"The operation of jet aircraft and strippers are not unalike. If you don't know what you are doing you can get out of control in a heartbeat and auger in with your tail shot clean off."
So writes Alan Markovitz in "Topless Prophet: The True Story of America's Most Successful Gentleman's Club Entrepreneur."It may be the most unusual guide to business you'll ever read. Markovitz owns, or has owned, clubs from Michigan to Florida, a business he says he got into as a college student.
His goal—make strip clubs classy.
As proof he's succeeded, the photo gallery on his Web site shows the mustachioed entrepreneur posing with everyone from James Caan to Wayne Gretzky to Tim Allen.
Markovitz recently opened a new Penthouse Club in Philadelphia. Philly.com reportsthat he and his partners spent $5 million adding adornments like "a big martini glass that comes out on stage - it's very theatrical, like a rock show."
Clawing one's way to the top of the topless biz isn't for the faint of heart. "Topless Prophet" details the ups (sex) and downs (being shot at) of trying to revolutionize the strip club business. "The plain truth of the matter is that owning a topless club gives you power, as well as prestige," Markovitz writes. "I was like the rock star and everybody who worked at the club had backstage passes." Markovitz says the often-missed ingredient for runaway success is obvious. "That ingredient is quality. The more beautiful ladies you have, the more customers you will get. But without sumptuous and stunning surroundings, the ladies won't come, and neither will the big spenders."
One of the most interesting things Markovitz did—from a business perspective—was the compensation model he developed. Instead of paying dancers, they pay him a flat fee nightly and keep the rest. "The entertainers should become independent contractors who would happily pay the club for the opportunity to generate income far in excess of what they had earned as mere hourly workers." He also gives advice you'll never learn in business school. "You pretty much have to learn the business hands on, so to speak, or from the bottom up...If you don't know what you're doing, you will get ripped off by thieving parasites of all varieties and, for those of you who believe that topless entertainment is the abject exploitation of women, all I have to say is this: you try managing 50 or 100 competitive and strong-willed ladies who are more often than not drinking copious amounts of alcohol on the job."
We also learn things about running a strip club which you wouldn't usually consider. For example, Markovitz rejected lucrative table dancing. "All I could envision was dancers falling off the tables, breaking their legs and not being able to work for eight weeks."
More importantly...does the owner of a strip club sample the goods? What do you think? "Let me put it this way: if you work around throngs of sweet, sexy, half-naked women all day and all night long, sooner or later you get to know some of them rather well," Markovitz writes. "I firmly believe that owners who lose control in this business do so for either one of two reasons, often both - they turn their brains to mush by drinking like fish or they get caught up starring in their very own sexual soap opera. Neither is good business and I have always strived to keep business separate from pleasure."
If you do buy the book, be prepared. A lot of "Topless Prophet" appears to read like this: "In exchange for every drop of erotic soul that these ladies can and do wring from themselves while teetering on seven-inch platforms, in return for radiating those intoxicating rays of femininity, promise and allure, their patrons will leave the club feeling that they were and are men among men, masters of the universe, who have tasted these exotic fruits and been transported to other worlds for the relatively inexpensive price of admission..."
Business has not always been free from legal issues. The Las Vegas Journal Review reportedtwo years ago that Markovitz's father was attempting to get a liquor license in Las Vegas, and it mentioned that the son had been fined $42,000 in Detroit.
Now, most of you probably are not in the strip club business, and probably never will be, despite your fantasies. But Alan Markovitz believes he has advice for anyone in a competitive industry. Heck, running a gentlemen's club is probably much less cutthroat than fighting over bonuses at Goldman Sachs.
So here are a few of Alan Markovitz's Rules of Business:
- "Choose your business partners wisely. Everyone is looking to take more than their fair share. One of my partners was my dad, who provided good business sense from his ownership of a TV repair shop, extra capital, and a trust that couldn't be breached. Another partner of mine was arrested by the FBI for hiring two hit men for $12,000 to kill me."
- "Never stand still, especially when you're leading the competition. Whatever strategic advantage you have is short lived and can be copied. Keep looking to reinvent, expand, upgrade or overhaul."
- "If you sleep with the help, you might need help."
- "You can manage through any crisis. I did. I survived two different life-threatening shootings. I survived my club being raided and smeared. I survived some bad business deals. I worked with a partner for a period of time while he was on trial for arranging my murder. I dealt with corrupt politicians, dirty cops, and out-of-control patrons. The key is to stay focused on the prize and know that much of your success is related to how you manage problems."
- "Believe it or not, the way to make money is not always through your core talent. Sure, the 300+ dancers that work at one of my clubs bring in money, but we make our real money off of alcohol, cigars, food, and merchandise. Always look at the extra ways you can turn a buck."
- "Experiment and take a chance. I tried a few new things that in the end didn't pay off, but unless you try new ideas, you won't get to succeed. I tried the idea of arranging for strippers on a golf course. I also chartered flights to Las Vegas that featured performing strippers."
Finally, for the legions who would damn Alan Markovitz and the dancers who work with him for their line of work—I mean, who wants his or her daughter to grow up to be a stripper?—Markovitz does have one interesting comeback: "Topless entertainment has probably funded more higher educations and furthered more careers than grants and scholarships ever have."
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