The big business of Margaritaville

Jimmy Buffett’s beachy anthem has inspired a booming hospitality business.

In 1977, Jimmy Buffett released his most popular song, “Margaritaville.”

He may not have known it then, but with the track, Buffett planted the seeds for a business empire.

While the idea of an experiential lifestyle brand feels new, Buffett’s team at Margaritaville Holdings has been leveraging the strategy for years and has built a hospitality juggernaut in the process, per Skift.

The Margaritaville empire…

… started in 1985, when Buffett opened a retail store with the name. The real breakthrough came in 1999, when Buffett and business partner John Cohlan opened a 20k-square-foot Margaritaville restaurant at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida.

Rampant expansion followed, and the brand’s portfolio now includes:

  • 33 hotels, resorts, and other lodging concepts
  • 150 restaurants, bars, and cafes

Across those entities, the company brought in $1.5B in sales in 2019.

How is Margaritaville so successful?

According to Cohlan, now the CEO of Margaritaville Holdings, it’s all about emotion.

“Margaritaville was a synonym for paradise and casual fun, and the brand generates an emotion that makes you feel good,” Cohlan told Skift.

With that in mind, the team is laser-focused on the brand’s aesthetic, using several design staples in every location, including:

  • An 11-foot-tall pair of flip-flops at the center of every hotel lobby, a popular photo destination for guests
  • Faucets shaped like whale tails in hotel bathrooms

Each lobby also contains a replica of the Statue of Liberty, but with Lady Liberty holding a margarita instead of a torch.

Buffett isn’t the first musician…

… to bottle a feeling and build a brand with it. The Grateful Dead are still pulling in millions off of a variety of revenue streams, even though the original band members played their last show together in 1995.

  • One key to the success of both is that their fans can easily make fanhood part of their identity. Both Buffett and the Grateful Dead have nicknames for passionate devotees: “Parrot Heads,” and “Deadheads,” respectively.

For more on the Grateful Dead’s business genius, check out Hubspot co-founder Brian Halligan’s book, Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead.

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