Margaritaville is a state of mind, and a business empire

Jimmy Buffett’s ‘Margaritaville’ Is a state of mind, and a business empire

By BROOKS BARNES
New York Times News Service
May 22, 2016

Buffett_HollywoodBeachBoardwalk_2016 Visitors on the Hollywood Beach Boardwalk approach a parrot sign. Visitors on the Hollywood Beach Boardwalk approach a parrot sign.

His newest showstopper — a 17-story hotel near Miami — has three pools, a full-service spa and eight restaurants, including a seriously upscale steakhouse. That electric blue sculpture in the lobby? You’d swear it was by Jeff Koons.

Over near Orlando, work has started on his $800 million family resort, which will include a 12-acre water park and 1,200 homes priced at up to $1 million apiece. His company, which had $1.5 billion in sales last year, is introducing a line of jewelry. He has one of America’s fastest-growing craft beers. A team — led by a former Google executive — is working to transform his digital media business.

The man is Jimmy Buffett. And it’s time to toss whatever you thought you knew about his lazy, hazy Margaritaville out the window.

Forget the ville. This is a Margarita World.

“People are always shocked when they find out how big we’ve gotten,” Buffett said recently. “We just kept quietly doing our thing. Not saying much. And now — bam! — here we are.”

Margaritaville, with its themed restaurants (erupting volcanoes, boat-shaped booths), started as a tropical cousin to T.G.I. Friday’s. Through trial and error, Buffett and a partner, John Cohlan, have since expanded Margaritaville Holdings to include four booming divisions: lodging, alcohol, licensing and media. Now, as they pursue growth for the first time overseas, where Buffett has a much softer fan base, they are trying to recast Margaritaville as a broad, aspirational brand — the Ralph Lauren of leisurely escape, if you will.

“The stroke of genius was making Margaritaville a feeling, not a place,” said Mindy Grossman, CEO of the home-shopping behemoths HSN and Frontgate, where 400-plus Margaritaville items include a $799 hammock and $159 penny loafers. “If you don’t take the name so literally, growth could be endless.”

Savvy singer

Buffett, patron saint of the untroubled, has long been known for his business acumen. In some ways, with his approach to concert merchandise and tour sponsorship in the 1980s, he created the model of musician-as-entrepreneur that managers for artists like Madonna and Dave Matthews have pursued more recently. Other singers have parlayed their personas into business empires but none are as singularly sprawling as Buffett’s Margaritaville.

“He understands his brand, which has a substantial reach,” billionare investor Warren E. Buffett, a friend but no relation, said. “One of the secrets to his success is that he never really loses any fans.”

Still, a thriving brand needs to steadily recruit new devotees, and that may be Margaritaville’s biggest challenge. While Buffett’s fan base includes young people — drunkenly singing along to “Margaritaville” in a college bar is practically an American rite of passage — his core followers are baby boomers. How does Margaritaville make itself more relevant to people in their 30s? What fuels sales of those licensed products once Buffett, 69, has warbled his last warble?

It’s a subject that Cohlan, who is Margaritaville’s CEO, was not especially keen to discuss. Asked about how the company thinks about a future without its public face, Cohlan said, “Jimmy Buffett is an American treasure,” and changed the subject.

A more robust media presence beyond Buffett seems to be one answer. Last year, Cohlan expanded the company’s digital media efforts, which already included a SiriusXM satellite radio channel. He hired Laura Lee from the Google ranks, where she was a senior executive at YouTube, and charged her with building a digital content studio, improving Margaritaville’s social media presence and introducing mobile games. (One casual game coming in July will have users searching for their lost shaker of salt.)

The goal is a fully formed ecosystem. Last year, an estimated 15 million people ate at one of Buffett’s 67 restaurants or stayed at one of his seven hotels and time-share resorts. The company also wants the masses to buy Margaritaville food at their local grocery store (items like iced tea, frozen shrimp and tortilla chips are on shelves), watch Margaritaville-produced videos on their phones and maybe even sleep on Margaritaville bedsheets.

Lee’s efforts could also lead to more traditional TV programming. A model is Vice Media, which began as a hard-partying video company and went on to sprout an HBO series and Viceland, a Disney-backed cable channel. Not by coincidence, Margaritaville in 2014 sold a minority stake to the Raine Group, a merchant bank known for its investment in Vice and ties to the William Morris Endeavor talent agency.

“The international opportunity for the Margaritaville ecosystem is really exciting,” said Joe Ravitch, Raine’s co-founder.

‘Fins Up!’

Fittingly, the Margaritaville empire started with a nap.

The year was 1996, and Cohlan, then working for the corporate raider Nelson Peltz, known for targeting companies like Snapple and Arby’s, had gotten to know Buffett’s wife, Jane, on the Palm Beach, Fla., society circuit. One day, Cohlan turned up at the Buffetts’ home to talk about the potential growth of Margaritaville, which was then just a popular song — released in 1977, it peaked at No. 8 on the pop charts — and a two-restaurant chainlet.

But the singer was asleep.

“Had it not been for Jane, who went to wake Jimmy up, this extremely successful partnership might not have happened,” said Richard Plepler, chief executive of HBO, who knows both men.

Buffett opened his first Margaritaville restaurant in 1987 in Key West, Fla. It found instant success — so much, in fact, that he opened a second location in New Orleans in 1993. But the sequel was a relative dud, and Buffett applied the brakes, rebuffing an offer from Walt Disney Co. to build a lavishly themed Margaritaville at a Walt Disney World shopping mall.

Enter Cohlan. He had recently experienced the Parrot Head phenomenon for himself — their wild tropical clothing, their endless tailgating — and had an epiphany. “All I really knew before I went to that concert was that girls would put on halter tops and play his songs when the weather turned nice,” he said. “When I saw him perform, I said to myself, ‘Whoa. Holy you-know-what. This is a brand.’”

Buffett took on Cohlan as a partner, and together they began to expand Margaritaville, beginning at the Universal Orlando Resort, which at that time was owned by Seagram. Buffett recalled how he told Seagram during negotiations that he had one final request: “Can you just tilt that bridge a little so that people leaving your park literally roll into the front doors of my restaurant?” Cohlan and Buffett cracked up recalling the look on the Seagram team’s face.

Just before the Orlando opening, Cohlan played hardball with Seagram over a liquor matter and inadvertently started a new line of business. Seagram, which also owned Buffett’s record company then, had introduced Parrot Bay rum, which Buffett felt co-opted his band’s Parrot Head imagery. Cohlan — quite seriously, this time — told Seagram that Margaritaville would boycott its alcohol.

In a matter of weeks, Margaritaville had its own tequila and beer brand.

The theme park Margaritaville has been a runaway hit since opening in 1999. Last year, according to Cohlan, the restaurant generated about $22 million in sales. Something about Buffett’s mellow, unchallenging persona seems to make parents feel OK about tying one on with their children in tow. “Believe me,” Buffett said, “I didn’t know I was going to end up as family entertainment, either.”

Columbia Fireflies Baseball Game This Thursday (April 28th)

For this Thursday’s Happy Hour the PPHC is taking you out to the ballgame. Our regular last Thursday of the month Happy Hour is at Spirit Communications Park on Bull Street, Columbia. If you plan on attending you will need to meet Tom at the main ticket office by 6:45PM (game time is 7:05PM). Family memberships will receive tickets for your household (so bring the ‘Keets too) and single memberships will receive 1 ticket. It’s also Budweiser Thirsty Thursday so draft beer and fountain drinks are 1/2 price. If you can’t make it by 6:45, purchase your ticket and PPHC will reimburse you.

Columbia_Fireflies

Calling You To Serve On The PPHC Board Of Directors

PPHC_logo_FBThe Palmetto Parrot Head Club elections are coming up fast and your club is asking you to serve during the upcoming year.

If you think you are interested in serving on next year’s Board please let us know.  We need to fill slots for President, Vice-President and several Board Members at Large.

We would love to have you and your ideas help guide the PPHC over the upcoming year.

Parrot Head Club’s Celebrate Their 27th Anniversary Today!

PHiP_Logo_smallTwenty-seven years ago today, the first official Jimmy Buffett fan club was sanctioned in Atlanta. Founder Scott Nickerson had spent months working with Margaritaville and Jimmy Buffett’s people to authorize the Atlanta PHC. Their discussions laid out a framework to authorize other PHCs nationwide.

One year to the day later the 2nd official PHC was founded in St. Louis. It would take over 4 years before the official PHC count would reach double digits.

A lot has changed in the years since. The Palmetto PHC became the 3rd South Carolina PHC in 1997 (founder Linda Martin).

Today “This madness…has blossomed to a network of over 200 clubs around the U.S. plus international clubs based in Canada and Australia. ”

So raise a toast tonight to Scott Nickerson and the Atlanta PHC for starting it all 27 years ago!

Parrot Heads In Paradise: http://www.phip.com
PHiP Club Founders Page: http://www.phip.com/Founders.asp

Parrot Heads flock to beach for music, supporting charity

Twenty PPHC members traveled to the Tampa, FL last weekend to attend the 5th-Annual Music On The Bay festival. The four day Trop-Rock festival was hosted by Tampa Bay Parrot Heads in Paradise Club, Sarasota Bay Parrot Head Club, Space Coast Parrot Head Club, and Key West Parrothead Club with the generous assistance and support of Whiskey Joe’s Barefoot Beach Bar in Tampa, FL. The Tampa Tribune was there to report on the festivities.

The crowd listens to the Jack Mosley Band during the Music on the Bay festival on Sunday at Whiskey Joe’s in Tampa. The festival raises money for the Shriner’s Hospital and the KOA camp for kids with cancer. LANCE ROTHSTEIN/STAFF. Courtesy of TBO.com

The crowd listens to the Jack Mosley Band during the Music on the Bay festival on Sunday at Whiskey Joe’s in Tampa. The festival raises money for the Shriner’s Hospital and the KOA camp for kids with cancer. LANCE ROTHSTEIN/STAFF. Courtesy of TBO.com

Parrot Heads flock to beach for music, supporting charity

BY GEOFF FOX
Tribune staff
gfox@tampatrib.com
Published: March 6, 2016
Updated: March 7, 2016

TAMPA — Whiskey Joe’s offered a perfect setting for hundreds of Parrot Heads on Sunday, as the venerable watering hole, restaurant and music venue hosted the fifth annual Music on the Bay festival.

Under cloudless skies, music lovers from around the Tampa Bay area, 32 states, France and Canada sipped drinks with their feet in the sand and relaxed to soothing sounds outside the waterfront bar on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

The event isn’t just about four days of partying.

MusicOnTheBay_Tampa

Over the last four years, it has raised more than $100,000 for Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa, said Dorothy Bedlin, president of the Tampa Bay Parrot Heads in Paradise Club and co-chair of the event.

This year, she said she hoped to raise between $35,000 and $40,000 for the hospital. The four-day event began Thursday.

“It’s like a carnival atmosphere,” Bedlin said Sunday, as The Jack Mosley Band — a touring southwest Florida group — made melodic sounds on an outdoor stage.

“It looks like we’re going to have a record crowd,” she said. “We usually get about 1,000 people on a weekend, but this year, we’re over 1,200.”

Jennifer O’Connor, the event’s treasurer, said Music on the Bay was “killing it” in the fundraising department.

“Dude, I’ve been counting money until I’m green in the face,” she said.

Money wasn’t raised just through admission.

Entertainer Bill “Sauce Boss” Wharton raised $675 over the weekend with his trademark music-and-gumbo-making performance, while Howard Livingston & Mile Marker 24, a Key West band, raised another $3,500 by selling off a margarita made with an outboard motor.

Livingston also raised money over the weekend for KOA Care Camps — a charity for children with cancer.

Tampa resident Steve Story, known to his Parrot Head friends as “Biker Steve,” said Sunday that he had been enjoying the music and atmosphere all weekend. He said that philanthropic work done by Parrot Heads, and the bands they love, is nothing new.

“The Parrot Head family is so cool,” Story said. “You never meet a stranger out here. If someone needs help, you help them. It’s about loving and living life, and being barefoot in the sand with your brothers and sisters.

“I’ve been having a blast, man. I don’t want to go back to work Monday.”

As Story greeted a long-time friend, Mosley’s guitarist picked a relaxing rhythm on his Fender Telecaster, while the band leader sang of “a girl in a string bikini, walking with her shoes in her hand.”

Surveying the large crowd, many of whom sat in colorful beach chairs, event co-chair Bill Connolly said he was proud to raise money for the Shriners hospital — with the help of countless volunteers.

“We work 12 months a year to make this happen,” he said. “We’re always looking for ways to improve and to raise more and more money. There’s no better organization than the Shriners.”

And to Parrot Heads near and far, there may be no better way to help out the children’s hospital than by enjoying life near the water.

Scott Janovsky of Raleigh, North Carolina, drove over 600 miles for the festival, as did about 50 other members of Parrot Head clubs in “The Tar Heel State.”

“This is our second year” at Music on the Bay, Janovsky said of he and wife Elena. “I love it. It’s a great group of people and a bunch of bands. The weather this year has been unbelievable. It’s for a great charity, too. (We’ll do) anything to help out the kids.”

(Tampa Tribune)

Jimmy Buffett Musical To Premiere At California Theater

The Jimmy Buffett musical will make its world premiere next year somewhere nice and warm – the La Jolla Playhouse in California.

Producers said Wednesday that the show, which combines Buffett’s blend of rock and country tunes with an original story by writers Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley, will start grooving onstage on May 16, 2017.

Buffett has had hits with such beach-bum classics as “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” ‘‘Margaritaville,” ‘‘Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

The new musical is described “as the story of a part-time singer, part-time bartender, and fulltime good ol’ boy named Tully who suddenly finds himself in uncharted territory – falling in love with a beautiful, career-minded tourist.”

Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley, the director of the Tony-winner “Memphis,” will direct the still-untitled show. The producers of the musical are Frank Marshall, Mindy Rich, Anita Waxman and Beth Williams.

Garcia is the creator of TV shows including “My Name Is Earl” and “Yes, Dear,” which O’Malley also starred in.

Buffett and Marshall – the producer of such films as “Back to the Future” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – teamed up to create Parrothead Productions, which helped produce such Broadway shows as “Big Fish” and “Doctor Zhivago.”

La Jolla Playhouse has been home to many big shows, including the musicals “Jersey Boys,” ‘‘Thoroughly Modern Millie,” ‘‘Cry-Baby,” ‘‘Bonnie & Clyde” and “Hands on a Hardbody.”

Happy New Year PPHC

PPHC_logo_FB Happy New Year to Everyone!!!

I just wanted to provide you a list of upcoming events so you can mark your calendar.

A very special Happy Hour will be held on Wednesday, January 13th at Vella’s on Knox Abbott Drive, Cayce, SC to mark the 19th anniversary of the Palmetto Parrot Head Club. Please make arrangements to attend as the Club will buy all members 2 drinks (beer, wine or well drink) to celebrate our anniversary!! You don’t want to miss the opportunity to get together with phriends to recall all the phun times shared over the years. If you have pictures of past events please bring them along. We’ll meet at the usual time of 5:30.

Mark you calendar for upcoming Happy Hours:

– January 28th – HH at Kelly’s, Washington St., Columbia (5:30)
– February 10th – HH at Polliwogs, Columbia (5:30)
– February 25th – HH at Lucky’s Burger Shack, Irmo (5:30)
– March 9th – HH at Old Mill Brew Pub, Lexington (5:30)
– March 31st – HH at TLC Sports Pub, Columbia (5:30)

Also, it’s membership renewal time. All renewals are due by March 31st, 2016 so don’t delay, renew today!!

Lastly, we are looking for volunteers to help plan and organize Fin Fest. If you are interested please let Tom, Dawn M., Wendy, Steve, Patty or myself (Debra) know. As always, we welcome and need your participation and input.

I look forward to seeing everyone on Wednesday. Let’s start the PPHC New Year off with a huge BANG!!!

Phins Up!

Debra Ranney
Treasurer
Palmetto Parrot Head Club
Columbia, SC