Wouldn’t it be great to throw parties for a living? And not just retirement parties—wild parties! Parties with hundreds, even thousands of guests. Live DJs, no curfew, and cool people everywhere. Well…it could happen.
In the nightclub business, it happens all the time! But owning a club is more than just throwing one big bash after another. As a matter of fact, it takes years of hard work. Not to mention at least one mammoth disco ball and a doorman capable of keeping Auntie M off the dance floor (and away from the body glitter!).
“I’m not a club owner. I’m a businessman,” claims Amar Singh. In truth, he is both. The owner of Toronto’s ‘Foundation’ and ‘Roxy Blu’, he knows what it takes to succeed in the business—and why so many others fail. “One mistake I see a lot of young people make when they’re starting in this business is that they have illusions of grandeur. Most people think they can open up a nightclub because all you need is alcohol, music, some staff and a cute idea. Unfortunately, that just isn’t so. Anyone can open up a nightclub, just like anyone can open up a computer store. But to be successful is difficult. You need to be aware of a lot of things. And the nightclub business is unlike any other business, because all your money must be made in two or three nights.”
Amar’s career began after he and a friend threw a party at a club one night. “We made so much money that I just kept going. I started promoting nightclubs and eventually learned there was more money in opening my own business.” That resulted in Singh’s first club venture, Bauhaus, which he started with four partners. A few years later, Amar was ready to go solo. The result was Roxy Blu and Foundation: one building, two clubs.
Today, they’re both successful ventures. But that doesn’t mean their owner can slack off; there’s always work to be done. “You’ve got to constantly think of new things to keep your patrons happy. And nine out of ten times you’re going to try things that aren’t going to work. But when that one thing does work, it’s amazing.” Recently, Amar added a patio to his establishment; an undertaking that may sound simple but in actuality requires a lot of homework. And not the type you can do in front of the TV or copy off your buddy during spare, either. “In the last week, I’ve had to deal with the government, the liquor licensing, and health and fire regulations. I spent over five thousand dollars to upgrade my fire alarm system only to find out it wasn’t necessary. But in this business, you need to roll with the punches.”
So is it worth all the hassle? You bet your five-inch platforms. “The best part of owning your own business is seeing it all come together. There’s nothing more gratifying than running around on the first day trying to get change, fixing the lights, and then having this amazing party. And every month that goes by you see it get stronger and stronger and people start telling you how much of a good time they’re having.”
So what’s the recipe for this type of success? According to Amar, “Integrity and honesty are the most important things in any business. You have to be able to sleep at night knowing you haven’t stuck it to anyone like an employee or a supplier. Once, I had to go to my landlord when I was two months behind in my rent and tell him I needed another three months. But because I was honest from the beginning, everything worked out.” In addition, it always helps to start as early as possible and make like a sponge when it comes to learning new things. “Work as a busboy or girl at a restaurant. Or in coat check. Go to bartending school and then become an assistant manager or a manager. Just work in the environment. There’s a lot to learn. And go to school and get a degree in arts or business or anything. Because what you learn there will help you later. All the people who are truly doing well in this business have some form of formal education.” Getting your friends involved doesn’t hurt either. Especially if they’ve got skills that complement your own talents. But no lounge lizards! Only serious-minded party throwers need apply. “You’re better off starting with a partner like someone who knows about the construction side of it. Because there are two parts to owning a club and they’re both very demanding. There’s the pre-club part that involves dealing with the liquor licensing department, the health department, the construction engineer and the designer. And then there’s the actual running of the club which is completely different. When I opened my first nightclub I kept calling one of my partners and asking him what size the bar should be, how far away from the wall it should be and how wide. That’s how I learned.” On top of all that, you must also be persistent. And never give up. Eventually the hard work will pay off. People will come. The disco ball will spin. And if you play your cards right, your Aunt M. won’t come within miles of the place.”