Rulers of the Night
Size matters. We all know that by now.
In this case, however, even the traditional version of that axiom is irrelevant. Aside from the catchy sophomoric name adopted by the subject of our Burning Question for the week (and we refuse to research the matter further), the guys who founded 12-Inch Pimps intended merely to titillate rather than boast. Besides, it requires more than column space and a simple proverb to explain their role in Dallas nightlife.
Essentially, the pimps are a group of DJs working various clubs--Drama Room, Spike, Nikita and Martini Ranch, among others. No big deal, right?
Well, consider the plight of Spike, which opened more than a year ago with very little fanfare and struggled to entice a crowd. Or how 'bout Nikita? The once-hot venue suffered after the fickle 500 abandoned West Village for more alluring establishments. And they're not the only ones caught searching desperately for barhoppers to fill space and spend money. "I thought it would be instantaneous," admits Tim McEneny, manager of Obar, "but it [drawing a crowd] didn't come easy. We didn't turn on until six months into the gig." Last summer Medici sat almost vacant. Lush fell off the charts after a brief period as a destination spot.
In each instance, the club turned to either the 12-Inch Pimps or Matthew Geise (known in this column as the poet laureate of Dallas nightlife) to rebuild traffic and revenue. Lines now form at Nikita on Sunday night. Spike pulls in perhaps the strongest Wednesday gathering in the city. Medici? Packed.
"We've had them in here for a month and a half," said Martini Ranch bar manager Jimmy Hall when we bumped into him last December. He hired both the poet laureate and the Pimps to boost Monday-night crowds. The result: "Each week our sales have increased."
They are, in other words, crowd merchants.
Granted, we borrowed the idea from "death merchants," a term describing men or companies that thrive dealing munitions, weapons, even mercenaries. It's an archaic term--we call this group "religious fundamentalists" now. Crowd merchants deal in hard-core party people, earning their keep by attracting the right demographic to the right club.
"They're hard workers," says Seven's Eddie Germann of the Pimps. "They stay on the edge of technology: mass text messaging, a Web site, bringing in a photographer. It's a hip monopoly."
The Web site (12inchpimps.com) attracts some 9,000 visits each month, says head Pimp Willie Trimmer, and more than 13,000 people subscribe to their e-mail letter. "It's a percentage game," he points out. "You're going to get 5 to 10 percent--if you're lucky." Of course, 130 additional drinkers elbowing into a bar means a significant increase in sales one week and may generate enough buzz to draw more the next. "It's just like marketing for anything," Trimmer says with a shrug. "You see something once, you look past it. You see it again, you'll think about it." Indeed, the Pimps even print fliers and cards advertising their weekly schedule, just to tip the odds a bit.
Matthew prefers more traditional methods, such as personal capital. "I'm just fortunate enough to have worked high-volume places and have a lot of existing relationships," he explains. Barhoppers trust the poet laureate to steer them to the hottest venues each night. He sometimes sends text messages but often trades information by phone or in person.
Neither technique guarantees instant success. "People occasionally hire us and freak out if they don't see immediate results," Trimmer says. Yet Naked Sunday at Nikita required almost a year of promotion before reaching critical mass: long lines after midnight, shoulder-to-shoulder mobs inside, a noticeable drop in Monday-morning productivity, that sort of thing. Wednesdays at Spike reached viability after seven months of hard work. Matthew is still building Thursday nights at Obar, yet management at the slick downtown space expects a significant boost. "It's awesome what he's done," McEneny says, pointing out clusters of pleasant women arrayed throughout the bar. "Once it gets out, the guys will come."
Yep, that's generally how it works.
Still, McEneny's patience is something unfamiliar to management at most nightspots. Club owners typically panic when revenue dips for a sustained period. In response, they often initiate drastic changes: dismissing staff members, twisting the concept, introducing special nights and such. Matthew scorns theme nights and other short-term fixes. "No one believes any of that shit," he exclaims. "It's just bogus." Gimmicks work, counters Jack Freysinger, bar manager at Cool River in Las Colinas, but only when establishments execute the program without damaging the overall concept and allow plenty of time for word of mouth to bring in customers.
"That way," he says, "it's not overbearing."
So gimmicks work, but time is the purview of Dallas' crowd merchants. "People want consistency when they go out," Trimmer explains. "With the right scenario, with the right establishment, we can make things happen."
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