Nightclub veteran Peter Marks has spent his career in the city, but even he has been surprised by the party atmosphere that has reigned in Britain since the clubs reopened last month.
“It has become ballistic,” says 60-year-old Marks. ‘I’ll be in the business for 40 years in December and I’ve never seen such a big change. This is as if suddenly – bang – a rocket is launched because of all the pent-up demand for socializing. The response was unbelievable.’
Marks, the chief executive of nightclub group Rekom UK, runs ‘the biggest clubs in the city’ and specializes in venues with a capacity of over 2000 for 18-30 year olds in college towns from Portsmouth to Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
Wary: Peter Marks believes vaccine passports could lead to employee disputes
On ‘Freedom Day’ on July 19, he went to Rekom’s Atik club in Oxford, where 200 young people lined up. Marks says they were so excited to have a ‘real night out’ for the first time in 16 months that they rushed through the doors as soon as the club opened. “We literally had people running in there screaming with excitement,” he says.
Marks spent last weekend in Manchester city center where an estimated 20,000 people were enjoying bars, pubs and restaurants. “I walked through Manchester for seven hours, making phone calls in a number of places and everywhere was packed. I didn’t see anyone checking in via Test and Trace at any premises, no one was wearing a mask and there were no problems – the atmosphere was great.’
He adds: ‘I am pleased with that, with my investor and management cap on. I don’t understand how the authorities can unravel this. This genie is out of the bottle.’
The hedonism of the summer after the lockdown has boosted revenues at Rekom’s 46 clubs in the UK in some locations by up to 100 per cent compared to pre-Covid revenues. Turnover for the four weeks since reopening has been £8.5million, up from around £5.6million a month in usual trade, and average spending has risen from £15 to £20 per head.
Marks says licensed nightclubs have an edge over pubs until 3am or 4am. His customers are now arriving earlier in the evening, with a lot of bypassing pubs and coming by taxi straight from house parties.
‘In quite a few of our towns, pubs haven’t had the boom we’ve had – they said Freedom Day had been a bit of a wet leg. But as soon as we could open our nightclubs, there was a sudden relief. This is what we see and hear from people: this is what they want, this is what they missed.’
Covid safety measures at his clubs now that social distancing has been lifted include regular thorough cleaning of the venues, hand disinfection and air changes five times a minute, through air ducts installed when smoking was still allowed. Its 2,500 employees regularly take Covid tests and isolate themselves when they feel sick or are ‘pinged’.
But Marks strongly opposes Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to mandate vaccine passports for nightclub entry from the end of September, when all over-18s will have received both jabs. He warns that the ‘ruin’ move would hurt revenues and spark a wave of labor disputes, making it difficult to find staff. Marks says the resistance would be strongest among his ethnic minority employees, who make up a large part of his clubs’ security teams. “They distrust the government and science much more and don’t want to be vaccinated,” he says. “If I have to turn around and talk to staff who have not voluntarily had double vaccinations, what should I do, ask them to leave? They will sue me for unfair dismissal or discrimination.’
He points to data from the Office for National Statistics this month showing that nearly 80 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds already have Covid antibodies. Research from Rekom also suggests that young people under 24 who have not yet been vaccinated plan to get the shot when they qualify.
Marks says: ‘This should be science – we hope increased vaccination of young people will be enough for the government to say ‘we are conservatives, we don’t interfere in business’. He adds: “They slam the door in the face of the people who have suffered the most. Young people have had their social lives ruined, they have mental health problems, their education is flawed and they can’t get a job, so their finances are ruined.
“People don’t want to get locked up again, they don’t want the government to impose a testing regime on going to a pub, bar or restaurant, and they don’t want to play ball with vaccine passports. They’ve had enough. And they go out.’
Marks is still hurt by the lack of specific government support for nightclubs during the pandemic, which he calls a “really awful” time. “There have been times when I felt I had the highest hurdle to jump of anyone I knew—because I was in the nightclubs that were closed the longest, and I had the biggest company.”
His company – formerly called Deltic Group – ran out of money last December after consuming £1.8 million in rent and fixed costs each month during the lockdown. Rekom, a Scandinavian group backed by Danish private equity firm CataCap, bought it from the administration, saving 1,300 jobs. Only eight locations are closed for good.
But the deal destroyed Marks’ eight percent stake in Deltic and the investment of the four partners who had helped build him from the ashes of Luminar Group over the past decade.
Closing a business for 16 months without supporting it is robbery, he says. With restrictions lifted, Rekom UK is set to turn a profit this month and eventually hopes to expand by rolling out popular Scandinavian brands such as Heidi’s Bier Bar in the UK. Marks is already a ‘site search and intelligence collection’ in major regional cities. Depending on investor confidence, he could also buy individual clubs and party bars.
Until it becomes clear if Covid restrictions return in the fall, however, Marks is holding onto every penny. “Nobody knows how long the boom in socialization will last,” he says. “We certainly don’t want to count our chickens.”
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