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A Fantasy Come True

dean-gettlesonDean Gettleson, owner and operator of Fantasy Island in Los Angeles, shares some of the trials, tribulations and triumphs he has experienced over the last two decades as an adult club owner.
As an attorney in general practice since 1975, Dean Gettleson has long represented boxers and boxing promoters and has himself been a boxing promoter. But in 1994, one of his clients, who had rock and dance clubs, opened an adult nightclub, Fantasy Island, with some partners. There were very few adult clubs in LA then, and Gettleson went into the venture initially as an investor, but soon became the owner and operator of the venue—without any more experience than a previous investor in a rock club. But he learned quickly.

In short period of time, he had fixed the club up and did lots of advertising. When a neighboring club closed its doors—like manna from heaven—20 of their dancers came to dance at Fantasy Island.
Fantasy Island is a bikini bar; a hybrid. It’s not considered adult, yet it’s obviously not Denny’s. The license is somewhere in between. Fantasy is open noon to 2 a.m. every day. The day crowd is from the surrounding area. Blue-collar workers; some lawyers, executives, salesmen and self-employed people. Nights bring anything from tourists and regulars to entertainment and music industry people, sports figures and celebrities, just because of the location.
“I’m in my 20th year in the business,” says Gettleson. “You can have the best steak, the greatest martini, even marble in the crappers, but without girls, you’ll have an empty club. You’ll be sitting in a marble crapper, eating your own steak sandwiches! The entertainers are the key. Everything else will fall into line.”
Club Bulletin contributing writer Larry Kaplan spoke with Gettleson on how his club has evolved over the past 20-plus years, and what it takes to stay competitive in the 21st century.

ED: In 20 years, what have you learned about operating a successful club?
GETTLESON: Your managers have to have control of the place and not let the entertainers take control. The DJs have to run the room. They have to play music for the customers, not the girls. Your music should generally go 10-15 years back from your customers’ ages, cause that’s when they were getting out of school and discovering girls. They’re comfortable with that.
If you listen to everything your entertainers tell you, you’ll last maybe a week. Yet you have to treat them properly. I still have girls who were here on opening night in 1995. Since then, I’ve had thousands of girls come through the club. Dancers, DJs and customers are going to come and go, but the owner’s got to be there all the time if he wants to make a living. Turning a profit in this day and age is a full-time business.
The adult club business is not that tough, if you understand what the purpose is. Customers know what to expect when they come in here. The entertainers know their parameters, based on state and city regulations. People are welcome here from noon to 2 a.m. every day; at 2 a.m., you don’t have to go home, but you do have to get the hell out of here!

ED: Is it harder to turn a profit than when you started?
GETTLESON: Yes, but only because costs have gone up and we can’t charge any more. The simplest items have skyrocketed. Bar stools that used to be $17 are now $30-$40. I have to remain competitive. I have to make money on every plate and every drink and it’s become harder and harder.
Insurance is a big, big factor. Being an old personal injury lawyer, I’ve got a beef with insurance companies. That’s robbery without a gun. You have to work your broker; you have to find fair and reasonable sales people.
The club owner has to be on his toes at all times. You can’t just open a club and expect the money to come. You have to watch costs and hire competent help. You need lawyers, accountants and business managers. You have to watch your help, your entertainers and suppliers through means like surveillance and secret shoppers.

ED: Do you notice much difference in the business between now and when you opened in 1995?
GETTLESON: I get more Black and Hispanic customers. I get younger customers, and people with a little more disposable income. In the last few years, we’ve noticed a lot of women coming in. Some come in by themselves or as couples, more as dates. Either way, they throw a lot of parties and they get into it!
This type of entertainment has become more acceptable to the average person. Years ago, the average couple wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like this, whereas now it’s common, less sinister. The perception of dancers now is that they’re women who’ve chosen this career, or it’s a stepping stone to something else.

ED: You’ve attended several Gentlemen’s Club EXPOs. How has the event helped you and your club?
GETTLESON: I’ve been to 20 Gentlemen’s Club Owners EXPOs. At the first, there were only a couple of lawyers, some guys selling garter belts, girls dancing on stage and a few guest speakers. Today, it’s the Consumer Electronics Show of our industry. Owners and managers should attend, with a couple of your key staff members. If you learn one thing, it will pay for the trip.

ED: Do you do special events at Fantasy Island?
GETTLESON: We’ve tried almost anything you can imagine, but I’m not in favor of them. I circulated a memo to my managers explaining that we do what we do. We have nearly 5,000 feet of club space. We have girls on stage and doing dances. We sell drinks and some food. We don’t do bar mitzvahs, weddings, tattoo shows or mud wrestling.
Every time you come here, you’re pretty much getting what you got last time and what you’ll get a month from now. Some clubs have wet T-shirt night, college night; I have Fantasy Island Night, every night of the week.
We have a separate room for private parties that is often rented by TV, movie and video producers who want to shoot an adult club location. NYPD Blue shot there, and an Obie Trice video, “The Setup,” was very popular. They painted the bathroom green for the video and now I have one of the most famous johns in the hip-hop world!

Larry Kaplan is the Legal Correspondent for Exotic Dancer Club Bulletin, Executive Director of the ACE of Michigan adult nightclub state trade association and a consultant in the sales and purchase of adult nightclubs and adult stores. Contact Larry Kaplan at (313) 815-3311 or Kaplanclubsales@gmail.com.

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