Words of Wisdom – From Lincoln Cheng – Founder of Zouk Club
It made Zouk a brand revered by dance institutions around the world. Touted around the world as one of the best clubs in the world, Zouk has swept industry awards every year, most recently Best Nightspot Experience 2008 by the Singapore Tourism Awards, even after 17 years in business.
How does Zouk club founder and nightlife expert Lincoln Cheng party and make tons of money at the same time? Below, he shares three life lessons that have made him successful:
1. Always be the pioneer in everything you do.
Looking back on his working career, Lincoln had always believed in being the pioneer: he decided to use steel structures for high-rise buildings in Hong Kong when everyone was still using concrete, and he introduced the yachting lifestyle there by selling luxury yachts. In fact, he had the foresight to propose the construction of a world-class marina at Marina South in 1983, but it was rejected by the URA. He was the leading provider of system furniture in Singapore and managed numerous turnkey projects for the government sector. He opened Abraxas, a high-end furniture store in 1986 to introduce designer furniture here. “I’ve always liked niche markets and I like to be original, to do things that haven’t been done before,” says Lincoln, sharing his life philosophy. In keeping with his innovative style, Zouk was the first club to recruit international disc jockeys and pay them well to play for clubbers. With major acts flying and playing, Zouk’s brand as a dance institution spread far and wide.
2. Do what you love.
Lincoln was a regular at legendary festivals like Summer of Love and Woodstock, as well as traveling the world to party at super cool clubs like Studio 54, Paradise Garage, and Hacienda in his youth. It was during one of his annual excursions to the party island, Ibiza, that he met DJ Alfredo, also known as the godfather of balearic house, a new mix of dance music that was very different from the usual pop tunes being heard commercially at the time. This new sound intrigued Lincoln’s intelligent ears and he became hooked on this form of underground dance music and wanted to bring it to the masses. His dream came true when he came across an abandoned warehouse on Kim Seng Road. It was exactly what he had in mind for a super club. Along with four other investors, which he eventually bought out after a few years, Lincoln invested $10 million, an unheard-of sum in 1990, to build his dream vision: a club called Zouk.
3. Be a perfectionist
A perfectionist, he lovingly restored the warehouse façade and gave it a whitewashed Moorish design, much of it influenced by Ibiza clubbing. He also had some wacky ideas for the club. “In terms of design, I wanted clubbers to be able to see the dance floor wherever they were, and I installed UV lights that would make the white shirts glow so people wouldn’t be wearing their work shirts. I wanted Zouk clubbers to make an effort to dress up when they come here.” He also spared no expense when it came to the sound system, installing only the best audio equipment for his club. To test the dance music he intended to play in Zouk, Lincoln hosted house parties for his friends who were well-traveled expats and people from the fashion industry during the year the club was under construction. His parties did very well, and he moved them to hotel function rooms and eventually to the Warehouse nightclub, a recently defunct club in the River Valley. “This group was my target market for Zouk and they really enjoyed the music I played. When the club opened in 1991, they were there every weekend, dressed to the nines, ready to party,” says Lincoln. This group of “beautiful people” made up 40 percent of his clientele, with the remaining 60 percent being the public. But they all soon caught on and became devoted fans, patronizing the cutting-edge club every weekend.