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Attica co-founder Mark Brimblecombe: Constant reinvention key to brand longevity the club scene

A co-founder of Attica in Clarke Quay, Mr Brimblecombe hopes that by building on the brand, the club will be around for as long as Zouk, the grand old dame of clubs here, at nightspot.
A co-founder of Attica in Clarke Quay, Mr Brimblecombe hopes that by building on the brand, the club will be around for as long as Zouk, the grand old dame of clubs here, at nightspot.PHOTO: ATTICA

Co-founder of nightspots such as Attica says constant reinvention is key to brand longevity

As co-founder of a long-running nightclub here, Mr Mark Brimblecombe is now more associated with flashing lights and pulsating beats but he was once better known as a technopreneur.

Mr Brimblecombe, 49, got into the tech sector during the dotcom bubble era while working at Dutch delivery firm TNT Express.

He set up a firm called Net Megastore that ran online CD store DiscVault until the bubble burst and the shop closed shop in 2002.

"Because of my experience in logistics, I thought I was able to get CDs and movie discs around the world a lot faster and cheaper than what Amazon was doing then," he says.

"We were able to sell cheaply, but I came in quite late in the game, honestly."

ADAPT AND CHANGE

You've just always got to be ready to adapt to change. You can't sit back and think people are going to come through the door just because you're open. You've always got to have something different going on...

MR MARK BRIMBLECOMBE, on the key to Attica's longevity.

Mr Brimblecombe, the co-owner of Clarke Quay nightspots Attica and sister outlet Le Noir, moved on to co-found a new venture called i-Pop Networks in 2004 that collated SMS votes for popular TV shows like Singapore Idol.

The Brit, who moved to Singapore in 1994, also co-founded Attica in 2004 while Le Noir, which used to be a lounge and outdoor bar, opened a year later and is now a live music venue.

i-Pop Networks, whose shareholders included the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, was sold about three years ago for about US$8 million.

Despite his tech background, early influences in his life meant that the London-born Mr Brimblecombe was never too far away from the nightlife and party scene.

After leaving school at 16, he worked in small clubs in Spain and held warehouse parties in London before the rave scene took off in the late 1980s.

"It was where you went to a recording studio, got a DJ, and invited and got people there."

When he was 20, Mr Brimblecombe spent 1987 in New York working for a shipping company in the World Trade Centre.

He later moved into the corporate world, eventually arriving at a senior management role at TNT - as Asia-Pacific network operations manager - one that eventually took him to Singapore.

He eventually left TNT to focus on his business ventures and after i-Pop was sold, he took over Attica full-time in 2013.

These days, it is not as simple as just hiring a DJ when it comes to running a club.

Mr Brimblecombe says: "Yes, all your friends are going to come on the opening day, it's going to be great, but then they'll come by maybe only once a month, and then you'll have an empty space. No one visits an empty club."

The key to Attica's longevity and attracting clubbers is constant reinvention, including what are now well-known theme nights and parties.

"You've just always got to be ready to adapt to change. You can't sit back and think people are going to come through the door just because you're open.

"You've always got to have something different going on. We don't believe in just putting on a DJ. We believe there is an element of production, we try to be creative and have different themes and concepts going on in the club."

On a busy night, usually the weekends, there are at least 800 to 1,000 people enjoying their night out at Attica, notes Mr Brimblecombe, who is married to Kelly, 45, who works with him.

They have two children - Joshua, 17, who will serve national service next year, and Skye, 15. It has been about 15 years since he became a Singapore permanent resident.

The total gross revenue for Attica and Le Noir is about $15 million a year.

"We've been around a long time now, and obviously we hope to stay. If we can get to 12 years, obviously our objective is to be like Zouk and to try to get to 25 years," he says, referring to the grand old dame of clubs here, which celebrates its 25th year next month and will become Attica's neighbour in Clarke Quay next year .

"It's not easy and there's certainly no guarantee. F&B (food and beverage) currently is a tough space to be in. A lot of clubs are coming and going very quickly now."

Gone are the days a couple of years back when clubbers felt flushed with cash and spent massive amounts on bottle after bottle of alcohol, notes Mr Brimblecombe.

"People don't go and spend $5,000 just like that for alcohol anymore - they still do, just not as many people."

He says it is a global phenomenon, such as in Los Angeles, where smaller clubs are thriving while megaclubs are no longer as popular as they struggle to pack in the crowd.

Mr Brimblecombe has had to learn a few lessons of his own, like opening a 30,000 sq ft Attica Shanghai in the city on the Bund in 2005 that closed after just three years.

He says it was a busy club but failed to make a profit as it targeted the wrong demographic.

"We thought we could go for the international crowd, but the reality is that to have a successful club in Shanghai, you really need the local Chinese to come in. They'd spend more money than the foreigners."

He still wants to grow the business, but prefers to do it in a measured manner.

One instance was Attica co-managing Xana Beach Club at Banyan Tree's Angsana Laguna Phuket. The club opened in 2012, and even though Attica does not own it, this gets its brand out there.

Mr Brimblecombe's new baby this year is Le Noir's outlet in Kuala Lumpur, which will open next to Zouk KL in April - a venture that he estimates to cost $1 million.

He is also itching to open a club in Singapore with a new style, one heavily focused on production and featuring more visual entertainment.

"I've been thinking about it for three years but I've got to find the right venue. I'm very particular about that. Hopefully, I get to open it later this year.

"It'll be different demographics with a different theme, a bit more production-based and theatrical. I want to take it to the next level, not just the music."

But Mr Brimblecombe is not about to open the next big club such as Zouk, as "there is no room" here for two, and neither does he want to keep opening and closing outlets.

"My philosophy is, rather than open and close a club once in three years, you keep it for as long a period of time as you get a lot of brand equity out of that."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2016, with the headline 'The club is his scene and he's cool with it'. Print Edition | Subscribe