VIRGINIA DJ GROUP SOARS TO SUCCESS WITH UNIQUE BUSINESS MODEL By Ryan Burger
At last September’s Video DJ Conference in Las Vegas (http://videodjconference.com), Mobile Beat Publisher Ryan Burger came across Astro Entertainment, by way of DJ Larry D, who endorses Virtual DJ and several other product lines.
As the following conversation reveals, video is one major element of a both a wide and deep selection of services the company offers. It?s also clear that the company functions with a unique variation of the multi-op concept. Through Skype he brought together more of the Astro Entertainment core team.
Ryan Burger: Someone give me the one-minute story about how Astro came together.
Greg Chappell: This is Greg Chappell. Started out with another gentleman at the time, started out as a radio announcer, and we ended up putting together a couple guys that were in radio as well and started up a mobile DJ service.
At the time we only had five guys, and then as time went on we grew. Each year we grow a minimum of 10 percent.
Ten years ago we brought on all the partners here; Steve Waddle being the general manager and president. We grew the company from just being a DJ company to doing all types of entertainment events, such as casinos, audio/visual packages, uplighting, and things of that nature.
R B: So from what I understand from previous conversation, it’s more of an agency type of setup, correct? You?re not specifically a multi-op where the one company owns everything; it?s more of a bunch of DJs working together…
or is that the best way to describe it?
G C: …We run it like you would have any service business where you can get a service, and we treat it that way…15 to 20 guys are full-time employees. Other guys, it is like an agency, the DJs that work for us out in the field. But our core is our 15 guys that run in the area; meaning
that by having contacts with different coordinators when you’re a one-man operation, you’re basically relying on a couple coordinators
to help you out? but if you’re 15 to 20 strong, you have a whole pool of coordinators coming to you. So we basically have that theory, that if you can have 15 to 20 guys…pulling us all together and running like a business, the day-to-day operations, and separating the two has really been our formula for success.
R B: So it just started out as a couple DJ getting together in some form and then it’s just grown and grown from there?
G C: It kind of grew and grew…everybody has different divisions, but they run their division.
Roger Cruz: You figure like with a regular company, Monday through Friday, 9:00 to 5:00, we all have our divisions. I?m in charge of public relations. We have a head of operations. We have sales. We have customer service. We all have regular jobs within the company during the day, but no one is exempt from DJing. Everybody still DJs.
Steve Weddle: Yeah, we have about 18 guys on salary. And our field guys, about 18, not counting us in the office. But those 18 guys are doing the bulk of our work, as big as we are. The Saturdays are where you’ve got to cover everything.
But giving a guy a 40-week has been the biggest advantage for us because we don?t have to negotiate over our price for a job. We don’t have to say, okay, let’s bill for this; we’ve got to give you a percentage. We do 40 hours a week, and if we work them 27 hours, they still get paid for 40. If they go over 40 they get overtime. But it’s a win-win for us. We’ve created a real job, and it feels like a real job. They get a vacation, benefits. We actually
offer health insurance.
R B: Tell us a little bit about some of the bigger events you do. Larry was telling me a little bit about Liberty Tax, for instance, and all the stuff that goes with that…you’re really producing the event for them.
G C: Sure. Yeah. Liberty Tax approached us about six, seven years ago and basically wanted us to put together the entire event, from the opening
session, which would include guest speakers, flying lights within the truss pieces in the ceiling, and then doing sound and sound reinforcement and lighting. And then as time went on, obviously, we did all the entertainment for them; DJs, bands, outdoor events as far as bands with the casino coming up with an actual theme. We’re in charge of decorations; getting teleprompters, stuff like that.
They basically put us in charge of that event from start to finish, all aspects. And we do it every year;fortunately. That’s our biggest one.
But here lately, our actual weddings have gotten bigger because we incorporate so many packages as far as the uplighting, like the wireless uplighting. We’re the only ones in this area that have it. In one visual package we demonstrate how to dance on a video; we also incorporate montages, which is what Larry does; and combining pictures of the father/daughter growing up with the music. That’s a huge hit for us here as well. That’s really what we do best.
Hampton Roads, being a military town, we also do the big ship parties here, the Navy’s aircraft carriers. The carriers are a huge event for us. We’ll have casino nights, where we have up to 60 tables and then four DJs at that event. And that would include also flying truss, speakers, sound, lighting and all that.
R B: Of the gross dollars spent with your company, what percentage do you still consider purely DJ?
S W: DJ is where the root of things start, but probably it’s cut down to about a quarter;25 to 30 percent; where obviously 10 years ago it was 99 percent. I think it’s key to say that we don’t go into markets we don?t need to go into, or fields, meaning photography, wedding photography, limousines. You know, we’re always on the cutting edge, trying to see what can we add to our service…Anytime you can add a service that you can be good at, you add that to your bundle package. For things like photography, we still have referrals out there we want to keep.
…It still starts with the DJ. It starts with a call coming in, someone needs entertainment, and then you go off that to the other divisions that have been successful.
Photo booths have been a great source of income without even investing really any money, if that makes sense. I mean, you hook up with someone like Kingdom Photo Booth, who sets up a great plan for you. And we budget a certain amount of money and we borrow from them, so really no money down, and so we created a revenue source with no money investment. And it took off.
R B: How do your clients hear about you? Are you heavy on the bridal fair scene, the bridal publications, referrals?
G C: One of the keys is getting into venues.
Coordinators are very, very important. We are going straight for the venues and making them our” as in a football team” our 12th man. We’re making our venues our extra salespeople, and we’re making them feel like part of the sales team here, that they now can add it to their packages. And the hotels love it because there’s an incentive for them: They get a percentage.
But it also enables us to not have an extra salesperson here, so we’re able to pass that money to them. Roger can speak more about exposure.
R C: So far as our company’s concerned, we have a very good product and we know it. The key just getting people out there to realize the product that we have. We have meetings with coordinators, photographers, caterers, and also the venues. We visit these venues, develop really good working relationships with them. They tend to like us, and then we show them the packages that we have. And they’re so jazzed about all the things that we offer so far as DJing, uplighting, photo booths, casino-themed events, green screen technology.
all these things we have to offer that they can offer their brides or their corporate clients. The more products they offer and they buy from us, the better bundle package we can provide.
And it’s streamlined for the client, so that the only person they have to call is the venue. They want uplighting? They call the venue. If they want DJs, they call the venue, etc.
As an incentive, we have special referral programs that we offer to the representatives from the venues or the caterers or the coordinators.
S W: …Also in terms of exposure, we do all the bridal shows.
Some we pay and some we get on trade, whether we have a venue or a bridal show where we provide sound. But it?s important to continue to stay out there and market ourselves and not just rely on the venues…
R B: One other area I’m real interested in is training. How do you get your guys on the line? How long does it take until they become a lead on, say, a $3,000 prom?
S W: Really we don?t bring in a lot of new guys, but when we do, quite honestly it?s from catering staffs, from bartenders?
R C: “People we meet at parties”
S W: “people we meet at parties.” Very selective. And not a lot of training.
R C: I handle all the DJ interviews for the company, and what we particularly look for is guys with really strong, confident personalities. We?re looking for the quintessential ?cool guy.?
…You can teach anyone how to press play on a controller; you can?t teach anyone how to be cool and to be charismatic and to be charming and to be confident on the microphone.
So that’s a main thing we look for a lot. Music knowledge will come in time. But that?s my take on our training and our interviewing. Once we find that quintessential cool guy, we can just take it all from there.
R B: What else do you want to make sure people know about Astro Entertainment?
Larry Dotterer: I would like to touch on video. We’ve been doing music video in the mitzvah market since probably 15 years ago, with just DVD players or whatever. And now we are bringing it to wedding receptions. It’s blowing up in wedding receptions. What we’re doing is we’re not just going to your wedding reception and playing a music video at all. We’re going there and we’re doing pre-production. We do the bride and groom’s logo, real beautiful on the screen with the color theme of the event, with linens or whatever; name spinning around or whatever.
Another thing we’re doing is for the first dance we’ll take their dating and engagement pictures and drop them in while they’re dancing. But we’re not only just playing the pictures like a slideshow. Any DJ company could do that, too. We actually pre-produce the pictures with the music video…Imagine the father/daughter dance with pictures of the bride and her dad since she was a little baby, all the way till the wedding; and during the chorus of the song, it’s actually Louis Armstrong on the screen like he’s there in the room, singing “What A Wonderful World.” It’s very emotional. There’s not a dry eye in the room.
RB: And that’s where some studio work comes on done with Vegas Pron, in your case.
S W: …When you have someone like Larry that’s very creative, there are so many more things you can do. We used to do just music videos, and now it’s escalated and involved more and more. Because people are looking for the next big thing, but there’s really not a next big thing. There’s just small tweaks to what we already do, I think.
R B: So a big part of it is the personalization, making them feel special.
L D: Absolutely.
S W: And that would be one of our biggest things about customer service. We use InfoManager…and whenever that bride calls in, we’re going to document everything”any question she has”the little things…You know, you talk to the bride and she tells you something about the groom, and then when the groom calls in you’re able to say that little remark about the groom,”Hey, I heard you’re a big AC/DC fan,” or whatever; they’re impressed by that. You can’t do that without treating it like a real business. MB
For more about Astro Entertainment, head over to AstroDJ.com
Filed Under: Issue #147
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