Gaining the Competitive Edge in Nightlife
With over 20 years of hospitality success under his belt as an owner and operator, Shawn Kolodny, managing partner at Tri Hospitality Group, decided to go out and get himself an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business.
The business side of most nightlife establishments has long ago purged the artistic types of the last century. But just like every other business, obtaining a competitive edge separates the haves from the have nots; which is just what Kolodny did.
Throughout his career, he has created and developed multiple nightlife concepts as well as being involved in various aspects from design and construction to marketing, operations, and promotions. Now with Tri Hospitality Group, their portfolio of businesses includes three brands; VIP Room, Beaumarchais, and FC Gotham all in the Meatpacking District - arguably the most competitive area east of Las Vegas.
Nightclub & Bar caught up with Shawn Kolodny to find out just how he gained the competitive edge and drive to succeed.
You had become a top tier owner/manager/director at places that were known for high end bottle service, celebrity clientele and international presence - then you went and got yourself an MBA from NYU. Why in the middle of great success did you feel the need for an MBA?
I had been an entrepreneur from an early age and was self-taught in most of my business endeavors, which is really code for learning the hard way. At the same time I was going through a professional transition and wanted to experience some industries other than Hospitality. I felt the best way to prepare myself was to get an MBA. It provided some much needed structure in my life as well as giving me a fuller understanding of business and the markets. Its value is still continuing to present itself.
You left Tao group to become a managing partner in Tri Hospitality Group. What did you take away from Tao and their great success?
That company culture is of the utmost importance to grow an enterprise to scale. The Tao group has an amazing culture, with full buy in from everyone on the team. It’s a very positive work environment where everyone is on the same mission, it’s clear and the results speak for themselves. They operate with growth in mind and get everyone on the team to "make yourself replaceable." It is a scary concept to learn, but once you do, big growth is possible.
You co-founded the Pink Elephant brand which had "locations in New York City, The Hamptons, Brazil and Mexico, as well as pop-up locations in St Barths, Cannes, Park City, and Miami. The Pink Elephant had over 120 employees and annual sales in excess of $20 million in the New York City and Hamptons locations alone. How does something that good break up and what have you learned about partnerships?
Hospitality businesses are a team sport. You want to make each partner brings different skillsets to bear and that everyone’s interests are aligned. In the case of Pink Elephant, I used to describe our partnership as 5 guys with rubber bands on our backs. If we all ran in the same direction we could move very fast. But unfortunately we too often ran in different directions thus we stood still, and without forward motion there's stagnation.
VIP ROOM is a meatpacking bottle service boîte, FC Gotham is an underground sports bar and now comes Holden and Astor, a straight up restaurant. Is it actually a straight up restaurant and why the diversity? Most people just expand the one brand the one concept or a slight variation on it.
We didn't want to be a one trick pony. With three very different concepts we can go after very distinct and different demographics. No venue cannibalizes the business of the other. In fact it allows us to offer our guests a bunch of choices and experiences, which we found compliments the business as a whole.
What's a day like in your life? Where do you begin, how do you end and how do you stay focused in between?
Every day is different. Some days are spent dealing with financing and budgets while others are handling operations and meeting with our team, or putting promotional teams and talent together. It makes for interesting and long days. Most people think the business is only what they see at night. The irony is most of the work to make the night run smoothly is done during the day. Being self-motivated and having a strong team to help achieve the companies goals is how I stay focused and it’s of the utmost importance.