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.”

The big business of 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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