Back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, I had a rush of outdoor events. I had contracts with two different county Parks & Rec departments for a series of shows, plus I had contracted a huge, high-profile charity event: the March of Dimes Superwalk in Hart Plaza, Detroit. Except for the latter, these shows were usually very short (less than 3 hours) and stripped-down (no lighting/extras). In some cases, the travel, set- up and strike time took longer than the show itself!
In the case of the Superwalk, it was always on a Sunday morning, right after a late-night wedding reception, which meant I started that show already exhausted. “How nice would it be,” I thought, “if I had a portable DJ booth all set up and ready to go, where I could just pull up, plug it in, play the party and then leave…”
At that same time, I was still dabbling in radio, and would often get catalogs, brochures and offers aimed at radio stations. One of them came from a company called Giant Boom Box Industries. What they offered was basically a trailer with a fiberglass DJ booth and two “speakers” fabricated to look like a huge boom box, which were extremely popular at the time. They offered radio stations “market exclusivity,” meaning that if your station bought one, they wouldn’t sell one to your competitor. In my market, that station was WLLZ, an album rock station.
The price list presented several options, and I figured that if I did a little bit of the work myself, I could have one of these babies on the road, cutting my set-up time down to zero and making quite an impression. When I spoke to a company representative, I explained that I was NOT a radio station, and therefore they wouldn’t be breaking their exclusivity agreement if they sold me one. They agreed, but said that they would only go through with the deal if ‘LLZ approved. They declined in short order.
Still, the seed was planted and it wasn’t long before I got another sales packet, this time for the “Super Roving Radio” from a company of the same name based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Basically a converted trailer, it offered all of the advantages of the Giant Boom Box while being just slightly smaller and less costly. I started running numbers.
There’s a common thread between many DJs that has held true over the years: We see something we really want and then rationalize ways to make it seem sensible to others. In many cases, what we wanted was more about us, rather than the business or our clients. Cool factor often kicks cold, rational business logic to the curb. Knowing this, and still wanting one of these very badly, I jammed numbers into my business plan repeatedly. Many of the things that help radio stations afford these things were also available to me: I could get sponsors to pay me to slap their logo on it somewhere; I could ink multiple event contracts with companies for substantial up-front cash and so on. My contracted events, combined with projected new events started to paint a picture of a life of DJ bliss, where I’d be able to entertain in air-conditioned luxury, with none of the back-breaking work of setting up and tearing down.
Oh, but wait…I might have forgotten something. I live in an apartment.
This presents a major problem: My management company prohibits storing trailers on its property. Having a good relationship with them and possibly getting a special exemption also doesn’t solve the additional problem of security: How do I keep people out of my unattended, high- profile trailer that practically screams, “full of expensive stuff?” So two additional costs come into play: paying to store the rig in an RV park and equipping it with full-time monitored security.
Run the numbers any which way, with the rosiest projections of income and 100% sponsorship, and with these added expenses, I’m losing money. Or I’d have to charge such an outrageous fee that even the radio guys would start looking like a bargain! As much as I hated to do it, I tabled the idea.
Several years later, a competitor of mine called me sounding very excited. “I’m building a giant boom box!” I was a little stunned for two reasons: first, he didn’t even remember where he had gotten that idea in the first place! Secondly, he is usually a very business- savvy guy. When I began asking him about the numbers, he assured me, “Oh, yes, I’ve worked everything out…It’s going to be a goldmine.” He got a bit testy when I pressed him for specifics, so I let it go and wished him well.
As soon as it was finished, he couldn’t resist bringing it over and showing it off. And, I must admit, he had done a first-rate job! Built on a 24-foot trailer with a drop-down rear door, he had installed a broadcast quality pushbutton start generator that powered his built-in sound system. EV Concert Series speakers had been permanently built into the body, with interior monitor speakers as well. All the jacks for laptops and other inputs were panel-mounted right on the desktop, and combined with the acoustic foam tiles on the walls gave the rig the appearance of a radio station studio. The exterior was finished in a full-color “photo wrap,” using actual high-resolution photos of an actual boom box, which they then added his logos, phone number and web URL. He had invested a pretty penny, but once again raved about all the money he’d be raking in. I began mentally kicking myself, as my friend always had a very keen business sense and financial smarts. How was he succeeding where I saw Stu Chisholm, a mobile DJ in the Detroit area since 1979, has also been a nightclub DJ, done some radio, some commercial voice-over work and has even worked a roller skating rink! Stu attended the famous Specs Howard School of Broadcasting and has been a music collector since the age of seven. Stu’s guide to the profession, The Complete DJ, is available from ProDJ Publishing.Failure? I again went over my numbers, updating them for the time. My results still looked gloomy, but I knew that his circumstances were different. ‘Who knows,’ I thought, ‘maybe he’s found a way to make it work.’
About a month later my friend called me back; the trailer had been broken into and equipment stolen, even though it had been in a fenced-in area. The security issue had reared its ugly head. My friend got lucky: they caught the thieves and he recovered his gear more or less undamaged, but he now invested in the full-time monitoring.
Just over a year later, he was on my phone again. He was selling the trailer. Since he was willing to take a substantial loss, I once again consulted the Gods of Business Sanity. Once again, they said, “Buy this and you shall surely perish!” My buddy ended up selling the trailer piecemeal.
WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND
What made me reminisce about all of this was because of an article a colleague sent me about a new up-and-coming outfit called BOLDEnterprises (www.boldenterprises.co). Their website seems to be unsure whether it’s a web design company, an entertainment company, a rental company or a broadcast group; it’s apparently offering all of these things! Oh, and it’s also offering one of the aforementioned Giant Boom Boxes. Unmistakably the same rig I coveted back in 1988, it is described as “…a really cool Mobile DJ Booth [with] four huge theatre quality stereo speakers (JBL), four 4,000 Watt Crown Amps all on a 30’ trailer.” The description concludes: “It was recently totally refurbished and is really nice.” Aside from its other ventures, this company’s strategy differs in that it is offering their rig to any radio station, mobile DJ company or entertainer who chooses to rent it from them, thus expanding their potential client base and making their clientele partners in its promotion. As I run my numbers once again, the results being far more grim in the 2013 Detroit market than at any time before, I can only hope that the economics of Holtsville, NY is in much better shape and that their strategy pays off.
By the way, did I mention that the company’s CEO is 16-years-old? As I did back in the ‘90s, I will once again tip my proverbial hat and wish him well. In the meantime, if you’re in New York and have need of one badass portable DJ booth, you can contact this young entrepreneur, Matthew, at: 516-382-7651, or send an e-mail to: Matthew@BOLDEnterprises.co. Until next time, safe…and sane spinnin’!
Filed Under: Issue #152, Performing, Personal Development
Leave a comment