Real estate agent Dave Tyson is a little weary of talking about brothels.
Ever since the Scarlet Harem Bordello’s owner – known only as Paris – enlisted him to sell her purpose-built brothel on the Sunshine Coast, he has been inundated with calls from sticky-beakers. “Some pretty notorious-looking people,” said Mr Tyson, of Ray White Commercial Caloundra, and “some people that are just lookers”.
For those dabbling with the idea: what are the – ahem – ins and outs of running a legal brothel?
First the pros: brothels can rake it in. Paris has not shown Mr Tyson the books, but there was an ATM on site, the business was “95 per cent cash” and, retiring due to poor health after 13 years, financially “she’s not doing too bad,” he said.
Milan Stamenkovic, director of Melbourne’s The Boardroom agrees that brothels “are legitimate, straight-forward businesses” that can be profitable if “run properly and professionally”.
Following the success of the Boardroom, Mr Stamenkovic opened another in Sydney before accepting an “exceptionally good” offer to sell it.
But, it’s not an easy industry, he warns. People think “you open the door and the money rolls in. You actually have to work very hard for your money, but, by the same token, it can be very rewarding”.
In Australia sex work laws are determined by state legislation – for example in Victoria, brothels are governed by the 1994 Sex Work Act – but, in all states, it is challenging to establish a new brothel.
In Queensland the location must receive approval from the state government and local authority, which, Mr Tyson said, was “extremely difficult.” Next, the licensee and the manager must each get a license, which “take months and is quite expensive”.
Designing and fitting out brothels doesn’t come cheap, and is also heavily legislated. Victorian brothels are not permitted to have more than 6 rooms. But the rooms at The Boardroom “are massive” said Mr Stamenkovic. “You break [each room] down into a couple of different areas.”
Small details matter. The Boardroom hired colour consultants as “colours psychologically effect people in different ways”, said Mr Stamenkovic, and the right mattresses are important, preferably custom-built to withstand the constant usage.
Brothels also need a good commercial laundry – there a lot of sheets and towels to wash – as well as a booking and payment system and a website.
Sex workers at legal brothels are not paid wages but are, essentially, independent contractors. Clients come into the brothel, meet the workers, make a decision and then negotiate the services and fees directly with the sex worker. Clients then pay the brothel for the use of the room, “like a short stay hotel,” said Mr Stamenkovic.
Also like running a hotel, brothels must hire, manage and pay hostesses, cleaners, launderers, administration staff and security.
Security is very important. In the Sunshine Coast brothel “there’s camera, there’s video, there’s alarms,” said Mr Tyson. Is this normal for brothels? “Oh, yes,” he said. “It’s highly regulated.”
Advertising is also tricky. Brothel owners are not permitted, by law, to advertise the services that their brothel offers, or to recruit sex workers, although they can advertise the premises.
Luckily, if you are an established business “they come to you”, said Mr Stamenkovic.
But this means it is hard to establish a new legal brothel. “I can’t remember the last one that opened in Victoria,” he said. But one was built in Melbourne’s north-east that went bust before it opened, as it couldn’t promote itself, or advertise for workers, he said.
Ultimately the biggest challenge for running a legal brothel is the competition by illegal brothels. Most legal brothels, said Mr Stamenkovic, are “literally surrounded by four or five illegal brothels, [they] throw the massage sign up on the door and basically start trading in a low-end market with high turnover”.
The Australian Sex Workers Association, The Scarlett Alliance, were unable to be reached for comment for this story, but state on their website that they value the “right of all sex workers to work in whatever area of their chosen occupation, including street, brothel, escort, private and opportunistic work”.
Mr Stamenkovic advises potential brothel owners to “thoroughly do their research” and to talk to “someone reliable” to learn about the industry before jumping in.
Until the fully-furnished Sunshine Coast brothel sells, Mr Tyson is looking at the positive side to all the attention. “There’s notoriety in it,” he said. “It has led to other things.”
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