Author Archives: Whitney Larson

How a Simple Solution can Affect a Community

As a Minneapolis-based business in the nightlife industry, it’s hard to see a dominant player in the Minneapolis nightlife scene be struck with the terror of an active shooter inside their venue. In the weeks since the incident, we’ve been spending our time thinking about those involved — the victims, the staff, the owners, the guests — and discussing ways in which we can help keep nightlife venues across the country a fun, safe place for everyone to be.

It’s a mission that’s driven us from the beginning. We believe that with more data comes more knowledge. And that knowledge is what drives not only one business, but an entire community forward. Usually data is used for positive proactive reasons — to collect insight on what drives a business, to get a deeper understanding on valuable customer habits, and to bridge the gap between a venue and its consumer to drive loyalty and experience.

But data can also be used when the unexpected happens. When information from IDs is tracked, logged and timestamped, it’s able to act as the puzzle piece to help authorities track down the suspect of a crime. It empowers a venue to place a restriction on that person so they’re not allowed back inside. It can also alert other venues in the community if that person were to try to go into their establishment.

Data, of course, is not the only answer; but it is a step toward being able to take an action in the wake of an incident. There’s still work that needs to be done to continue to build safe environments for all. We stand behind our industry peers in Minneapolis and across the nation. We believe in the longevity of the nightlife industry and will continue to push ourselves to build tools to help our customers. And we’ll continue to pursue partnerships with the police and city officials to build a network of information that works to keep venues, staff, and their patrons safe.

Two Birds, One Stone: Reduce Liability & Increase Loyalty

Checking IDs is commonly considered a necessary evil of serving alcohol.

It’s not sexy. It’s not exciting. It’s just a step in the process. But this step can actually be turned into a huge asset to your bar or nightclub, especially with the right technology.

When you shift your thinking and equip yourself with the right tools, this very basic step becomes both your internal liability program as well as your external customer loyalty program.

The Legal Aspect

The liability and security side of checking IDs is always the most top-of-mind, particularly when it comes to verifying whether a guest is of age to drink. And from that aspect alone, having your staff manually review IDs is sufficient. But your liability decreases drastically when you equip that staff member with an ID scanning system. Here’s why:

  • It reduces the chances of honest human errors. Humans make mistakes even with the best intentions, such as incorrectly calculating someone’s age based on their date of birth. Having a quick license scan double verifies the guest’s age with a simple color coded alert of whether they’re over 21 or under 21. It makes it foolproof even under high stress situations.
  • It assists with easily passing stings. When authorities are checking to make sure you’re compliant, they legally cannot do so by using a fake ID or purposefully deceiving you. That means most stings are a result of incorrect math or laziness. Having a policy with an ID scan system corrects any mental mistakes and confirms all IDs are reviewed.
  • It aids in detecting fakes. Fake IDs are getting more complex, so having an ID scan system is just one more layer in the process of detecting a fake. Plus, in a worse-case scenario when you accidentally serve a minor, having a digital system is your paper trail to prove to authorities you didn’t purposefully serve that person and did the best of your ability to be compliant.
  • It digitally tracks your 86 list. Your seasoned staff may know immediately if a guest is banned and shouldn’t be let in, but your new employees likely won’t. Rather than memorizing a photo book of those who aren’t allowed, an ID scan system will automatically alert your employee if a guest is banned from the venue. Plus, if an incident occurs during the night, your staff can easily add that guest to your ban list so you always have the most up-to-date information to maintain a safe environment.
  • It alerts you of potentially unruly patrons. Some ID scan systems, like us at Vēmos, allows you to opt into a city-wide ban list. This means you’ll be alerted if a guest is banned at a nearby location along with the reason they were banned. You then use this information to make educated decisions on whether or not you want to let that guest into your venue.

  • Maintaining a secure environment minimizes costs associated with insurance, repairs, fines, and enforcement. What’s more is it provides an enjoyable atmosphere for your guests, which translates to a more profitable establishment. Which leads to the next aspect: loyalty.

    The Loyalty Aspect

    The not-so-obvious side of an ID scanning system is that it can become your loyalty program. And it can serve you better than most standalone loyalty programs can. Why? Because every guest needs to have their ID to drink. Not every guest is going to have your loyalty card or app. In fact, few consumers today want to have a separate loyalty card for every establishment they ever visit, so you’ll only capture a small percentage of your daily patrons.

    With an ID scanning system, you’re able to collect data on all of your guests. This goes well beyond their name, age and other demographic information. We’re talking behavioral data — how often that guests comes, what time of day they check in, how many visits they’ve had this month, what types of events or promotions drive them there, the list goes on. And when you connect your ID scanning system to your point of sale system, you unlock a whole new layer of behavioral information. Not to mention you get a ton of invaluable insights on what factors drives your business and which triggers to pull to repeat that business.

    It’s with this information that you’re able to reward your guests for doing what they’re already doing — simply showing up — and begin to offer them personalized service based on their habits. Notice it’s their 5th time coming in this month? Comp their first drink. Haven’t seen them in a while? Reach out to them about a special you think they’d enjoy. It’s these types of actions that build connections between consumers and brands, and drive true loyalty to your establishment.

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    Tips for Hosting a Profitable Event

    The fall through the end of the year is typically the busiest time of the year in the nightlife industry. It’s a heavily event-driven season, with all the holidays and celebratory moments driving people to spend more time out with their friends. Fortunately, hosting events is one of the best ways to get people through your door. And it can be a serious money maker for your business if you take the time to plan it out, get everything in place, and throw a good party.

    Here is a 5-step plan to set you up for success when hosting an event so you don’t end up owing more than you make.

    1. Plan your event

    Sounds obvious, but I’ve seen a lot of events getting thrown together without a ton of thought, and those are typically the events that end up with a financial loss. That’s why taking planning is one of the most important aspects of throwing an event. You need to first identify what you want to get out of the event, and plan accordingly to achieve it. The best questions to answer during this step are:

  • What is your goal?
  • What is your budget, and how much can you spend in each area of the event?
  • Who is your audience and what are they interested in?
  • Is this going to be an event tied to a holiday or time of year? Could be a great opportunity to have a comprehensive theme.
  • How will you get the word out about this event?

  • Once you answer these questions, you have a better way of moving forward. You know exactly how many promoters you need, what staff members are responsible for, how much money you can spend on talent, what type of talent you need to hire, if you can offer drink specials – the list goes on. All the details easily start to come together once these bigger questions are outlined.

    2. Hire the right talent

    Talent is a big portion of what lures people into your venue. But you need to make sure you hire the right talent. Do your guests prefer a headlining DJ or a local band? What type of lighting and sound equipment do you need to enhance the experience for your guests? After all, the people you are throwing the event for should define the event’s path. Know what your audience wants and what they’ll pay to attend. And above all else, stay within the budget you allotted in step 1 to maximize your profits and achieve your goal.

    3. Generate revenue, even before the day of the event

    We’re talking about pre-sales. Every event or venue, regardless of size, benefits from the pre-sale of tickets and inventory. The best way to sell tickets in advance is to get everyone on board with a single platform. There are platforms available that allow you to create and manage an online event page, publish the page for consumers to purchase tickets, have the page integrate with a mobile app for promoters to sell tickets directly from their devices, and track ticket sales and results along the way. This type of platform syncs all promoters and marketing efforts together to maximize ticket sales and revenue.

    4. Be a good party host

    Your event efforts must continue, and perhaps even spike, during the night of the event. Treat everyone like VIPs, from the bottle buyer to the general admission guest. Focus on service levels and make them feel appreciated no matter what. Your guests will not only continually come back, but they’ll also tell everyone they know about their experience. This sets you up for success for the long run.

    5. Analyze results to better prepare for the next event

    The only way to know whether your event was a success is to analyze the data. Systems like Vēmos combine all your data from across your venue into one dashboard, so you know exactly who made up your sales and what they bought. Which marketing campaigns brought people to pre-buy their tickets? At what time did your sales start trending upwards? What time of the night did the majority of your guests check in? How much did a general admission guest spend at the bar? Was your labor to sales ratio what you expected it to be? And most importantly, what could you do differently next time to do even better? Optimization is key to long-term success, but you can’t optimize if you don’t have the system that provides the answers to all these questions. The more you know, the better your results.

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    Use Insights to Boost Profitability

    Can you confidently say your night is going to be profitable? Do you know how you’re trending this month based on results last month? Is your average cost per transaction lower than normal? These are valuable answers to know, yet most venues don’t have the resources necessary to uncover them. What’s even more frustrating is all of this information is right at your fingertips. Fortunately, there are solutions built for the nightlife industry that help you get a hold of your business to make you even more profitable. Here’s how you can do just that.

    1. Become Interconnected

    Running off pen & paper isn’t helping your venue in the long-run. Having different systems for different sections of your venue isn’t helping either. The way you truly understand how your venue is performing is by being interconnected across all areas of your venue. Think about the different solutions you use in your venue. There are point of sale systems, reservation management software, event & ticketing software, employee scheduling programs, customer relationship management systems…the list goes on. But unless these technologies are programmed to connect to each other, the data and processes will ultimately be useless. Why bother with 5 different technologies if it’s going to add 5 different processes? That’s wasted time with duplicated effort, wasted time with manual data entry, and lost data between the systems.

    The key ingredient to a successful platform is one that’s integrated into all areas so you can be fully interconnected. Look for a comprehensive venue management platform, like us at Vēmos, that automatically has integration functionality built within it. This is what allows you to manage, understand, and grow your business from a single dashboard.

    2. Use Data to Become Predictable

    Once everything is connected in the right system, you have access to all your data in one place. This means you’ll be able to predict how your night is going to go based on historical data. Do you consistently get slammed around the same time? Staff accordingly. What issues have you experienced in the past? Fix those issues with processes. How many people have signed up for your guest list, made a reservation, or indicated they may be a general admission walk-up? What were the results of past nights similar to this one? This all helps you predict what your night is going to be like. Pre-selling inventory is another great way to make your nights predictable. It also helps you to understand how far in advance people tend to pre-purchase and whether you’re on target to hit your numbers.

    3. Decrease unnecessary costs

    Just as your past data helps you understand if you need to boost staff and processes, it also tells you when to decrease unnecessary costs. Do you need to have as many servers as you do working at 8 pm when you consistently don’t get busy until 11? Do you need to pay your promoters a per-guest fee when the guests they bring in don’t end up spending anything once inside your venue? Know where you’re over spending and cut costs accordingly so that the money you are spending is going toward better ways to increase your profitability.

    4. Turn Marketing into an Investment

    Speaking of knowing where you’re over spending, marketing is one of those places you’re likely throwing money in the wrong places. But when you track your marketing efforts, you’re able to see exactly what drives traffic and results. So while a third-party website may claim to have garnered you 100,000 impressions, you know that it actually only got you 3 clicks and $0 in return. Now you know not to spend money there in the future and redistribute those dollars toward activities you know work for you. Having a system that tracks it all allows you to easily see what you get in return of what you put in. This not only saves you from wasting your dollars, but helps to bring in more money than before, turning your marketing from an expense and into an investment.

    5. See it All Come Together

    When you use one system to track all areas, you have a clear understanding of exactly what’s happening in your venue without having to log into multiple data systems. Now, you can easily track:

    • How much money you made over a given time period
    • How many customers walked through your door over a given time period (and who they were)
    • How many table reservations you booked, and how much you earn on average
    • When your customers start buying tickets to your event. or start arriving to your venue
    • Which staff members are bringing in the most guests (and biggest spenders)
    • Which marketing channels are and aren’t working for you

    You can experience a huge uptick to your bottom line after switching to a system backed by data. That’s because you know exactly what’s working and what doesn’t, which allows you to spend their money more wisely. You also improve your operations to get your guests in the door faster to get to the bar more quickly, resulting in increased bar sales. When you have absolute clarity on your venue’s performance, you can do even more to increase your success. Without data, you’re simply just guessing and could be leaving a lot of money on the table.

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    Produce Big Results with a Small Budget

    I get it: it’s hard to set aside your hard-earned money for marketing efforts. It seems like you’re blowing those dollars away and not knowing what you’e getting in return. And oftentimes, that’s exactly what happens. You put out messages and promotions as a necessary evil; just something you have to do to gain awareness. But do you know the impact those actions have on your business? If the answer is no, then it’s time to make some changes to see your marketing as an investment, and not an expense.

    I believe that any marketing initiative – no matter the budget – has the opportunity to see big results. I’ve seen this to be true throughout my career in working with large corporations with infinite budgets, startups with no budget, non-profits with limited budgets, and nightlife venues with budgets across that spectrum. And through it all, I’ve come to believe two truths:

  • 1) Data is the engine behind a successful marketing initiative
  • 2) The best story wins

  • Yet, I rarely see these two truths in action in our industry.

    I see the same thing time and again — venues blasting out messages that aren’t enticing, aren’t actionable, aren’t geared toward a specific audience, and are nearly impossible to track. With this approach, there’s no way to connect the dots between what you’re pushing out there, how it engages your audience (the best story wins) and how it affects your business (data is your engine).

    So how do you become savvy and flip your marketing from an expense to an investment?
    You take a step back and look at the big picture.

    The Big Picture
    This step is especially important when working with a small budget. Every action matters if we have limited cash to put toward marketing. Most of us narrow down the concept of marketing into promotions, or more specifically, communication/advertising. When in reality, that’s only a subset of marketing. Marketing as a whole is comprised of four parts: product, price, place, and promotion.

    If you send out promotions that aren’t backed by the rest of the marketing mix, they aren’t going to result in anything meaningful. It might work sometimes, but you’re unable to see how it works and what effect it truly has. When all of your marketing works together, you’re able to make your campaigns as effective as possible. And once you have the big picture nailed down, you’re able to go a step further and tie your marketing into your overall business objectives.

    With this in mind, it’s time to start your marketing efforts from the top-down. It’s with this strategy that we start to see big results emerge from campaigns, even with the smallest of budgets.

    1. Identify your business objective with a tangible goal
    The first step is to figure out what you want to achieve as a business. Marketing that isn’t backed by business objectives is almost always seen as a waste. More often than not, venues conduct marketing so that they can increase their revenue. That’s a solid business objective, and there’s many others out there. The important part is to identify what you want out of your business.

    Once you have your objective, you then need to understand at what level it would be deemed a success. So you need a goal to tie along with your objective, which means a quantifiable number that can be measured within a given time range. For example, if increased revenue is your objective, then a goal may be to drive up total revenue by 10% within six months.

    2. Uncover your data to help you find the right marketing mix
    Now that you have your goal ironed out and tied to your business objective, how do you make sure your efforts affect it? You need to understand what your starting point is. When you don’t have great insight into what factors make up your revenue, it’s hard to define what products to promote at what price point using which messages on which channels. This just puts you back in the bucket of doing blind marketing and hoping it does something.

    But how do you uncover your data? You put the right tools in place so you can collect it and gain insights. The best way I’ve seen this done is to connect your point of sale system with an ID scanning system to uncover not only what your sales are and your product mix, but to also identify who it is that’s making up those sales. It gives you a more accurate look at your cost per person, average cost per transaction, and the demographic that’s behind it all. And when it’s all tied back to one central system, you’re able to humanize this data so that it becomes a buyer persona to work with. Companies like Vēmos automate this process for you, and provide insight into what your data points are telling you. This helps you identify what triggers to pull to affect your objective.

    3. Define marketing strategies to reach your goal
    You have your objective tied to a goal, you have data that drives insights. Now it’s time to put marketing into action. Now’s the most important time to remember the entire marketing mix and ways you can use all of it to drive results.

    Sticking with the revenue objective, we often think the solution is to get more bodies in the room. But what happens when you have nights that you’re at capacity, and more people isn’t a realistic solution? That’s where other areas of the marketing mix come into play. Now it’s about getting the same people to spend more money than they already are, getting different people who will spend more money, or increasing other nights that are slower.

    Looking at the entire marketing mix, you could get the same people to spend more money by slightly increasing your drink prices. Remember, price is a fourth of the marketing mix, and is one you could easily dabble in. If you discover that the majority of people order rail drinks, you could increase your price by $.50. What would this do for you? Let’s say you have 10,000 guests who order 1 rail drink. If you increase the price by $.50, you now make $5,000 more, just on that action alone. What if all 10,000 guests got upsold to a signature cocktail or a better brand that’s $2 more? Now you’ve made $20,000 more with that action.

    This is just one example using one section of the marketing mix. You can create a Facebook ad that targets the specific demographic you’d rather have attending your venue. You could identify a need in your market for a standing Tuesday event, and create promotions around it to increase a slower night. There are many different ways to go about achieving your objective. I always suggest starting small so you can try a few different things to see what works and what doesn’t before putting a ton of money behind it. Think of it as operating in a lab; always benchmarking your efforts against your goals and iterating over time.

    4. Track your efforts and stay agile
    How do you know your marketing strategies are working? You track every action every step of the way. Use systems at your door to account for each guest that walks through. Use lead generation tools on your website – like a guestlist, reservation form, or pre-sale ticket – to collect guest information ahead of time. Look at your dashboard to see how all your datapoints interact together and what story it’s telling you.

    Remember, data is the engine behind a successful marketing campaign. Is a certain initiative not working for you? Stop doing it. Is something making a drastic difference? Fuel it by putting more money behind it. Measurement and agility are the two most important factors in ensuring continuous success with your efforts. Without data, you’re simply guessing and wasting all the energy you spent in the first three steps.

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