Community, Diaspora and Immigration
Mr. William Lule: from Dj to one of the most successful club owners in London
From his busy schedule we managed to catch-up with the entertainment Guru for an exclusive interview. William is one of the most humble gentlemen you can meet.
The Promota: I understand 23 years ago you used to work for the entertainment guru, Charles Lubega back in Uganda. What was it like when you started in the late ’80s?
William Lule: It was worlds apart. For starters, as a DJ, you depended on your boss to provide the right “tools” to enable you to perform. If they didn’t do that, you were finished. With Charles, there was no excuse! So for me, things were easier and I believe I delivered.
How do you compare the industry back then to the one of today?
WL: The industry is much tougher now and, crucially, the returns have really lowered.
And what do you think about it now?
In one sentence, you have to love it to be in it because it’s really tight.
In London, you started the Pier One nightclub with your friend Tom Magezi. Pier One dominated the market for about 8 years and suddenly you lost the licence. What happened?
WL: Since we had been running it for such a long time, there were certain things we had come to expect from the local authorities. In our case, our expectations were false. A clubber got attacked outside the premises. Thankfully, he was not seriously injured and in fact did not even pursue the matter. But it happened at a time when the powers that be needed the area changed so whatever we did, there was never going to be leniency shown. In short, big brother was waiting for a chance to pull the plug and when the occasion came, that is what they did, they suspended our licence.
Any regrets to have lost Pier One’s licence or it was a lesson to learn from?
WL: Of course there are always regrets, but mainly it was a big lesson for us in terms of never focusing on one investment for too long. On the other hand, we believe it was a blessing!
You took a year off the entertainment industry and we saw you managing D’Eclipse nightclub and now Pier One in Canning Town. How did you manage to turn Pier One, formerly known as Akabira from a run-down club into a success story within a short time?
WL: That’s down to the strong team behind Pier One and a lot of hard work. It’s not just me, there is a team with my wife Sylvia at the forefront .
Within a year you managed to buy Club Volts from Yousuf Alminji, the owner of Salabed.The word is going around the community that you are managing it for someone else. Who actually owns Club Volts?
WL: It was very challenging to conclude this deal and in the effort to pull it off, we had to involve a number of people as investors, but the club is owned by me and my wife with a few investors holding some shares like Dr. Frank Kiyimba being our major investor with shares in Club Volts.
Of recent, we have seen clubs like Manjaro, Iroko Bar and Traffic close down. Why do you think clubs fail to remain in business, even when they do not lose their licence?
WL: Quite often people get into this industry for the wrong reasons. Not enough time would have been spent on the strategy of the business, the system to run it, or the care of its clients. In my opinion, that’s why some venues fail.
How have you managed to keep afloat of the competition from the likes of Guvnor, Mystique and Zanzibar?
WL: We simply try to be realistic with ourselves in all aspects of the business and apply the same rule to the clients.
What has been the most memorable moment for you at Pier One?
WL: The oldies night which used to run every Sunday.
What is the biggest difference between now and Pier One 10 years ago?
WL: At a certain time, Pier One was a monopoly and it was easy to run. Today, we really have to focus and strategise on every part of the business. Now there is also a lot of new regulations from the local authorities. So to sum it up, it’s more challenging to operate today.
What is your favourite kind of music?
WL: I like all sorts of music, that’s the DJ in me! But, anything with a touch of soul has a special place in my heart.
Who is your role model and inspiration?
WL:Fortunately they are two, and I have worked for both of them, Charles Lubega and Patrick Bitature. They are the kind of people who give their best to everything they touch and I guess you can see the results.
You clubs have always been very aggressive in marketing and the presence in the community is ubiquitous. Do you handle your marketing in-house or through an agency?
WL: Both. We do a lot of in-house but then a substantial part is handled by Mr. Willy Mutenza of The Promota Ethnic Marketing Consultancy. Actually, Mr Mutenza has always been behind the scene, even during Pier One era.When it comes to marketing to the ethnic community, he is ingenious.
So many African-owned clubs have lost their licenses. Do you think the city wants a war on clubs?
WL: I don’t think so. Our clientele has a different way of enjoying themselves and most times, it is seen as disorder by the authorities. This is what tends to get African venues in trouble.
What do you think should be done?
WL: It’s our duty as African operators to show our clients the implications of numerous regulations that have now come into force and their severe implications by being open about the restrictions on our licenses and upholding them.
How responsible should a club be for someone who leaves its premises and then causes damages, or say, pees on someone else’s property?
WL: The regulators now hold us responsible for everyone leaving our premises. However, what happens outside is not within our scope of responsibility.
What is next for William Lule? Are we seeing you establishing a similar business in Uganda?
WL: I cannot say at the moment, but if the climate is right and there is an opportunity, I would take it.
Any word of wisdom to fellow Ugandans who hesitate to go into business?
WL: Trust your gut feeling, evaluate the risk, and then take the plunge.
How would you like to be remembered?
WL: As someone who tries to go all the way to deliver.
For more info contact:
- Club La Face
- 169-171 Fore Street, London, N18 2XB
- Pier One
- 162 Bidder St. – Canning Town, E16 4ST
- 07958 213 996