This is what I want, and if you can’t give it to me, then GOODBYE!’ Perhaps considered harsh by some, but for John Specht it was necessary.
In 2009, Specht took over all UK operations of Spearmint Rhino. At the time, the UK arm was reporting losses of £1.6m; enter Specht for a significant turnaround.
Having visited Britain for a short time in 2003, and with the reported losses, Specht knew a challenge lay ahead but he was determined to be the business-minded man who made change happen: ‘I think it was a long time coming as I had worked my butt off for so long and had achieved every goal that was set for me. I would say moving to the UK has been my biggest challenge to date.’
Specht knew serious changes had to be made in order for the company to compete within the market: ‘Taking control of all UK operations meant I had to start from scratch and rebuild, re-educate and re-organise from the ground up. I focused on all areas, from the cost of napkins to the rates – and everything in between,’ he explained.
‘I met with all my suppliers and re-negotiated everything. If anyone no longer wanted to work with me, I cancelled their services and found new ones who would work within my plan. My strategy was simple: this is what I want and if you can’t give it to me, then goodbye!’
The tactic worked and the following year, losses were reduced to £190,000. ‘I chose to come here for the challenges that lay ahead of me, as I have always conquered everything that I have set out to achieve.’
With a strategic business plan in place, figures have continued to grow through 2011, much to Specht’s delight: ‘Overall, I’m very happy with the outcome and am definitely heading in the right direction.’
Given his success, being a businessman in the hospitality sector had never been Specht’s intended career: ‘I Joined the United States Air force and had always thought that would be my career, but due to a few accidents, I unfortunately ended up breaking my back in five places. I had to have screws fitted in my knee and could not subsequently continue with the job. I was therefore forced to cross train into a field that was not that exciting, which led me to leaving the military after nearly 10 years.
‘After my military career, and the job I ended up taking after my accidents, I became the chief purchasing supply officer for F-15s, F-16s, B1 bombers and aerospace ground equipment. Being in charge of this section was like owning my own business in a sense, as I was directly responsible for costs and budgets and leading a team of military and civilian workers to get the job done.’
Specht learned his no-nonsense business approach from his military training as well as from the hard-working ethic of his parents. Born in New York to ‘hardcore New Yorkers,’ Specht praises his parents for his business management skills. ‘I think having a set of strong parents that kept me in line, gave me the start I needed. And what with spending so much time in the military, you have no choice but to shape up or ship out!’
Having witnessed business first hand from his father, who owned multiple gas and service stations, Specht realised from a young age what it takes to be in business: ‘Working at my father’s business gave me first-hand experience and allowed me to see everything he went through, and what it took to run a business,’ he explained.
‘Growing up, I always worked at the shop (and wasn’t paid!). My father ended up selling the stations in my teens and I then worked at a bus company doing oil changes and cleaning the city buses. I also worked at a fast food place, as did most American teens in the summer time.’
Specht’s parents sold up and moved to LA when he was 10 years old, a move that would later play a part in his success. In 1999, he began working for Spearmint Rhino. Starting in security, Specht quickly showed his potential
and just three months later, was promoted to general manager and given the chance to run his own club in North Hollywood. ‘I had seen the potential in the company and knew that I had what it took to be successful within the Spearmint Rhino brand,’ he said.
After a year, he was promoted to regional manager, a role he occupied until 2009, when he was promoted to vice president. ‘Along the way I took the time to learn and worked in every position in the clubs, from bartender, DJ, and security to serving drinks, cleaning the restrooms, cooking and promotions. I figured I couldn’t tell my employees what to do and teach them, if I didn’t know how to perform the job.
‘My job varies each and every day. As you can imagine what with the hours of the business and the nature of it, every day is different. I am constantly in one of our clubs overseeing the running of the business first-hand. I really don’t like sitting in an office, so I try not to do that too often, but unfortunately, sometimes it has to be done. Bills have to get paid and cheques need to be written.’
Having experienced Spearmint Rhino clubs on both sides of the pond, Specht has discovered that business is not the same in every location: ‘The UK is doing quite well, better than expected in the short time I have been here. The world economy is struggling so we have ups and downs as well, just like in the US.
‘The entire gentlemen’s club scene is much different in the States – we are bit louder and crazier in the clubs, whereas in the UK, people are a bit more reserved. Not that one is better than the other – just different – and that is ok.’
It’s not just differences in custom that Specht has encountered: ‘The UK is very pro employee and not employer, so it’s a challenge to get the UK team going in the same fashion as we do in the States. And coming in as an American meant that I was met with resistance at the beginning. But after much team building, we have all found a common ground. They, as well as me, have all learned quite a bit and now we have a great team in place, which
is receptive to new ways of doing things.
‘The strategy is always the same – give the absolute best experience and product each and every time and the rest will fall into place.’
Gentlemen’s clubs can be a tough business, and it’s not just the workload and demanding hours causing the strain, but the prejudgment of others. For some time, businesses of this kind have been subject to scrutiny. Straight-talking Specht firmly puts rumours of the sleazy reputation to bed: ‘The only stigma comes from people who do not understand the industry. We are seeing a growing trend of successful, motivated adults who are becoming tired of being told what they can or cannot do just because it might not be seen as politically correct by a small section of society.
‘I would challenge the label “sleazy”. Our clubs offer luxury, value-for-money in comfortable surroundings and are chosen by successful business people, celebrities, and sports personalities. I have seen drunken young people outside bars fighting and young girls passed out from alcohol in the streets – that’s what I consider sleazy!’
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Specht though. In early 2011 he controversially suggested that students could pay fees by working at the clubs, much to the dismay of feminist campaigners. ‘I did an interview where I was asked if we had students that were dancers. And yes, we do. Students dance in strip clubs all over the world. We also employ teachers, mums, sisters, the lady from the bank and many others. Another reporter took what I said from that interview and wrote his own story with his own title (never actually speaking to me) and there you go, this storm broke out.’
But like any good businessman, Specht took it in his stride: ‘I don’t let it bother me. People who give us bad press have never even been to one of our clubs. I did this interview once and the journalist was arguing with me. I asked her,
“Have you ever even been to a strip club before?”. And she said “No.” So how can you argue with me when you don’t know what you’re talking about? I get a kick out of those people.’
Like the saying goes, ‘all press is good press’. Specht believes this stands true. His advice: ‘always be honest.’
Taking into consideration the importance of publicity to a business, he said: ‘It’s essential. Take opportunities when they arise, even if you may get some negativity. The exposure is worth it. To establish a brand, you have to let people know you are there. We have used many mediums, including press and billboards, but we now look at the Internet and social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook. We have to make sure we’re current.’
However, Specht is sceptical about the term, branding:
“I am 50:50 on this. You don’t necessarily need a brand to be successful in any business, there are plenty of one-off businesses that are fantastic, as the owners have concentrated on that one operation and made it the very best they can. But spearheading such a world-recognised brand as Spearmint Rhino means that it is sometimes very difficult to maintain the high level of standard that we have at each and every club around the world. But we do achieve it.’
Proving he has the recipe for success, Specht offered key advice for driving a business forward: ‘To survive in the current business climate, you have no choice but to be proactive. The recession has exposed poor operators and opportunists, if you stand still in this climate, you will not survive. We constantly review our pricing policy, and run a lot of special offers to stay competitive.’
And for those looking to expand, he suggests measuring expectations: ‘In other words, be realistic. It is not the time to take risks.’
Describing his business style as, ‘do as I do, not as I say,’ Specht understands the importance of a happy workforce. ‘I am not one that just directs people. I actually do the job and continue to do it each and every day. There’s no better way than leading by example.
‘I believe that if they see me working alongside them, that motivates them to work equally as hard as I am. And the scenery isn’t too bad around here, so most employees are more than happy at work.
A happy staff is a productive staff, it’s equally important that all my staff are happy in their respective roles throughout the company. If people enjoy coming to work it shows in the effort they put forth which in turn means a better experience with in our clubs.’
With almost 250 employees and 2,000 entertainers in the UK alone that depend on Specht running a successful business, he understands the need for top-notch staff. ‘Every three months we do refresher courses in all aspects of our business. As time goes on people become complacent, you need to give refresher courses, you also need to stay up with the ever-changing times and change with them. Keeping tabs on your competition and adjusting is key; don’t become stale!’
Specht has come a long way from his security days and is living proof that with an optimistic outlook, you can achieve your dream career. He believes that the key for surviving in business is simple, ‘commitment, team work and a positive attitude.’
‘Know all aspects of your business. I started in security and worked my way up. Knowing not only your role, but others too, is a huge advantage. Give 100 per cent and never give up. I have pride and passion for what I do regardless if it was cleaning the toilet or running a multi-million pound company.