The tradition of walking into a pub to hear Tracy screeching her rendition of ‘I Will Always Love You’ is lightyears away from what Elek is delivering with the rapidly growing Lucky Voice group.
“It’s the polar opposite,” he says of the traditional pub karaoke experience. “The two activities are so different, performing to a load of strangers compared to being in a group, having a party with people.
“People feel pretty exposed if they’re up on a stage in front of strangers, but then also, the strangers feel just as awkward watching them! You don’t get any of that with Lucky Voice, it’s just about being comfortable and having a great time.”
Elek took over the reins of the company, founded in 2005 by Lastminute.com’s Martha Lane Fox and Nick Thistleton, in 2017, having started with the company as an intern and quickly rising to the top job.
He points to his longevity and career rise as typical within the business, which aims to foster within the team. “We really look to grow from within, some of our GMs have been in the business for 13 years it’s pretty inspiring. We've created a culture which has meant that people feel like there's an opportunity to really grow and we look after our staff. It’s something I’m very proud of.”
And career opportunities are something the company is going to looking to offer as it seeks to expand its operations even further.
Under Elek’s leadership, the business has already added two new successful sites, Chancery Lane in 2019 and Liverpool Street in 2023, investing £1.2m in the latter development and bringing the group up to five UK sites, with an extra operation in Dubai.
A sixth UK site is currently in the works as well, with a Waterloo site set to open in the Sidings in Spring 2024, following a £1.6m investment, marking the group’s first operation south of the river in London
“It’s a really nice site, in a great development - we’re right outside the big Brewdog site, it’s our target market and we’ve got 2.30am licence. To be able to feed into the south of the river catchment area is great and it’s a site we’re really excited about.”
And that is just the beginning for the group, as they look to expand more broadly across the UK. “We’re looking at cities around the UK, Birmingham and Manchester being our two main targets, but we’re looking at Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle, Cardiff and Leeds. We’re also looking internationally, we’re checking out what’s going on in the US.”
He’s hoping to buck the trend when it comes to overseas expansion: “UK hospitality brands moving to the US has been quite a difficult path. Obviously it’s great seeing the likes of Hawksmoor doing really well, but generally it’s been quite difficult, but within social entertainment, all these brands are going over and doing brilliantly, so it’s an interesting one - in terms of competition out there, there’s a lot of independents but there’s not really a brand or a multi-site, multi-state operators out there. We see it as an opportunity.”
Cost of living crisis
Is he concerned about the headwinds the sector is facing though? “The cost of living crisis is increasing and it’s obviously really tough, but just means that people are looking for that one off thing that they're going to do maybe in a month rather than going to a pub or restaurant regularly, which is obviously, it's a real shame that's happening.
“It’s not hitting us as much people are still having hens and stags and if people are going to go out and celebrate with their friends, they might do it for a friend's birthday.”
He said companies were still looking for opportunities to go out and engage with staff, which was benefiting his business, and as his business is based around activity and not just drinking, it was offering a more inclusive experience for companies with younger non-drinking employees.
Lucky Voice was probably one of the first to launch into the experiential space, as Elek points out, there wasn’t an experiential market when they started. However, the growth in that sector has been of benefit allowing his business to feed off the success of others.
“If people are going into these venues [Flight Club, Puttshack etc] and realising that it’s fun to have an activity like that, we fit perfectly into that, and what is great for us is that our repeat visit is really high.”
He also points to the longevity of karaoke compared with other experiential offers: “What doesn’t happen is someone comes once then comes again, and they're just like, Okay, I've kind of ticked that off, that was so similar to the first session. It never is, they are always going to get a different experience, every experience is different.
“The other brands have to work quite hard to create a different experience each time, the golf guys have to change the course, but for us the song catalogue does that and we can help by curating playlists.”
And for Elek, singing is eternal: “It’s not a trend or a fad - people have been singing for thousands of years it’s not going to be a time in 20 years when people say ‘remember when people used to sing, why’s that stopped?’ It’s going to continue for ever.
“There’s a singer in everybody, it doesn’t matter if you sing well or badly, if you’re in the right environment with the right people, they’re going to want to do that.”