Thursday, March 14, 2013 | 10:24 p.m.
Thousands of nightclub operators and bar owners from around the world arrive here this weekend to start festivities in advance of the three-day Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show starting Tuesday. Think of it as a nonstop, 72-hour platinum party of eat, drink and be merry.
But while on the Strip, they will be watching a possible changing of the guard as older nightclubs face incredible challenges from newcomers about to burst on the scene.
Five-time Grammy winner CeeLo Green will take time out from his new show “Loberace” at Planet Hollywood to open the show floor in a ribbon-cutting ceremony with “Bar Rescue” star Jon Taffer, who is president of Nightclub & Bar Media Group. Award and entrepreneur winners and owners of the Top 100 clubs all walk the red carpet.
Jon says that some clubs here are getting old and tarnished as they head toward their 10th year of business. He says dramatic changes are inevitable this year for the Las Vegas nightclub scene. Jon gave Vegas DeLuxe a preview of what nightlife denizens can expect at this year’s gathering.
He has created a Club Pass so delegates can sweep into XS at Steve Wynn’s Encore, Pure in Caesars Palace, Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club, Gilley’s and Senor Frog’s at Treasure Island, Krave Massive at The Rio and Bagatelle adjacent to Tropicana. The three Platinum Parties will be at Hyde Bellagio, Marquee in The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Tryst at Wynn.
The first welcome kickoff is Tuesday at Garden of the Gods pool at Caesars Palace, followed by a party at Pure with DJs Rev Run and Ruckus. The Top 100 party on Wednesday to honor the biggest revenue-producing nightclubs in America will appropriately be held at Marquee, one of the biggest in the Top 10.
Jon told me that more than 600 companies, the largest yet, will be exhibiting. He’s set up a first-time Craft Brewers Pavilion. The New Product Pavilion will launch the newest products in the industry. At his own “Bar Rescue” booths, he’ll have one-on-one consultations by mentors and industry experts offering free advice for struggling owners or those wanting to make even more profit.
“Hotmixology” will showcase experienced mixologists at the Emerging Brands Pavilion. Up-and-coming mixologists will vie for $25,000 in prizes in the Shake It Up Competition on Wednesday; on Thursday, the Don Julio Challenge takes place on the main stage.
It’s not all play all the time. Jon has 70 educational workshops taught by industry heavy hitters in interactive conference sessions, plus the keynote addresses. Jon delivers one, and the other two are by Jim Koch, founder of Boston Beer, and Nick Shepherd, CEO of TGI Fridays and Carlson Restaurants.
Conventioneers will have behind-the-scenes tours of Senor Frogs, Treasure Island, Hyde Bellagio, Krave Massive, Fremont Street, Golden Nugget, Wirtz Beverage Nevada and North Las Vegas Bottling Co.
Jon told me: “There’s a lot that’s new this year. Our Merging Brands pavilion is bigger and new in many ways. We’re introducing something that I have been wanting to do for years called an Entrepreneurs Program. We have identified 20 companies, startup companies and products, and we’ve, in essence, given them booths in the entrepreneurial spirit of the beverage industry, so we’ve really focused hard on bringing new products, new technologies.
“We have really worked hard on getting smaller companies that have great products that typically couldn’t afford to come to the Convention Center and exhibit in our show. We figured out ways to get these really cool, innovative companies in. It is really exciting because they have some great stuff.
“The educational programming we have this year has ‘Bar Rescue’ training. Of course, Robin, our parties get better every year. Last year, I am told they were the best in the history of the city. This year, we have taken it a lot farther. We are working really closely with the teams at Tao Group and at Wynn. We have an incredible entertainment program this year.
“ ‘Bar Rescue’ on TV has had a huge impact on the entire business and thus the convention. The numbers are just through the roof, so it is going to be a great show. I am pretty excited about it. I love the energy when you walk in; it is pretty special.”
Since Jon is a top expert in the nightclub business with three decades of experience, I asked, with seven of the country’s Top 10 venues right here in Las Vegas, if we are in danger of reaching the point that the Strip has too many mega-clubs charging too expensive a price for admission and bottle service in a soft economy with stagnant unemployment.
Jon, who recently filmed three episodes of “Bar Rescue” here in Las Vegas, said: “It is really interesting, Robin. You look at the XS’s and the Marquee’s, the Hyde’s and the ones that are really performing at the top of their game, and they are in a position to command serious pricing at their door, serious pricing for bottle service, and they try to operate in an exclusive way. What happens, in my view, the second- and third-tier clubs can’t operate in that exclusive way. They have to operate in an inclusive way.
“A lot of people come to Las Vegas. My research shows the average straight person spends about $1,100, and the average gay person spends about $1,300 while they are here. How many people are you going to get to pay $700 for a bottle of vodka? At some point, these clubs start to get a little tarnished after eight, nine years of racking up great income.
“Owners and operators here have to understand in this town that exclusivity only runs so far; the rest of it needs to be inclusivity. That means price of entry needs to be reasonable, it needs to provide value, reasonable not excessive drink prices, bottle service needs to provide value, and people need to look at, candidly, dollars more than percentages.
“Let me share an interesting thing about Las Vegas, Robin, which I think you will find fascinating. A club will turn its back on a possible dark night of a $100,000 profit because the percentages don’t work. It’s become a corporate world, and they are bound by corporate budget performance on a percentage basis. In any other city, the nightclub owner will say, ‘I’ll take that on a dark night,’ but what’s happened in Las Vegas is corporate structure impedes entrepreneurial action. As a result, many of these clubs are dark on nights that they shouldn’t be.
“Only the top-tier clubs should be even playing with the word ‘exclusivity.’ Every club operator in Las Vegas wants the ‘exclusive VIP’ this and that. Not everybody falls into that category, and some of the operators just push it too damn hard. When you look at the tourists and you look at the locals, there is a different evaluation and a different positioning.
“It is remarkable the amount of local support that these venues get at, really, tourist prices. That is what I find that’s really a remarkable thing about Las Vegas and how well these locals nights do. In most markets, locals don’t pay tourist prices; there is a delineation. Not in the club business in Las Vegas. Clubs in Las Vegas pull locals at a phenomenal rate on locals night. I find that interesting.
“With the older clubs in Las Vegas moving toward the 10-year mark and a whole raft of new clubs opening this season, it’s going to be very interesting as to who lasts how long. There are big challenges ahead, and some will fall by the wayside unless they start making their changes now to deal with those challenges.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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