. Give people a reason to want to go clubbing.

As Haslam and many Irish commentators pointed out, there has been a growth in what you would term "alternative venues". Craft bars, raves, underground clubs and everything in between. Basically, the last 10 years have seen an exponential growth in establishments which cater for more alternative taste which didn't really exist previously. But I believe there is still a market for middle-of-the-road, catch-all nightclubs as long as they evolve. The onus is on them, not on the consumer, to change.

There are other, less obvious things nightclubs can do. The smoking ban has been in effect for over a decade now yet many nightclubs are remarkably behind the curve when it comes to accommodating smokers. Even though most owners understandably want their patrons inside, next to the dancefloor and, more importantly, next to the bar counter so they'll spend €6 on a knock-off Jagerbomb, the reality is many people are going to spend most of the night in the smoking area. 

So, with that in mind, why is that the majority of nightclubs have smoking areas that you wouldn't let a cow calve in? They're almost always dank, cramped and miserable with very little in the way of seating arrangements. Now, I don't mean to namedrop (but I'm going to) but the Tralee nightclub formerly known as Fabric now known as Quarters which recently reopened, newly refurbished, after a four year hiatus is an example of how to get a smoking area right. The old smoking area in Fabric was pretty grim. The new one in Quarters is bright, spacious and even has plenty in the way of seating arrangements. It's a really lovely spot. Now, I know it's difficult. Not every nightclub has that kind of money to play around with but I would urge nightclub owners to be more accommodating. You may not see the results immediately on the balance sheet but it will make your club more attractive to a whole range of people, I guarantee it. 

Look, it's no easy road but I don't see this as some great generational shift brought about by tinder and low-priced alcohol available in supermarkets which has resulted in young people shunning nightclubs. Nightclubs need to prove that they're value for money. They need to be smarter in their pricing, more ambitious with new initiatives and more accommodating. It's tough. And it's probably not as simple as I'm making out but, I reiterate, it's on the nightclubs not the consumers to change.

No comments:

Post a Comment