(Note: This story appears in the November 2021 issue of ED Magazine)

*Story by Larry Kaplan

T.J. Hermes cut his teeth in corporate restaurants but is relishing the taste of managing in the adult nightclub industry.

CLUB SINROCK Renton, Washington GM T.J. Hermes had a long career as general manager of five different restaurants ranging from Tony Roma’s and Seafood Broiler to Hale’s Ales, a Seattle brewpub, before entering the adult nightclub industry.

One might think hospitality is hospitality, but as Hermes explains in this interview, he is quite aware that though he’s still running an establishment serving food and drinks at CLUB SINROCK, he’s entered a different universe.

ED: How did you happen to move from a career managing mainstream restaurants to adult nightclub GM?

HERMES: My brewpub employer was moving me to a new location, and, after 32 years, it was just time to do something different. I’d been a strip club customer for years. I’d have cocktails and talk to the girls, never getting dances. Then, I saw an ad for a club manager, applied, and was hired.

ED: What’s it like working in greater Seattle? What challenges does that present?

HERMES: Washington State has about 18 strip clubs altogether. Portland and vicinity alone, at last count, had around 192 clubs. Alcohol is not allowed in the Washington clubs, and entertainer licenses cost $300-plus, so it’s pretty different. When we get a dancer her license, she can only work in Renton. But if they get a Seattle license, they can work at four, five Seattle clubs. So we must provide a better club and security experience, so entertainers feel it’s worth their time and expense.

ED: Do you buy or reimburse the Renton license? Are they able to dance for a little while without the license?

HERMES: When we first started, they had to buy the license and be all set before they could dance. That became a real issue. So for a little while, we paid for the licenses, but that became problematic when somebody would disappear after a short while as they had no investment in it. Now the city works with us, so we can let them try out, then work for the week. Then when they’ve made the license money, we turn in the paperwork, and they’re licensed. We ensure that we don’t just give it to them; we make them appreciate that they worked for it.

ED: I understand there’s also required monthly reporting that you have to do?

HERMES: Washington L&I (Labor and Industries) decided strip clubs were taking advantage of women. They came up with this hodgepodge system of making sure dancers were protected and created a 45-minute online test that new dancers must take to know how to protect themselves and understand their rights. We must now report their hours monthly.

ED: What are some of the advantages of working for a company with four clubs?

HERMES: Previously, I’d always worked for corporate restaurants. The corporate deal can get to where too many people are trying to put their ideas on the plate, and you go back and forth, and so on. I just work with Tim, which makes it simple to deal with and have a direction that’s easy to follow without too many cooks in the mix.

ED: What’s similar and dissimilar between this industry and the restaurant industry?

HERMES: For example, Tony Roma’s was owned by Tony, and it was more or less a night bar that served ribs. Once they moved Tony out, everybody else decided they would figure out how to make it work better. They just destroyed the company with too many ideas and too many different concerns and objectives.

In the restaurant industry, the object is to have a customer walk in the door and have an enjoyable experience, not be gouged to the point where they won’t return for two months because we use all their money. We want them to be able to leave and say, “Yeah, that was really good. I enjoyed it. I’ll be back next week or the week after.”

That’s the kind of attitude that works best in the clubs. If it’s a tourist club, it’s a different situation, because those people would never come back again. But if it’s a community club, as we are, the object is to give everybody a satisfying experience and have them walk out saying, “Hey, that was all right, I’ll be back.”

“The corporate deal can get to where too many people are trying to put their ideas on the plate, and you go back and forth, and so on. I just work with Tim, which makes it simple to deal with and have a direction that’s easy to follow without too many cooks in the mix.” — T.J. Hermes

ED: Is there anything else you find that’s similar and dissimilar to the restaurant industry in general?

HERMES: With restaurants, you’re providing a product you produce in-house and control. With our industry, it’s independent contractors who have something to offer. There are guidelines, rules, and parameters in which you can offer that. The management of this situation is that I can’t control the product, other than ensuring that we hire the right people and get their agreement on how to perform. We’ve got gray lines you have to work within; the restaurant industry doesn’t have those definite, that’s-illegal points this industry has.

ED: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

HERMES: Because the dancer license is only good in Renton, we always have to ensure that our best foot is put forward when we get girls in. They must match up with the girls we already have; the club atmosphere we’ve created. We’ve had times when a dancer just wasn’t going to cooperate with anybody and created catfights.

The biggest issue, especially right now, is staffing. Nobody wants to work because they’ve made more on unemployment. We’re down to six-hour shifts and trying to rotate dancers
so we don’t overwork them. We also can’t have somebody coming in and sitting around. We need them actually trying to make a living. That becomes a challenge for some, convincing them to participate.

ED: You’ve explained you’re working directly with Tim — how is working for Tim different from restaurant owners and middle managers you’ve managed for in the past?

HERMES: Tim started as an investor and learned the business along the way. He’s this guy who will help you out and work with you. But if you’re not going to work as hard as he does, he’s not happy. He wants people to participate and take care of things. He allows you the opportunity to provide input. He’s level-headed and really enjoys building clubs and working them, seeing the fruits of his labor be profitable. The biggest thing is there’s a sincere appreciation for the hard work we do.

ED: Is there a quality or qualities that you’ve acquired, or refined working with Tim, that’s helped you to become better at your job?

HERMES: I’ve been in the business such a long time, I’ve got my routine down, I count the money the same way each time. So it falls back to this is how it’s done by rote. I’m not going to make simple little mistakes because I don’t keep changing how I do things. In the restaurant business, there’s more stability because you schedule somebody to work, and they’re going to work because you’re paying them to work. With the clubs, setting the schedule means absolutely nothing because of the nature of the independent contractor dancer relationship. You have to be able to adapt.

I’ve learned that because it’s coming down to five o’clock, I’ve only got one dancer, I’m on the phones, trying to hurry up and keep my options all open and making sure I’ve got working relationships with the dancers so they can trust that I won’t cheat them. I’ve learned how to cope with opening without knowing whether I have a crew or not.

ED: If you had other club managers in a room and could share some advice, what would you tell them?

HERMES: I tell our managers you must be consistent in what you do and treat people as human beings. We just had a manager who was completely off the wall, wouldn’t pay attention, was headstrong, and just created anarchy and confusion. I always say, you’ve got to be consistent. You must be real and genuine to the people you interact with. You have to lead by example. It’s kind of like what Tim does. He says, this is what we decided on and what we’re supposed to be doing. Why aren’t we doing it?

Larry Kaplan has for 20 years been the Legal Correspondent for ED Publications. In addition, Mr. Kaplan is a business broker in the sale and purchase of adult nightclubs and adult retail stores and the Executive Director of the ACE of Michigan adult nightclub state trade association. Contact Larry Kaplan at 313- 815-3311 or email larry@kaplanclubsales.com.

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