School Disco: Bobby Sanchez
He turned the tables on the nightclub industry and watched the punters roll in - find out how
Bobby Sanchez is clubland’s prize pupil. His School Disco nights are a phenomenon, encouraging clubbers to dress up in school uniform in a bid to recapture the misspent days of their youth.
But while the concept is based on having fun, Sanchez’s enterprise is a serious proposition. With around 2,000 people paying over £12 a head every Saturday night, school ties and badges available to purchase, corporate events and a four album deal with Sony, it’s turning over good money. Not bad for a business started as a result of a Shakin’ Steven’s record.
“One night in 1999 I was DJ-ing and I looked around at my friends and thought to myself ‘No-one’s having a good time anymore’. To lighten the mood I stuck on ‘This Ol House’ by Shakin’ Stevens. Some people stopped dancing, but the rest were clapping or laughing. Unfortunately, the owner didn’t appreciate it and I was sacked on the spot.”
As Sanchez wandered home he passed his old school. It was then that the idea of School Disco hit him. Playing music from the early eighties and encouraging clubbers to forsake the latest fashions and instead dress up in school uniform.
Although the first School Disco night, held in a small club in London, was hardly a runaway success Sanchez knew he was on to something. “I could see people were buying into the idea. As soon as you put on the old school tie and blazer you feel like a kid again,” he says.
Determined to keep the idea alive he borrowed money and, realising the importance of the internet, bought up the name SchoolDisco.com and branded the nights with this new name. As more people started looking for an alternative to their usual Saturday night out, word of mouth spread and by 2001 School Disco had taken up residency at the Hammersmith Palais. Three thousand people attended its opening night, but this success was not without its problems. Sanchez admits it was a test of his business skills turning what had been a lifestyle business, into a limited company with a £1m plus turnover and expanding workforce.
Alternative night out
But he managed, and if you drive through West London this weekend you’ll see just how popular Sanchez’s business still is. Partygoers continue to travel the length of capital and beyond for a chance to live it up, like they did when Kylie and Jason were topping the charts. A remarkable achievement in an industry that’s notorious for being based on what’s in at any one giving time. “We’re not trendy,” says Sanchez. “We’re always going to be the alternative to the rest of the market so we’ll have a lot longer lifespan.”
But while many in the nightclub industry would give their back teeth to have over a thousand screaming women wearing next to nothing, clamouring to get through their doors week on week, Sanchez has not rested on his laurels. Instead he’s had the good business sense to expand his operation into new markets to develop the brand to its full potential. Not only has School Disco released a chart-topping compilation with more to follow, but there’s a DVD and a dating service. And that’s alongside the night itself, which has been taken nationwide and overseas.
Sanchez now spends much of his time monitoring the market for new opportunities, so even if the number of clubbers through the doors does dip from time to time, the finances don’t suffer. He’s not one for “hardcore” business plans, but instead relies on his ability to recognise a good opportunity and then act on it. “Business has to be about gut instinct,” he says “at least then if it goes wrong you can say ‘I did it my way’.”