Top 10 Reasons Thai Gogo Bars Are Failing
I got thinking as to why the bar scene is struggling, and I can identify a few reasons:
1. Demographics / salary: You and I have both identified this reason before. Isaan mamas aren't churning them out like they used to, and a smaller selection of girls has driven up their asking price. With base salaries for gogo dancers sometimes reaching 15K per month, and coyotes up to 20K plus (I see Corner Bar at Cowboy is offering up to 30K!), these girls can more than afford to cover their monthly rent and incidentals without having to stoop to actually fraternising with customers. Many if not most girls these days regard whatever money comes from customers as cream on the top, and they're quite happy to shuffle through a few peremptory dance shifts and clock off each night without having to sully themselves.
2. The mobile phone: The impact of the mobile is two-fold. The more marketable girls (and they know it) are on their phone between every shift seeing if they have a catch on Line, Facebook, ThaiCupid and TF. That precludes them having any interaction with customers in their bar. The second impact is the girls who spend their inter-shift time playing mindless games, surfing the net or taking selfies, much to the interest of their fellow dancers, and that too precludes them from deigning to even make eye contact with the customers.
3. Japanese / face: Many floated this theory years back and just as many refuted it, but it seems to be true. The A-grade girls in most bars have eyes principally for the Japanese customers, for the old 444 reasons. Farangs are at best a fall-back option. This is where the concept of face kicks in. While logic would dictate that the B-grade and C-grade girls should set their sights lower and target the farang, or god forbid the Arab or Indian customers, they know that doing so marks them distinctly as Bs and Cs, and they'd rather go home alone than lose such face in the eyes of their colleagues.
4. AWOL owners / feckless mamasans. Of all the many curiosities of the Thai bar scene, the one that staggers me most is that bar owners invest enormous sums of money into buying / leasing bars and then leave the management of said bars in the hands of utterly feckless and incompetent managers. There are many examples of bars that are truly struggling, yet still employ the same tired, indolent, half-witted mamasans and cheerful Charlie farangs who have presided over the decline of other bars in the past. Before any bar owners whinge about lack of customers they should examine how their utterly incompetent staff have driven customers away through poor service and even poorer attitudes.
5. Khii-kor service girls. This is an underappreciated, yet crucial factor in the success or failure of bars. The service girls, whose salaries are less than half the dancers, seek to supplement their meagre earnings through hassling the customers for drinks and tips. Those who are unwilling to satiate these relentless harridans are then marked for life as being khii-niaow, and the corpulent fuglies are eager to tell any of the dancers who'll listen not to attend to that customer.
6. Coyotes. The presence of coyote girls in bars is a litmus test to the quality of said bars. It is undeniable that the best bars have neither a need nor a desire to employ coyote girls. Yet the coyote phenomenon was a regrettable yet understandable reaction to factor one. But over time the concept has both declined and blurred. Declined because some of the coyotes are distinctly unattractive and would repel rather than attract customers; and blurred because in many bars the coyotes are just as available as the regular girls but at a far higher price. Just a couple of days ago I was quoted a 3K barfine and 4K short time for a coyote. All up 7K, or about $US240. Do they seriously think Mel from Minnesota, Steve from Sydney or Bob from Birmingham are going to shell out for airfares and hotels in Thailand if that is the going rate, when they can get cheaper in the knocking shop down the road?
7. Oversupply. Simple, yet telling. There are way too many bars in Bangkok and Pattaya for the number of customers. A reduction would consolidate the falling number of marketable girls into fewer bars and weed out the UFOs (ugly, fat and old). While this hasn't happened yet, as owners are unwilling to sell out given the vast amounts of capital they expended at the top of the market, the number of bars shutting doors will exponentially increase and new investors will be able to pick them up at a cut price in established areas rather than speculating in greenfields sites.
8. Groupthink. This is related to factor 4. The lack of hands-on management by investors mean the bars go on night after night with the same tired old routine. This is a group of owners who steadfastly refuse to compete on the grounds of prices or services and yet complain when the customer base atrophies. The ideas you expressed in the last weekly column about marketing initiatives and promotional ideas were well made, yet likely will fall on deaf ears. The owners are trapped in a time warp, where they think that jacking up drink prices, hiring staff to shout out 'welcome' and putting up peremptory advertisements for staff will be enough to sustain their decrepit business model.
9. DJs. Those with an attention to detail will notice that the majority of girls shuffle rather than dance through their assigned 15 minute shifts, regardless of what music is played. Thus those DJs who play dance music designed for 20-somethings on meth to a room full of middle-aged punters are flogging a dead horse. This comes back to the old because of / in spite of conundrum. They look at a bar like Rainbow 4 which plays hideous 'music' and packs in the punters and think the success of that bar is 'because of' the music, when the truth is its 'in spite of' that din.
10. KFC. You're selling a car, you present that car in the best knick, you're selling fruit, you make that fruit look good, you're selling your body, perhaps you should reconsider ordering the KFC bucket.