Running a disco is as easy as 1-2-3-4

Club 1234's owners are counting on prime location, star DJ and upscale targeting strategy to draw in the crowds

Promotional material from the trendy and recently opened Club 1234 discotheque offers a two-word description of co-owner Marco Iannone. He's listed simply as an "experienced businessman."

This begs the question of why, --if he's so experienced, --is he risking hundreds of thousands of dollars, by investing in the cutthroat Montreal nightclub scene?

"I know it's competitive," Iannone said with laugh, in an interview the day after the disco's media launch. "But I just love it. I love the people, the music, the excitement. Everything. And we really are trying to do something different here."

Iannone is one of four partners in Montage Management, which is investing $1.5 million into the re-launch of the 1234 Mountain street property, which gained notoriety during the 1970s disco craze, when stars like Grace Jones and the Village People boogied the night away there.

The club later reemerged as "L'Esprit," --another disco concept,-- which lasted until the early 1990s. Since then, several groups have tried to make a go of the building, with little success.

Montage Management has as good a chance as any. Besides Iannone, the shareholders include Montreal club scene veterans Johnny Setaro and Tony Loddo, --who ran the Extreme disco on Crescent Street for 13 years, -- and DJ MC Mario Tremblay, one of Canada's best know record spinners.

To say that Montreal's bar business is competitive is something of an understatement. New hot spots come and going all the time, and an aging population and digital television are increasingly cutting away at the available clientele.

But according to Iannone and partner Johnny Setaro, Club 1234 will have at least four distinct advantages to help it to stand out from its other large competitors such as the Dome and Club Millennium.

The first is the building's sheer size and brand equity. Club 1234's latest incarnation will feature 15,000 square feet of space, a 6,000 square foot main dance floor, a $200,000 sound and lighting system and capacity for 1,500 partygoers.

The second advantage said Setarto lies with the club's older target market, which centers on a core group of 25 to 35 year old professionals, artists and "interesting people." The strategy is exemplified in Club 1234's admittance policy, which restricts entrance to those 21 years old and over, its $10 cover charge and its choice of beverages, which consists of mostly higher-quality but pricier brands.

According to Setaro, the vast majority of the city's clubs target a younger 18 to 30 demographic, but Club 1234 will be different.

"We want 'em after they've graduated from college, when they've gotten their American Express cards and they have a little more money to spend," Setaro said.

The older target market is also more likely to be familiar with the building's long history as a dance club. Club 1234 will be open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday nights, and will be rented out for corporate events and other activities during the week.

"I've got a friend who proposed to his wife at the original 1234, almost 20 years ago," Setaro said. "Now he wants to rent it out for a party, so they can relive the moment."

For Setaro, one of the best ways to stand out in Montreal's club scene is to generate buzz to ensure that there is a always good line-up outside the front door, which serves as its own form of advertising. A line-up says that the club is hot, and that people are willing to sacrifice their time to get in.

"Some places even let people line up outside the building when there is room inside," joked Setaro. "But we don't need to create fake line-ups. We've had great crowds right from the start."

Club 1234's third big advantage comes from the management group's ability to sign on local personality "MC Mario" Tremblay, one of Canada's most well-known DJs. In addition to anteing up a share of the start-up cash, Tremblay will also spin the tunes during the crucial Saturday night activities, and the music will be re-transmitted live on MIX 96.

"Music is very important," Tremblay said. "The dance floor is the heart of the club. If that's going well, then everything else will too."

But the group's fourth --and probably the most important -advantage comes from the foursome's strong management ability. The group's large number of partners, made it easier to come up with the big wad of cash needed to renovate the 1234 property from top to bottom. It will also enable them to ensure that at least one of the owners is present at the club at all times said Setaro.

"Some people think that you can hire a manager to take care of a club," Setaro said with a laugh. "But are you kidding? A cash business? You gotta be there."

But while Club 1234's crowds -many of whom will be drawn from tourists, and from fans leaving the nearby Bell Center-have been promising, whether the initial success can continue remains an open question. Much of this will be determined by what kind of an atmosphere the four owners can create said Iannone.

"I want people leaving here with their feet hurting," Iannone said with a laugh. "If they do, I'll be happy.


Sidebar: Club 1234's four-step management strategy

o Target the 25 to 35 year old market, by creating a more upscale environment for people with steady jobs and a little more money to spend.
o Use DJ "MC Mario" Tremblay's high public profile and record-spinning abilities to create a good club atmosphere and promote the business by broadcasting his Saturday night spins on radio station Mix 96.
o Locate the business at 1234 Mountain, to benefit from the building's established brand equity and heavy local traffic. Invest heavily in the décor and sound system to create a unique disco experience.
o Leverage the four-man ownership group by pooling resources to increase investment power and by ensuring that at least one of the owners is present at the club at all times.

Fact Box:
Company Name: Club 1234
Owner: Montage Management (Tony Loddo, Johnny Setaro, MC Mario Tremblay and Marco Iannone)
Founded: 2004
Products: Discotheque
Employees: 40
Sales: $2 to 3 million (projected)
Phone #: 514-395-1111


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Peter Diekmeyer
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