It makes me want
to scream when after I tell folks I'm a mobile DJ, they snicker and
say, "Great! And what's your real job?" Sure,
many of us are happy booking gigs from the crowded desk in our spare
bedroom. However, an increasing number of DJ companies are
discovering to be taken seriously in the marketplace, they've had to
make the leap to a real live office. How do you know if your
company is ready?
took my business to the next level," insists Bob Deyoe, of
Tucson's Desert DJ's. "If you're a new jock and I take you
to my garage to train, and the mosquitoes are buzzing and my kids run
out to kiss me goodnight, what's the message you're sending? In
an office, a potential employee will think, 'Hey, this is a
legitimate company, this guy is successful.'"
operator mobile soon grew to 10 systems and 13 employees, all
operating out of his house. And every weekend at 2 a.m., DJ's
cars would back up in his driveway all the way to the street.
"It's really difficult when your bedroom is 20 feet from where
the DJ's were bringing back equipment and you can tell by the sound
of the dolly who it is. And I'd want to get up and see who it is."
It became as much
a personal decision as a business one for Bob to move Desert DJ's
into an office. "The problem with working out of your home is
that you never leave work. Clients would come by and the kids are so
riled up from daycare, they'd come walking naked out of the tub in
the middle of our meeting. Once you have kids, you have to draw the
line between working and spending time with them and enjoying the money."
unjustifiable in a business sense, for sanity's sake Bob went on the
hunt for an office. Fortunately he found a industrial park just
a half mile from his home with office space already "built
out". "Build-out" is the term used for the
installation of dividing walls, floor covering, lighting, electrical
and telephone wiring. Most offices come empty; amenities are an
additional and unrecoverable expense (you can hardly rip out wiring
and pull out walls when you leave!). Bob was lucky.
"There had been a previous tenant who had already built a big
reception area, conference room for the clients and a private office
I could lock myself into. We just put in furniture and it was good to go."
But for Howard
Wallach of suburban Chicago's A-Z Entertainment, the perfect office
didn't fall into his lap. So he enlisted the help of a
commercial real estate broker. "They're finely tuned into the
marketplace," Howard advised. "You tell them what your
needs are, tell them what you can afford and they're able to process it."
Howard's key to
getting what he wanted was patience. "We weren't under a time
restriction, so we looked at about 20 locations over a two-month
period. We knew what we wanted, but in each place there was always
one little thing that made us think, 'Should we deal with it, or
should we wait?'"
A-Z's new digs --
complete with a 2,000 sq. ft. warehouse -- are a far cry from the
company's beginnings at Howard's Dad's house. "Dad was very
supportive, I give him a lot of credit," Howard recalls.
"By 1994 we were running five units out of the house."
But to raise the bar from $375 weddings to bar mitzvahs in the
thousands of dollars, he had to find a way to spend more sales time
in the office. "I was spending all hours of the evening
driving to clients' offices and homes for meetings. When I
started this, that wasn't as big of a deal. I was younger,
single and happy to meet clients wherever and whenever."
encouraged by his company's new focus to higher-end gigs and raised
the cash to make the leap. The investment paid off within a
year. "Our first 12 months after the move were
particularly strong. Also I was confident enough to increase our
prices and not be scared about the fallout." The
appearance of success soon bred success. "I have a better staff
now -- I couldn't have attracted the high-quality people who run my
office if I was working out of my house." Similarly,
having clients on "home turf" has enabled A-Z to increase
their upselling of such items as dancers, video projection and giveaways.
And when your turf
includes a tile entrance, leather couch, refreshments and an
intelligent lighting show on a permanently installed truss, they're
much more receptive to upselling, according to KC Kokoruz of
Chicagoland's Spinnin' Discs. "It cost us a friggin'
fortune to move into this facility," KC chuckled. "But here
I can take a $650 wedding reception and upsell it to $1,200; a $2,000
bar mitzvah to a $5,000 bar mitzvah."
Quite a change
from nine years earlier when KC tried to operate his single system
from his apartment in a Chicago highrise. When the management wasn't
thrilled about DJ equipment in the elevator at all hours, he rented
an office in the back of a building where his friend was a sign
painter. "It was the biggest shithole in the city. But it was
warm, big enough for a phone and to store my equipment."
Soon at four
systems and motivated to find better surroundings, KC met a
videographer at a local trade show. "I knew he was already
sharing an office with a DJ. Being the pompous egomaniac I am,
I told him when he was serious about getting a real DJ in his office
to give me a call. One week later my phone rang."
space became the best of times and the worst of times for Spinnin'
Discs. For $200 on a month-to-month agreement, KC got a 9 X 12 space
in the photographer's strip mall location. "Sharing an office
was the best thing for us... it was super cost-effective. But we just
ran out of room." With the help of a real estate broker,
KC found an industrial park location that was perfect, but it was
just out of reach for his growing company. So he invited a
local balloon company to share the space and monthly rent. And
that's when KC's troubles began.
consistently late in paying the rent and we asked them to leave.
Unfortunately, they had co-signed the lease... a big mistake!
We learned to always put the lease in our name. You're married to
that co-signer otherwise!" Fortunately, the real estate
broker intervened and relocated the errant balloonists.
learned? Always work through a real estate broker. "A good
broker will help ascertain what you need, and they get their
commission from the landlord," KC advises. "When you call a
property directly and say you're a DJ, they picture a little mom and
pop operation. When you're represented by a broker, everyone wants to
talk to you." Brokers can additionally negotiate office
buildout, shelving, fixtures and even special lease terms. For a
growing business, a balloon lease could help with a low starting
rent, then charge a higher rate over the lease term as revenues increase.
Ken Rochon of
Absolute Sounds Professional Disc Jockeys in Baltimore had very
specific ideas about his new office. It would give him enough
space to get to the next level -- having DJ's work for him. So,
after saving profits, maxing out credit cards and bringing in a
partner, he was ready. Touring six nearby industrial parks and
noting the plusses and minuses of each, Ken soon found it wasn't the
space that was pricey, but the build-out. "I also learned
office space is priced by the square foot; my office had a $7
difference per square foot to get a shell instead a fully finished
one. We figured no matter what it cost to finish it, we would still
Still, Ken was
apprehensive about taking off his headphones and putting on a tool
belt. "My partner and I wrote down everything we were looking
for an in an office. When we presented our plans to a
contractor and got a quote of $11 a square foot, totaling
$41,000, there was no doubt in our mind we had to do it
ourselves." Purchasing all the raw materials and bringing
in some subcontractors with the help of some well-worn credit cards,
Absolute Sounds was able to bring the job in "down to the
furniture and fake plants," according to Ken, for only $15,000.
After three years
of paying off the initial debt, Absolute Sounds is ready to put four
suites on their office's second floor, currently a loft. Their
plan? Offer local florists and photographers free space in
exchange for booked referrals, credited at a fixed rate per closed gig.
One thing you
can't put a price on is the positive effect an office can have on
employees... or even the owner. For Ken Levy, owner of Let's Dance
Entertainment in Seattle, setting up a real shop was just the boost
he needed. "It was too easy to sit in front of the TV, or
go do things on the spur of the moment. Once I got an office, I took
myself more seriously about the business. I felt better about
myself... more professional."
Ken admits the
leap was scary, but extremely motivating.. "Just by applying
myself, it wasn't really that many more shows to pay for the
expenses. I was able to have a set schedule in the office; I tried
doing that at home and it never worked."
Wallach also testifies to an office's morale-building power.
"After moving into our new office, I think there was greater
respect across the board from our employees. They were seeing the
fruits of their labor, and everyone felt they contributed to our success."
But how much
office is too much? For Spinnin' Disc's 4,000 square feet of
creature comforts, profits from three of their 10 systems go solely
for overhead. But owner KC Kokoruz claims to "fix it in the
mix". "If you amortize the costs of moving furniture and
equipment, reprinting your brochures and reinstalling your telephone
and alarm systems against the higher rent, it all works out. I'd have
outgrown a smaller space. Even if a third of my systems do nothing
but pay for my overhead, they allow me to be more comfortable and headache-free."
buying at-home privacy, more family time or building for the future,
moving to an office should be an investment, not an expense. But
capital alone won't complete the investment. Step outside your
day-to-day operations to visualize where you want your business to be
in 2, 5, or 10 years. Are you willing to invest the hours
of hard work and perseverance to increase revenues? Although
it's not for everyone, the new breed of mega DJ entrepreneurs show
that with a professional outlook -- and office space -- the rewards
are there for the booking.
= = = = =
Dan McKay has been
a writer and mobile DJ since 1979. He is owner of PartyHits! DJ Party
Hosts in Seattle. This article originally appeared in DJ TIMES
Magazine, 25 Willowdale Avenue, Port Washington, NY 11050.
Subscriptions are $30/year at (516) 767-2500.)