Thinking About Opening a Venue

bobgaggle

Well-Known Member
Mods maybe this is better in the SM/Facility Ops forum? Not sure...

Ok, so my wife and I were having a life goals meeting and figuring out where we want to be in 5/10/15 years. We do this every now and then to make sure we're not just coasting through life. Anyway, we've been toying around with the idea of operating a performance/event venue, setting up a cool funky +/-200 seater space for small events, like a comedy night, movie screening, or wedding reception, etc etc. We're in the "figure out what the mission is" phase. Trying to define things like, are we just a venue for hire? or are we creating/producing events? what do partnerships with various local companies/acts look like? Are we a stop on somebody's acoustic tour? Are we going to make this a bar with a stage, or a stage that sells booze at intermission? Get the vibe of what I'm asking? All of this is built on the idea that we want to move out of suburban life into a more rural area for a lifestyle change. I know it sounds weird to go farther away from a city to open a performance venue, but I've been to a bunch of wineries and breweries in the middle of farmland and the vibe is good, a million people show up and there's always a stage with some live music. The idea is to kind of elevate the performance end of that and make it a focal point. (but I am aware alcohol is a big draw in these types of situations). Maybe we team up with a master brewer or something...

Can anyone with experience weigh in on this? I've been building scenery and running shops professionally for 12 years. My wife has been bringing people together and organizing parties/events socially since she was 16. I feel like we've got the skill set to make something like this work, but not sure where to go with this.
 

TimMc

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
You're not enough of a jerk to run a venue, Aaron. Seriously.

My observation: every single venue built for live performance (outside of theaters, PACS) by folks passionate about live music, theater, comedy, etc have mostly failed or had to bring in asshats to run them. Take a look at The Pageant in St Louis... built for live music, it failed because the folks that ran it were not *dispassionate* enough. It was subsequently bought, remodeled (yet again) and expanded and today is successful. None of the original owners or staff are involved.

At a capacity of 200 or so, you might make it. In my area we have chamber music series at a local Christmas tree farm, but it took 10 years to really be successful. You'll need another source of income (Christmas trees?) and use of the land to make it profitable and sustainable.

Good luck if you go forward with this project!
 

bobgaggle

Well-Known Member
That's an interesting take. To reword what you said, it sounds like the personality and "steamrollerability" of the proprietor is what makes or breaks it?
 

TimMc

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
That's an interesting take. To reword what you said, it sounds like the personality and "steamrollerability" of the proprietor is what makes or breaks it?
In a way, yes. What it takes is the steely eye of an accountant and the desire of a Koch (as in David & Charles, from my hometown) entrepreneurship... i.e., to make a profit if it means changing focus, products / services, or which politicians you buy...

Any club owner that says "love your band, want you back" and the cash register is empty... is stupid, from a business standpoint, and is not likely to be in business long. I've sat through some excruciating sets and questioned the promoters as to why they hire "The XYZ Marauders" who are such pain the butt, rude to everyone, and generally not fun. "Because they sell tickets."

You will probably need to make the distinction between acts you feature who will be your darlings, and those acts who will make the profit so you can book the former. At least be honest with yourself as to what maximizes revenues, minimizes extraordinary expenses, and what are clearly your charity to the arts.
 

Jay Ashworth

Well-Known Member
You will probably need to make the distinction between acts you feature who will be your darlings, and those acts who will make the profit so you can book the former. At least be honest with yourself as to what maximizes revenues, minimizes extraordinary expenses, and what are clearly your charity to the arts.
Well, that's the description of the annual schedule of every theatre in the world, right?

You book Wicked or Hamilton or In The Heights and such *so that* you can intersperse them with Good Arty Theatre that doesn't pull well.
 

Footer

Senior Team
Senior Team
Premium Member
So much of this comes down to where you setup and what the scene is there. The brewery venue model does work, but around me it only works for about 4-5 months. Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown NY basically sets up a regional shed for the summer... and then goes away for the winter. They have an outside promoter who books everything and takes most of the risk.

Sounds like what you want is basically the City Winery model. Its not a bad place to be, but you really have to work to get people out to those shows. The problem with a 200 cap venue is you can blow your entire profit on just trying to sell tickets. There is very little money to be made there. So, you make that up in bar, merch cut, and hope.

If you guys would open a venue connected to somewhere cool, has a great place to take photos, and can do a wedding or two a month now you are talking. Throw some shows on top of that. Maybe make a deal with a few outside promoters who want to rent the room. Etc.

So much of this though has to do with where you want to go and what the market looks like.

FWIW, our smaller room (450 cap) gets the City Winery shows. They do well, but they don't really make anything after expenses. Our larger room (1000 cap) gets more house of blues style shows. They do very well if they sell out. If they are only at 70%, someone is taking a bath.
 
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JohnD

Well-Known Member
Fight Leukemia
I know of a place in Stillwater, OK that at one time had this guy who played every Wednesday night and packed the place, and they only paid him $100 a night. Oh and he really had Friends in Low Places, also his name was Garth. :grin:
 

TimMc

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
I know of a place in Stillwater, OK that at one time had this guy who played every Wednesday night and packed the place, and they only paid him $100 a night. Oh and he really had Friends in Low Places, also his name was Garth. :grin:
And the sound company that handled the venue's outdoor shows became the touring company for that "fat boy with a cowboy hat" (his words). Later that company was sold, incrementally, to Clair... and the money from that was used to build Blackbird Studios in Nashvegas.

I've been on the periphery of MD Systems/MD-Clair since the company was founded.
 

Les

Well-Known Member
Most of the theatres I've seen fail were run entirely by creative people. You may not need a jerk, but I recommend that finances/operations be managed or at least overseen by someone with a business/accounting background. It's good to have someone around who is somewhat detached (from the art and the passion that goes with it) and more analytical about cash flow. They should appreciate the mission and can even have some background in it, but they also need to be able to see the big picture and have a primary goal of 'being open next year'. I'm not saying that isn't you -- just saying that if I were running a theatre, we'd probably go broke buying lighting equipment. My boss can be annoyingly tight with money sometimes, but at least we always know that there will be another show on the horizon and that the next show's future won't be entirely dependent on the last show's box office numbers. Basically, be sure to install enough bureaucracy to keep the place in the black.
 

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