Why I decided to open a brothel
IT'S likely your main drag has one - a drop-in massage parlour that looks a little, well, uninviting. Maybe it's the blocked out windows, the strange opening hours or the fact that it's difficult to tell what kind of massage is actually on offer.
Chances are that the massage parlour with a weird vibe is actually an illegal brothel in disguise.
There are an estimated 500 illegal brothels in Victoria alone. When you consider there are only 91 legitimate establishments, that's quite a discrepancy. And it's a fact that drives Milan Stamenkovic crazy.
Victoria was the first state to legalise brothels under the 1994 Sex Work Act and for Mr Stamenkovic, a savvy businessman in corporate security, this spelled opportunity.
"My main goal was to apply good sound business practices to a brothel, just as I would in any other industry. I wanted to create one of the best known operations Australia has ever seen," he said."
So in 1997, a week after Crown Casino reopened on the banks of the Yarra River, The Boardroom welcomed its first customers.
There's no doubt about it, getting into the brothel business isn't all hot girls and easy money.
For starters, Mr Stamenkovic lost a major client when he disclosed his decision to move into the sex industry.
"Of course, some people will judge me. Everyone has a right to their opinion." he said. "But I've always been very open about what I do. I've never worried about being called a pimp. I see The Boardroom as short stay hotel with a good reputation."
Then there are the rules.
Brothel work is still considered illegal in some parts of Australia and laws vary from state to state. In NSW, for example, brothels are permitted to serve alcohol. In Victoria, it's a dry bar only. No more than six rooms are permitted in a Victorian brothel and owners are not able to expand by opening a separate premises.
"For the past 15 years I've been fantasising about adding two extra floors, another car park, more facilities," Mr Stamenkovic said. "But you've got to curb your enthusiasm. If I were to open up any other business, why would I be limited? Why can't I increase business, create employment? I would sum up Victorian laws as Draconian."
Frustrated as he may be, The Boardroom's success is a clear source of pride for Mr Stamenkovic.
The business has a strong reputation among sex workers. A former The Boardroom service provider, Kate, described it as "a wonderful, adventurous and caring place to work".
Even its professionally decorated interior shows Mr Stamenkovic is not one to cut corners.
Each of The Boardroom's six rooms offers unique features like a giant spa bath, a round bed or a shower large enough for multiple users. There are mammoth bowls of mints everywhere and the thick carpet is so plush you could sleep on it.
"We remodel every three or four years. All the beds are purpose built with advice from osteopaths and chiropractors," Mr Stamenkovic said. "In a commercial sense, a bed is a tool of trade. You have to protect against back, hip and leg injuries. The frame must be solid, the foam mattress supportive. We have an on site laundry. Even our water pipes need to be larger because of all the water usage."
He said the biggest challenge the industry faced was competition from the ubiquitous illegal sex industry.
The Daily Planet, Melbourne's most established and well-known brothel, was put up for sale by administrators in 2016 and this does not come as a surprise to Mr Stamenkovic.
"I'm all for competition, but the illegals are encroaching. They'll open up anywhere, near schools for instance and that's wrong," he said. "They don't necessarily follow safe sex practices; the conditions for workers can be poor. I think clients go there because it's cheaper.
"I also wonder if some people feel that it's not cheating. You know, they'll just say they're going out for a massage and then get a happy ending.
"But am I proud of my business? Yes I am. Whatever your judgment call is on the industry, it's a necessary industry, it's run with a lot of dedication from the staff."
And Mr Stamenkovic has no plans to leave the adult industry any time soon. In fact, he's started a new online business, Private Escort Finder, with The Boardroom's manager and his close friend, Nick Costello, and former service provider Kate.
'We didn't know that the internet would bring about the changes it has," Mr Stamenkovic said. "Ten years ago, it would have been hard to find escorts willing to advertise themselves openly online. Now we have women who have turned themselves into a mini-empire. Private Escort Finder gives them a place to advertise their services. It will never replace brothels, but it's another option."