Maggie Barrington, Jacksonville





















 

A Party For Unapologetic “Big Girls” Puts An Unlikely Promoter On The Map.



By Kevin M. Mitchell
Photos by Rob Parhan

The story of Maggie Barrington is about vision, literally and otherwise.

It was an April evening in 1999 when the simple task of removing her contact lens set off a chain of freak events. Barrington scratched her cornea, and three botched operations later she was blind in her right eye, causing her to lose the job she held for 22 years as an adult abuse investigator, adoption worker for special needs children, and professional child advocate.

But it was also the start of an unexpected, wild ride that would bring this unlikely, self-taught club promoter of Jacksonville, Florida to impressive success. She now runs two club night sat Best Hotel nightclub Da Capo, with remarkably instinctive and low-budget marketing tactics. The longest-running is Maggie’s Underground, but it’s her newest creation that’s blowing up in the press: Club Galore, “for Curveceous [sic] and Beautiful Women of North Florida AND their Admirers!”

How did you get started? I got one of those AOL free hours offers, and although I could only go online five minutes at a time because my eyes were light sensitive, I joined a local chat room. The members would meet at clubs, so I went out – with my black eye patch. There were only eight of us when I started organizing [the group].

What made you leap from organizing groups to promoting clubs? A friend, Bruce Chambers, owned one of the biggest nightclubs in town, Club 5. I told him I wanted to bring some friends. I brought 40, and he asked where I got all these people “following me around like the Pied Piper.” He asked if I could do it every week.

Bruce was a visionary. He passed away in 2002, but was constantly reinventing himself: “They will go to your club for six months and then there’s something new on the other side of town. You have to be open to the new. You can’t enforce your vision on the population.”


How did your first club start? Bruce had another club, Xanadu, in the basement of a downtown building, [so] I started [a Saturday night party] and called it Maggie’s Underground. When we opened in July, the air conditioning broke. I closed it down by September, reopened at the Fat Cat, and [finally] moved into Da Capo, where we are now.

What ignited your Friday night party, Club Galore? Different sponsors came into [Maggie’s Underground] and provided prizes for contests. One of them, Laura McSwain, a “Big Beautiful Woman” herself, said “we need a nightclub for BBW’s.” I said, “You’re absolutely right, and I can do that!”

For a while we had to rotate around. These large women would dance and the place would just stop and stare. Then we [moved to Da Capo]. Now a 340-pound woman dances and she gets applauded. I’m very proud of that.

How do you publicize? My Saturday is very Internet-driven. I make sure it’s in the club listings, [but] as far as radio commercials, I don’t need to.

For Galore, when I started out, I sent an email press release to every newspaper, radio station, TV newscaster, every DJ. And I didn’t just send them to the editors, but to all the reporters, production teams, and the little people. I thought if they weren’t a BBW themselves, maybe they knew someone who was. I sent out 250 press releases two weeks before I opened Galore.

The response? We were on Channel 12 news, Channel 4 news. I’m talking two to five minutes of play, and the lead story. We had a photo on the front page of the daily newspaper. I’ve been on many radio shows, including 8 a.m. on a Saturday. Ugh!

You mentioned radio advertising… For Galore I do radio spots. One month I’ll advertise on the ’80s station, then a ’90s. I place them so they have an impact. I pay attention to the demographics.

Has your social worker background helped? It’s been a tremendous asset because I learned how to talk to everybody, every age, every social group. I know how to make people feel good about themselves. If you want to be successful, you have to know what motivates [customers] and what turns them on. You have to pay attention to everyone who comes in your door and know how to please them to keep them coming back.

It can be a rough business – any secrets? Know how much everything costs. I know the cost of every balloon, Mardi Gras bead, wristband.

I know how many couples come in between nine and ten, how many single males, females. I keep track of the theme and DJ. Do you have an early crowd? Late? More females? Males? Then do advertising to keep things balanced. With Galore I was told I’d have 30 women to every one man, but that’s not been the case at all. We had 45 women and 90 men last week.

And now? I’m making more money than I was as a social worker, and I get emails thanking me all the time. One of my DJs has been doing this for 20 years and says I’m the best he’s worked for, because I’m always looking to the future. Is this working? What needs to change? I’m constantly re-evaluating. If they aren’t in my nightclub, where are they and why? •


The Jacksonville Market
What’s the market in Jacksonville like? “That’s a complex question,” laughs Maggie Barrington. “It’s kind of pseudo-sophisticated. We have an NFL football team, but we still have a small-town mentality, which is good and bad at the same time. Nightlife here is very ordinary; very few cutting-edge places. It’s not a risk-taking town. The clubs I have are very unique, and that’s why I’ve been successful.”

Here are some stats on the area:
• The Jacksonville area includes six counties in northeast Florida totaling a million people, but the city itself is in Sarasota County with a population of 335,323
• 79.1% own homes
• Median value of owner-occupied
home is $122,000
• Median household money: $41,975
• Per capita income: $28,326
• Persons below poverty line: 7.8%
• High school graduates: 87.1%
• Bachelor’s degree or higher: 27.4%
Sources: Jackson Chamber of

Commerce and U.S. Census Bureau





 


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Copyright 2004 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2004 TESTA Communications