Entrepreneurial Visions: Starting Another DJ-Related Business
When Keith “K.C.” KoKoruz experienced a falling-out with a previous business partner in November of 2009, he took lemons and made lemonade: He continued in the DJ industry, and even expanded his business by growing into additional markets.
“There’s an English proverb that says, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’ meaning that difficult or impossible scenarios prompt inventions aimed at reducing the difficulty,” he explains. “Our DJ company had previously had a terrific relationship with the local bridal show promoter here in Chicago, but I was suddenly told I was no longer welcome to exhibit with that company.”
After spending six months re-establishing his new company—The Keith Christopher Entertainment Group—KoKoruz was speaking with the director of catering from a classy new hotel who was complaining about how another bridal-show promoter had wasted time laying out floor plans for a bridal show they never ended up producing.
The catering director half-jokingly told KoKoruz that he should produce a show at her hotel. “I asked her to send me the floor plan she had laid out, and seven months later we produced our first new show,” he says. “The response was so good that vendors wanted to know when we could do another one, so we did two more that year, and the following year we added more shows as well.”
For KoKoruz, the bridal show company he ended up forming was a way to branch out into yet another wedding-related business. As a result, his company has been able to maximize its income and impact on the Chicagoland market.
“We’re now producing 16 bridal shows in the Chicagoland area and three in Milwaukee,” he says. “We have David’s Bridal, Men’s Wearhouse and The Knot as our main sponsors.’”
KoKoruz’s bridal shows feature vendors ranging from bands/orchestras to balloons/decorations to photographers to wedding cakes to florists to catering to formal attire to videographers to honeymoon travel.
We contacted a number of DJ owners from throughout the country for this story about how they’ve expanded their presence in their community by forming totally separate entertainment businesses.
How and why was this other business started? In what ways has doing this helped their DJ business to become profitable by getting more gigs? And what are some of the challenges of branching out into other entertainment-related lines of work?
Over in Goodyear, Ariz., Ray Martinez of Ray Mar Productions started out in the industry in 1974, but recently began branching out into the children’s market. “Bubble Parties Arizona” is a division of his DJ business.
“We purchased the franchise territory for Arizona from Rob Peters, who along with his late business partner came up with the concept,” explains RayMar. “Rob Peters in Boston has been a longtime friend of mine, and this was an offer I could not refuse.
“Plus, it’s a great way to make extra money during the week.”
If done properly, Martinez says he can pick up anywhere from three to 10 “bubble parties” per month in KinderCare as well as independently owned childcare facilities—with the average fee for a one-hour kids party bringing in between $250 to $350 per gig.
“As I celebrate my 40th anniversary in entertainment, I found that, although I still thoroughly enjoy performing at weddings, it takes a tremendous amount of preparation and homework for an event to be successful. On an average I personally put in 15-20 hours of pre-production time per wedding event. Many may think that’s too much time; however, that’s what separates the average DJ company from the most successful DJ companies.
“I’m getting to the point in my career that if I can do five or six bubble parties a week—knowing the prep time is not as consuming as a wedding—it could extend my career and I can cut back on my weddings a few notches,” he says.
Martinez chuckles when asked if he’s close to retiring, adding that having this other business keeps him working steady. “I just enjoy putting smiles on the faces of a younger audience,” he says. “This also frees up a few extra weekends so that I can spend more time with my wife and we can travel more.
“Doing bubble parties can be tremendously lucrative for anyone wanting to put more cash in their pocket during the week, but—just as any event—you still have to work hard to be successful.”
For over 30 years now Bobby Morganstein Productions has been providing all sorts of entertainment services for all sorts of parties throughout the Philadelphia market—from basic parties to over-the-top extravagant affairs—and for a majority of those years Morganstein has operated separate businesses that complement his DJ work.
“Back in 1996, I bought a building which I turned into a venue called Beatstreet,” explains Morganstein. “I bought it because it was a building that could house my warehouse for my DJ equipment, a spot to train my dancers and staff, offices to run the business and a party room in which to entertain.
“It was basically a nightclub for rental, and it became so popular that I bought the two buildings next to it, expanded the main party room and added a second room next door called ‘Backsteps at Beatstreet.’”
Morganstein bought another building at an historic train station in Philadelphia in 2001 and created another venue called ‘Beatstreet Station’—an additional venue that complements his DJ business along with the other businesses into which he’s expanded.
“In 2003, I started a novelty business called ‘Hour Entertainment,’ which offers photo novelties, arcade games, fun foods and interactive games for events,” he says. “It complements our DJ business, and for the first five years all events for Hour Entertainment were booked from clients who had our DJ services or Beatstreet already booked.
“By branding it separately, it has taken a life of its own—being booked for events for which we are no longer the facility or the entertainment.”
Then again, even with a few additional businesses, Morganstein was not yet done. “In 2006 I started Enlight, which offers event lighting, unique DJ setups, staging and LED dancefloors for our clients,” he says. “Today, Enlight has even expanded to servicing other DJ and entertainment companies, as well as event planners from throughout the Philadelphia region.”
Not yet completed with his expansions, in 2008 Morganstein founded Lounge Around, which initially supplied lounge furniture rentals to his DJ clients as well as his various facilities.
“Over the past three years, Lounge Around has grown to supply many of the event planners and other entertainment companies in the New Jersey, Philadelphia and Maryland markets with lounge solutions for their events,” he says. “Lounge Around has now expanded into LED bars and acrylic table with LED bases, and is now one of the largest suppliers of acrylics in the mid-Atlantic region.”
By branding each of these companies separately, Morganstein says each of his companies runs independent of the others. “We did this so anyone would be comfortable to use any of our companies they would like,” he explains. “For the clients we handle directly we market under the BME Bobby Morganstein Events brand, which encompasses all the brands that we market.”
Asked if he gets DJ bookings as a result of operating these auxiliary businesses, Morganstein answers in the affirmative. “We actually do get DJ bookings from clients who are looking into photo favors, lounge options or lighting first,” he says. “We consult with them, and for the ones without entertainment we add a DJ to the package.
“I actually had to hire a manager for each of the companies, and then I oversee the whole picture. I also hired a production manager to oversee the execution of all the events. It’s a lot more complicated, with a lot more moving parts, but as I slow down my entertaining days I’ve created a whole new future for myself.”
Back over in the Chicago market, Jay Sims of Something 2 Dance 2 additionally owns a lighting and décor company that operates as a separate business. “I started full-time as a wedding DJ company on Dec. 31, 2002,” he says. I always wanted to be a multi-op and grew to a nice staff of eight over the next couple of years, but I didn’t want to grow to 10 or more DJs so I was looking for another avenue of growth.
“Photography, photo-booths and videography had no interest to me, though I am an avid and fanatical musical theater lover. I’ve always loved great production, singing and dancing, so I was drawn to lighting, draping and sets.”
After doing extensive market research, Sims found that floral companies were doing elaborate fabric work for weddings and any specific decor-only companies only in downtown Chicago.
“Our niche has been the Chicago suburban bride, so I knew there was a market for beautiful and intricate decor work offered to suburban brides at price points that were more in line with their budget comfort levels,” he says. “So I decided that our next growth was not going to be on the DJ side but in lighting and decor.
“I named the company Elegant Event Lighting so as to completely separate it from our DJ company. I didn’t want to only target our DJ clientele with lighting and decor options—that’s what every other DJ company does and I knew we had to be different.”
In 2009, Elegant Event Lighting did 38 events, and in 2014 the company will do over 250. “Originally it was going to be small, with uplighting and a backdrop behind a head table that I was going to train my DJs to set up,” he says, “but this became too much right away so it was necessary to hire full-time staff devoted to Elegant Event Lighting.
“Currently, the company employs four full-time and over 20 part-time employees. Our niche has grown to be fabric decor and speciality elements like crystal chandeliers, white dancefloors, pinspot lighting, patterns, etc.”
In March of 2014, Elegant moved into a new home of over 8,000 square feet that houses Sims’ DJ company, plus the lighting company with plenty of storage, offices and a dedicated 1,000-square-foot showroom for demonstrations of lighting and draping (for which he credits Jason Weldon).
“Our offerings have grown to include fabric backdrops, full-room draping, ceiling draping, crystal chandeliers, traditional wood dancefloors, white vinyl coverings for dancefloors, ceremony décor—including staging and Chuppahs and Mandaps—pinspot lighting, pattern lighting, cafe lighting, fairy lights plus much more.
“Elegant Event Lighting now brings in twice the revenue of our DJ business, and continues to grow each year as we’ve developed exclusive partnerships with local venues as their sole source of draping and lighting.”
When it comes to challenges, Sims says staffing is the biggest difficulty he faces with each of his companies. “Finding DJs has been a constant struggle through the years, just to find entertainers who are willing to prepare six to eight hours for each wedding,” he says. “Most are used to just showing up and performing, but our DJs have to meet their couples and prepare detailed timelines, call parents and vendors.
“We have a core team of seven or eight who are committed to the company, but I’m afraid most of our crew is just here for a job and doesn’t always have the company’s best interest in mind.”
With everyone who contributed to this article, there was one common agreement: DJ owners should become established in the DJ business before even considering branching out with additional entertainment-related companies.
“Newer DJs have to master their craft before expanding into other areas,” says Morganstein. “They can add some lighting and photo favors to support their own businesses, but in the beginning it would be hard to run many separate businesses.”