Tallinn club owner keep up with the crowd

  • 2004-02-12
  • By Justin Petrone
TALLINN - The club business may appear sexy and stylish, but in the backrooms of Tallinn's hottest nightclubs and dance halls eagle-eyed businessmen are scrambling to meet the often fickle needs of the party goers that make up their business' life blood. Music trends come and go, interiors are remodeled and scrapped and the quality of service is pushed ever upward by popular demand.

"If you compare what we were doing in Club Hollywood when we first opened up nine years ago," says Peeter Rebane, freshly back from a weekend trip to Finland, "it's like night and day."
Rebane's Club Hollywood, which first opened its door to the public in 1995, is one of the big successes in the Tallinn club market. While other clubs have come and gone, Club Hollywood has been boosting profitability, and Rebane says that 2003 was the most profitable year for the club yet.
In addition, he and his business partners will open up two new establishments - a smaller club and a bar - by the end of 2004, which will join another popular party place, the Kaheksa Lounge, as being part of Rebane's winning strategy.
But what is that strategy that has allowed his enterprises to survive while others have failed?
"The market is very small and competitive, and we have been changing all the time, ever since we opened," Rebane says. "People's tastes have grown more sophisticated with time, as have their expectations of service. Because we have been able to change faster than other clubs, we are still alive, while the others are slowly dying out."
Still, serving the crowd hasn't been easy. Club Hollywood has had to move from a German dance-oriented format to a Europop format to a music format that now includes genres such as hip-hop, soul and R&B in the past nine years.
"Three or four years ago most of our club goers didn't know what hip-hop was - it was part of a small, special community here in Tallinn. Now we have special hip-hop nights, special soul-music nights," says Rebane, pointing out that Club Hollywood was the first to start these special themed nights on the club circuit.
However, with Tallinn quickly rising as a popular party destination - it recently made Rolling Stone magazine's top five global hot spots - keeping up with the public demand, including the throngs of new tourists, demands more than just changing music formats to keep up to global standards.
Raul Rink, the director of Terrarium, a new club situated near the port, says that one of the things that sets Tallinn clubs apart from Nordic counterparts is the amount of investments that club owners make into the technical side of the business. He estimates that 6 million kroons (380,000 euros) - 7 million kroons were invested in Terrarium's light and sound equipment in the first two years of operation.
"The clubs here in Tallinn are better than the ones in Stockholm because we make more investments in the technical base. We have better lights and sound. Clubs in Finland and Sweden are often cheaply put together," Rink says.
Yet it's the "cheap" that keeps the customers coming. The great unspoken advantage Tallinn clubs have is that their prices are much lower than clubs in nearby capitals like Helsinki or Stockholm, yet the service side of the business is the same - if not better.
"Things are much, much cheaper here than in other European cities, but the quality of our services are the same as in the rest of Europe," says Rink.
Still, the lure of cheap vodka cannot nourish Rink's business alone. While Club Hollywood gets by on its chameleonlike catering to the whim of the public, Terrarium boasts size and stability.
"We are the biggest of the big, big nightclubs," he says of his club's 2000 square meters of party space. "And we don't plan to change that setup - it will probably stay the same."
Like Rink, Rebane says that Club Hollywood's reliance on local clients won't leave it destitute when European hipsters tire of Tallinn's Old Town for a newly proclaimed "hot spot."
"We have always relied on local clients," says Rebane. "So that kind of thing doesn't worry us."
Rink, like Rebane, was also out of the country at the time of the interview, proving that traveling is another big part of the business. "One thing that keeps us and all of our management on top of trends is that we travel extensively around the world. It gives us hands on experience, and it allows us to get a real feeling for the crowd," says Rebane.