Stephanie Wilbanks surveyed the area, scanning for weaknesses and faulty spots — not unlike a Terminator machine. However, Wilbanks was using her powers for good as a fresh-out-of-college grad examining a club’s strengths and weaknesses. It was a new career path based on the suggestion of her father.
“I am a second generation strip club operator,” says Wilbanks, regional manager for the Pony Clubs chain. “(My dad) told me about an opportunity to run my very own club. I had been working in bars and restaurants since I was 15. I walked into my very first club that week and saw what the current operators were doing and immediately called and told him I knew I could do better.”
She drew up a presentation to up the local presence and customer base of the club and set a meeting with Jerry Westlund’s regional manager. Yes, that Jerry Westlund — owner of the Pony Clubs chain, including Pony Club Memphis where the 2019 EDI East will take place.
Wilbanks was hired that day and hasn’t looked back since.
ED spoke with Wilbanks about her start in the gentlemen’s club industry, working alongside Jerry Westlund, her perspective on management, and her current musical tastes. And don’t miss her personalized Spotify playlist, courtesy of StripJointsMusic.com!
ED: Can you describe your “career path” since you started in this business? Meaning, what were the key turning points that brought you to where you are today, as one of Jerry’s key regional managers? What is your current “job title”?
WILBANKS: I started out in the office auditing all of the clubs and helping to train all the new managers coming into Jerry’s quickly growing company. I really feel like this was the best place for me to have started because I got to really see how the different management styles affected the overall bottom line — how morale was a key factor to success and seeing managers who led their team with attention to detail and in-the-moment coaching. I watched and I learned for six years working with every club and learning from managers in all of our markets. During these six years, Jerry and I opened the number-one nightclub in Memphis for five years straight. The nightclub was a new venture for Jerry, and I was the one who helped make it successful. Three years ago a regional position came open in the Pony Clubs and Jerry called to tell me it was mine if I wanted it. We have made many pivotal changes in the last year that have really kicked our clubs up to the new level.
I don’t believe there is a single disadvantage to being a woman in this industry. We have a lot of women in authority positions in Jerry’s company. As a woman, I can communicate on women’s problems and understand their perspective much easier.
— Stephanie Wilbanks
ED: What are the unique challenges of being a woman in a position of management/authority in a gentlemen’s club? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
WILBANKS: I don’t believe there is a single disadvantage to being a woman in this industry. We have a lot of women in authority positions in Jerry’s company. As a woman, I can communicate on women’s problems and understand their perspective much easier. I can also tell them when to step up their game without them feeling degraded for being “judged.” We work with a very influential group of women every day; I know it inspires them to see a woman in charge. Girls come to me for advice on everything from birth control to how to start their first business. When dealing with problems with customers, men are much less aggressive with women than men because it’s a “non-threatening” situation. I’m able to de-escalate things quickly and calmly which is an asset to our security teams as well. I would encourage our bartenders and entertainers to consider leadership positions in their future. We are the best teachers for the future. This is a great industry, not just a stepping stone.
ED: What has it been like to work for one of the most high-profile club owners in our industry in Jerry Westlund? You must have at least one great Jerry story you can share with us!
WILBANKS: Jerry Westlund is the energizer bunny. We start talking at 8 a.m. and stop talking at 3 a.m. I don’t know how he keeps up his pace most times. No matter how busy he is, he always takes the time to give me the right advice. Jerry is always brainstorming and keeping things fresh and interesting. He spoils his entertainers. Fresh cookies, concerts, nice dinners, new outfits for all entertainers on the shift, he is always letting them know how much he appreciates them which is huge. My favorite thing about Jerry is his off-the-wall analogies! Anyone who has ever talked to Jerry knows exactly what I’m talking about. I could not have been gifted a better mentor.
ED: What’s your favorite part of working with a feature entertainer or feature contest when they’re booked at one of your clubs? If a club owner asked you why they should book a feature in their club, what would you tell them?
WILBANKS: Features bring huge excitement to the stage. You can see the meticulous detail in every costume, every prop and every makeup stroke. They are artists. It is also so inspiring for our new girls to see entertainers with that much passion for the craft. It gives them something to strive for!
ED: What is your favorite music to hear on a busy Saturday night at the club? Conversely, when you’re not in the club, what music do you prefer to listen to?
WILBANKS: My favorite music in the club is anything that has been in the Top 40 charts in the last 40 years. That’s what makes the money move. When I’m not at work, I’m a books-on-tape kind of girl.
ED: If you could see any concert or lineup of artists, living or deceased, who would it be and why?
WILBANKS: This is a tough one! I would have loved to see the Rat Pack perform. What an amazing time in music!
Here’s more about Stephanie Wilbanks!
Where do you originally hail from: Horn Lake, Mississippi
Current Club: The Pony Clubs
Years employed at the club: 11 Years in the industry:
Favorite recording artist: Aerosmith
Favorite feature entertainer: You are trying to get me in trouble. Girl power — they are all amazing!
Favorite part of your work night: Watching the dance rooms sell out after showtime, every time!
Pet working peeve: To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late. To be late is unacceptable. Get here on time people! Everyone else has a life outside of work, too.
Advice for fellow club managers: Consistency is the key to success. If you want a solid staff and a great customer experience every time, you have to be consistent with your leadership.