From 100 to zero: How Kenyan nightclubs fight for survival

Friday, November 1st, 2019 11:30 |

Longevity is the ideal goal of any club. Let’s face it; if you can’t last the test of time in this current club wave in Nairobi, your establishment is as good as dead. For instance, Encore Lounge along Westlands Road in Nairobi was recently opened. Before the latest development, the place was once home to Skylux Lounge, Sting Bar and Afro Lounge. All these defunct clubs were once the ‘it’ thing, but they closed down because of one too many reasons.

The nightclub business is not an easy one to master. There are trends, customers, permits, licenses, investments and bureaucracy to manage. It also takes a tremendous amount of attention to create a brand that sizzles with consumers. If you’re lucky enough to succeed, then you have to worry about staying relevant and keeping your fingers on the pulse of what people want in the face of stiff competition. However, times are changing and so are the dynamics of the industry, which are now defining the lifespan of clubs, especially in the boujee urban areas.

Patrick Sampao is one of the highly experienced strategists in the entertainment industry, who has worked with some of the biggest and high-end clubs in Nairobi. He points to a few factors that have led to the current trend of clubs sprouting in every corner of the city and dying after just a short period of time.

“First, millennials have changed the club environment. It’s no longer about going to a club to have a polite drink while enjoying the music. It’s all about the glitz, glamour and what is on top of one’s table. So, as this happens, the new breed of patrons target what’s new and trendy and on the same breadth, move on to the next. Secondly, we have so many digital applications that one can purchase their preferred drink or meal and have it delivered to wherever you want it delivered. So, why not stay indoors, do your order at your convenience and have it right there without moving a finger?” Sampao poses.

He says home Internet has brought a paradigm shift in how people live and definitely has its effects on entertainment establishments. “What you can get in a club can easily be found at the comfort of your home. You can stream for good music, a movie, deejay mixes and have a good time without having to put up with things such as transport hiccups and security. All these factors definitely have negatively affected the profitability of many clubs, as they lose customers who prefer to enjoy it at home,” he says.

Security headache

Security challenges have also caused the closedown of clubs in Nairobi. Marcus Oloo — who used to go by the stage moniker DJ M.O — was the face behind Marxlive Entertainment. The company closed shop two years ago because of the high rates of insecurity in clubs.

“As a deejay, I used to play at some of the high-end clubs and prominent persons would walk in to have a drink. But after a few hours, out of nowhere, you would hear gunshots. I remember an incident in one of the clubs, a flamboyant reveller pointed a gun at me and threatened to kill me if I did not play a song he had requested. This is just an example of many other aspects that have driven clubs out of business in the recent times because some clients would want security guarantees while at your club,” he tells Spice.

Inspite of all these challenges, clubs continue to dot every corner of the city. Sometimes, the success and reputation of a club are measured in part by the quality of services offered and if all the boxes are ticked, the club can survive for a longer period of time and even surpass the ‘three-year lifespan of Nairobi clubs’.

For example, patrons frequent Jiweke Tavern along Ngong Road, because of their services right from the bartender to the bouncers. Dan Paps, an entertainment consultant at Jiweke Tavern, says consistent exceptional service to patrons will always make a positive lasting impression that creates a ‘repeat culture’ and increased business.

He says: “We have been able to maintain proper employee to customer ratios and train employees to provide the best possible service. This has been one of our biggest survival strategies.”

Rebranding need

Clubs have also mastered the craft of transforming and rebranding clubs to attract customers. For some, it has worked while others have struggled to remain relevant.

Caleb Amunga, a co-owner of Bahama Breeze, a club in Westlands, Nairobi, opened the establishment in 2016, but recently had to temporarily close down the premises to rebrand. He says: “It certainly worked for us,  because we realised, our customers are between 23-35 years of aged and we wanted a place that can attract that particular age bracket. It has worked for us and we have been getting a good number of customers.”

Digital marketing, or what is currently known as nightlife marketing, tends to play a big role in the longevity of a nightclub. The strategy targets consumers in nightclubs and bars. To make it work, one needs to employ a variety of techniques to ensure the brand and it’s associated message makes a memorable impact.

Joe Muchiri, who enjoys a huge following on social media, has been promoting a few clubs within Nairobi using his Instagram account. He sometimes uses funny memes followed by a caption that invites people to a certain club. “It’s a marketing strategy that has worked in most clubs,” he says.

In recent times many clubs within Nairobi’s Central Business District have died and their premises transformed into eateries or retail stalls. Clubs such as Rumourz and Jazz once used to be the heartbeat of Moi Avenue, but they already called it a day. Club Fahrenheit along Kimathi Street died a slow death just a few months ago.

The strategy

Still in the CBD, a few clubs have been able to remain relevant for quite a bunch of years. They include Mojos Lounge, Sevens Lounge, Tribeka and Club 68 Lounge. Mojos Lounge, for example, has been in existence since 2011. The club’s marketing and entertainment manager G Will says understanding their clientele and creating an atmosphere suitable for all patrons has enabled the club to stand strong.

“You have to device mechanisms to recoup your investment. For example, a club investment worth Sh4 million should give you returns of between Sh400,000 and Sh450,000 every month, all year, in order for you to break even on the business. One year would be enough, but only if the club is doing well; that is, maintaining a good flow of customers in order for the numbers to make business sense,” he tells Spice.

Jayb Events chief executive Joseph Bosire, currently working with clubs such as Edge Lounge on Moi Avenue and Dolce VIP Lounge on Koinange Street, says some of these clubs have managed to stay afloat because of the type of entertainment and weekly offers.

He says: “Your type of service should stand out right from the bouncer at the entrance and the general ambience of the club should be appealing to the customer if at all you want to make and maximize on the ‘return culture’. Patrons will never flock your club if the service is wanting; they’ll definitely hop to the next club with a good service.”

Last blow

When the National Transport and Safety Authority introduced breathalysers, popularly known as alcoblow, on Kenyan roads in 2013 to curb cases of drink-driving, alcohol business was hit where it hurts. Some ‘beer holes’ such as Ebony Lounge in Westlands, halted their operations as customer numbers dipped.

Dylan Ian was a frequent club-goer, until the alcoblow army showed up. He says, “My party days came to an end because of the alcoblow craze. I loved my drink at my favourite joint, but the nightmare would hit when it was time to go home. The alcoblow guys would be waiting for you right outside the entrance of the club. This messed up my clubbing patterns and by so, my favourite joint lost a valuable customer.”

Investors in other places such as Nakuru and Kisumu have also not been spared, with major nightspots closing down in an alarming rate. Popular spots such as Guava, Enigma, Sting Bar and Grill, Rafikiz, Samba, Jikoniz and Club 64 Lounge in Nakuru are the latest entries in the statistics.

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