Kirkendoll Management manages four gentlemen’s clubs in the Louisiana market: two under the Penthouse Club name in New Orleans and Baton Rouge as well as two under the Crazy Horse Cabaret name in Gonzales and Port Allen. Founder John Kirkendoll, a Harvard Business School alumnus and gentlemen’s club industry professional for over twenty five years, is best known as founder of the Gold Club brand of gentlemen’s clubs.
C.J. Asher – First of all, John, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
John Kirkendoll – I’m fifty seven years old, married with three children. I was involved in both commercial banking and venture capital in the Dallas market from 1979 to 1987 and have worked in the gentlemen’s club industry from 1987 until now. I’m a part-time resident of both Telluride, Colorado and New Orleans. In the past, I was a member of the San Miguel County Planning and Zoning Board and from 1999 until now I’ve been a Reserve Deputy Sheriff in the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office.
C.J. Asher – Okay, so let’s get the most obvious question out of the way first: How does a Harvard Business School graduate wind up in the gentlemen’s club entertainment industry, an often socially stigmatized line of business?
John Kirkendoll – The Gentlemen’s Club industry, from a purely business standpoint, is the dream industry, as a highly fragmented, mom and pop industry featuring significant barriers to entry, with an infinite product lifecycle and a customer base with a high willingness to pay. As HBS preaches and teaches to be good corporate citizens, our company supports over two dozen charitable causes. Additionally, we offer the only 401-K and profit sharing program to our employees, even on the club level, and are the only company to do so in the industry.
C.J. Asher – Tell me about the road you have traveled from your first foray into the gentlemen’s club industry to today.
John Kirkendoll – My initial involvement in building the Gold Club Atlanta in 1987 was that of the money partner in the deal. Fast forward a couple of years later and circumstances forced me to take over club operations. Since that time, I have opened and/or operated adult nightclubs in Miami Beach, Hilton Head, Dallas, Chicago, Baton Rouge, New Orleans and several other Louisiana markets.
C.J. Asher – What was your inspiration behind founding “The Gold Club” brand?
John Kirkendoll – The Gold Club brand was an accident. When I first applied for a liquor license in Atlanta in 1986, the application asked for the club name. Since we didn’t have a name for the club at that time, I wrote down the first thing that came to mind, The Gold Club. The club was met with stiff resistance from the neighborhood groups in the area and this generated much newspaper and television publicity, all of which referred to “The Gold Club”. By that time I was basically stuck with the name.
C.J. Asher – What are the biggest challenges of owning and managing gentlemen’s clubs?
John Kirkendoll – The biggest challenges in our industry relate to regulatory issues. It’s not an industry for those afraid to litigate. We’ve fought battles in countless state and federal courts, including two state supreme courts. Our record isn’t perfect, but it’s close to it.
C.J. Asher – Besides the dancing talent, how is managing a gentlemen’s club different than managing a more traditional nightclub, bar or restaurant?
John Kirkendoll – Managing a gentlemen’s club is about trust. Our guests look to us for a great time, and there are many more components involved in a gentlemen’s club than a traditional bar. The environment is much more dependent on lighting, music, and visual aesthetic. It takes coordination between all types of staff to make a successful night. We are very selective when it comes to hiring.
C.J. Asher – From your experience, what are the key skills and experience that it takes to become a successful entrepreneur in any industry, not just adult entertainment?
John Kirkendoll – The key to being a successful entrepreneur can be summed up as hard work, focus on the mission but pivoting as necessary, building a hardworking, loyal, smart team of people to effectuate the vision and having the vision to focus years down the road and adapt as necessary to the ever changing environment. Oh and luck has something to do with it too.
C.J. Asher – You currently own and manage four clubs in Louisiana: two under the Penthouse Club brand and two under the Crazy Horse Cabaret brand. What sets your clubs apart from your competition?
John Kirkendoll – Our hard-working, talented staff sets us apart. We are entirely committed to hospitality and putting guest experience first.
C.J. Asher – What skills and experience are vital in successfully owning and managing a gentlemen’s club?
John Kirkendoll – I think that, in this industry, knowing how to treat your staff appropriately is key. That is the customer facing, operational aspect that I feel is overlooked at times in other places. Also, as we are now looking to expand, I rely heavily on our corporate team to remain focused on what aspects make a market suitable for a profitable club investment.
C.J. Asher – What advice would you have for anyone who is considering a career in the gentlemen’s club industry, either in management, staff or as a dancer?
John Kirkendoll – With management, for those that crave the fast paced, exciting life with long, late hours, there really isn’t anything else like it. Even though our managers are the highest paid in the industry, they are not in it for the money. I think you either love the lifestyle or you don’t. As for the staff, see the job as a springboard to other careers. For the most part, staff positions are not filled by people for a career. And finally, for the entertainers, be professional and smart in your approach to making money. Work regular shifts and sock away the money. Like professional athletes, the years in the career are limited.
C.J. Asher – Since your company, Kirkendoll Management, is currently seeking out new clubs for ownership, what criterion are you looking for in an existing club that you are interested in acquiring?
John Kirkendoll – We are looking for the top ranked clubs in established major business and/or tourist/convention markets in the USA.
C.J. Asher – I’ve been told that you support several charities in the New Orleans area. Which ones are they and how do you support them and their efforts?
John Kirkendoll – A majority of the charities are listed on the corporate site at http://kirkmgmt.com/charity.php. I am closely associated with almost all of them through either family members, my community, or the company.
C.J. Asher – You’ve owned and operated clubs in several different areas of the United States, why are you now focusing on the Louisiana area?
John Kirkendoll – Since opening the Gold Club in Baton Rouge in 1992, we’ve become the “go to” company for companies looking to divest. This has led to our acquisitions in New Orleans in 1995, Port Allen in 2005 and Gonzales in 2006.
C.J. Asher – What current political and legal issues are the greatest challenges being faced by the gentlemen’s club industry today and how are you and other gentlemen’s club owners dealing with them?
John Kirkendoll – On a national level, the biggest challenge is the entertainer related employee vs independent contractor issue. If not managed correctly, this can (and has) cost clubs tens of millions of dollars.