Can the Bangkok Gogo Scene be Salvaged?
I have read with interest Stickman's recent commentary on the Bangkok gogo scene, as well as his interview with a long time bar manager. I am the first to admit that I am not a frequent visitor to these bars, though I have gone to Nana and Cowboy on occasion over the past 20 years. I have noticed the gradual decline in quality of women and attitudes, and I have no reason to doubt that the industry is in decline, as many readers have passionately stated.
I have never owned a bar, so can't say with certainty that I know how to fix the decline. But I did have a long career in a competitive, changing industry, so have experience in putting together business plans, reviewing new business proposals, marketing materials, and I believe a lot of business practices can be applied to different industries. It's all about understanding your clients' desires, and anticipating the changes to the business environment.
I'm not a natural optimist, but have always liked the words from a Billy Joel song "the old times weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems". The Bangkok gogo scene will never be the same as it was 10 – 20 years ago, but if the owners are willing to consider change and are open to new ideas, there's no reason the industry can't survive. Einstein's definition of insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result" can be applied to bar owners who continue to put out the same product even as business declines. And the problems are structural and long term in nature, not due to floods or protests or demonstrations.
Can't be blamed on Global Warming or GW Bush either.
Here are a few things I might consider if I were to own a gogo bar in Bangkok. I'm not sure if they would work, but doing nothing should not be an option. Some of these may cost the owners some money, but sometimes you have to spend to make.
It seems that two of the biggest challenges is finding enough good looking female talent, and the fact younger male customers don't go to the gogo bars as often as the old days. The simple answer is that there is probably an overcapacity of bars. I don't know the number, but let's say the 3 main venues have 25 gogo bars apiece, that's 75 bars, which might be too many by 1/3.
The easiest way would be to sell Cowboy or Nana to a developer, and the more successful bars could relocate to the surviving location. That would result in less bars, but more girls and customers per bar.
Or, reduce the number of bars in each location. Is there a law that every bar in Cowboy or Nana has to be a gogo. Couldn't a sports bar, or a pool table lounge, or a nice lounge bar open and be successful. Lockhart Road in Hong Kong used to just have tons of gogo bars, but over time some went out of business, and they were replaced by pubs and trendy bars for the expat crowd, and business is good.
The owners all say this is a challenge, so obviously the old ways of getting dancers aren't working. The gogos used to be the best game in town for girls willing to work in the horizontal position, but now they are losing out to escort agencies as well as girls who prefer to freelance.
Stickman interviewed Bangkok escorts in a weekly issue, and none of these girls would have considered working in a gogo bar, though they are willing to sleep with strangers for money.
And let's not forget the number of Thai "migrant sex workers" – you cannot go in to a hotel bar or club popular with expats in Hong Kong or Singapore and not find it full of Thai ladies who enter on a tourist visa, rent a cheap room, and work the bars. I knew a Thai lady who did this and said she would make more in one week in Hong Kong than in a month in Bangkok. And there seem to be plenty of reasonably attractive women working in the nicer massage parlors in the Sukhumvit 24 area.
I think it's all about younger Thai girls wanting some more flexibility in their work hours than the gogo bars allow, so if the gogo owners want to attract and retain quality women, they need to rethink their work arrangements.
More Special Events
Every bar does the same promotions, a party for Halloween, for Christmas, New Years. But there are many other holidays that a bar might consider for a special event. February was Carnival / Mardi Gras, I would think a Brazilian-themed Carnival party could be fun – teach the girls to dance the samba, though they don't have the Latin booty! May is Cinqo de Mayo, why not have a Mexican-themed party, dancers in sombreros and 1/2 price tequila and margaritas. If you want to spend a few bucks, get Sunrise Tacos to provide a Mexican buffet – customers like free food. And June is World Cup, so many Europeans in Bangkok will be watching, why let the pubs get all the business. Get a big TV and show the bigger games, let the girls dress (or undress) in the teams' colors. You might bring in some clients that might otherwise not go to a gogo bar. Personally, I wouldn't mind watching a game in a bar with naked women!
Featured / Guest Dancers
This is something that happens in the states, no idea if feasible in BKK. Many of the top strip clubs in NYC, Miami, LA, Atlanta, Vegas often feature guest dancers, who are usually well known porn stars or Penthouse models etc. I guess a fair number of gogo customers also watch porn – big surprise there. The bar pays the ladies to come in and do 2-3 shows per night.
I had a friend that was a bartender in a club in Queens NY and he told me that whenever they had a porn actress or centerfold guest dancer, the place was packed every night. I don't know if there are well known Thai porn actresses < It is illegal to make porn in Thailand and while there are some known Thai porn stars, it is very seriously frowned up in Thailand – Stick>, though I'm sure there must be some, or even nude models. And Japan has a huge adult entertainment industry and some actresses are famous, so that's an option. It might create some buzz about the club.
Customers get bored with the same thing every night, and enjoy some interaction – and I don't mean throwing ping pong balls at the girls. Maybe on a slow night have a lingerie show – ask the girls to wear their sexiest lingerie and strut their stuff. Have the customers vote with their voice for the sexiest girl, give the winner a prize. Could do the same with a bikini show.
Another idea is on a slow night to advertise an amateur contest. Offer a cash prize to a girl off the street to come in the bar and dance and show what she's got. Some bars in the US do this, and you'd be surprised at the quality of girls willing to strip for a prize (students, office girls). The girls are not for rent, but it might create a little buzz for the bar, and bring in some customers who otherwise might not go.
Customers like to interact and like to win prizes, it's human nature. Pick one night a week and advertise that you will be giving away 3 free barfines throughout the night. Give customers a numbered ticket when they enter, or give them a ticket each time they buy a lady drink, and later on draw the winner. If the customer doesn't want to take a lady out, draw another number. Or get real crazy, raffle off one free ST take out to the lucky customer.
It will cost the owner a little money, but once again if it gets customers in the door, it's good for business.
I'm not sure if these ideas would work, but I think to be successful in a changing environment, the winners will be those that provide the best experience for their customers. And to use an old cliché, the owners who are willing to try something new, or think outside the box will likely succeed. If not, the industry will not die right away, it will be more like death by a thousand cuts, slow and painful.
Some good ideas here – simple but good. I like the idea of free barfines and I also like the idea of spinning the wheel where every customer spins the wheel after they have spent say 200 bah and the prizes range from free barfines to 100 baht for any drink etc.