Walking into a venue, guests have certain expectations about where their night will take them. If executed properly, the elements come together for a vibrant evening. And crucial to any club’s success is what’s being served behind the bar. One of the most called upon mixers — energy drinks, with their myriad flavors and varieties — complements a club’s brand while enhancing the guest experience and creating loyal customers as an added bonus.
From industry main-stay Red Bull to on-premise newcomers, including Rock Star, Monster and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s Street King, energy drinks are diversifying, differentiating one club from the next. Although a simple energy drink and vodka seems like an easy cocktail choice for thirsty patrons, for owners, deciding on which brand best exemplifies their business strategy proves much more complicated.
“It’s a $10 or $11 million market,” says Jeff John, managing partner of a 28,000-square-foot party space home to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., outdoor venue America’s Backyard, events and entertainment venue The Green Room and indoor hotspot Revolution Live.
“Any bar has to have an energy drink these days,” he continues. “It’s a huge part of the business.” It’s not just an energy drink mixed with vodka anymore either. At the venue, John sells Monster energy drink, mixing it in rum and Jägermeister cocktails as well as “the shots. I can’t tell you how many shots have Monster in them … There is that [energy drink] product in an overwhelming number of drinks these days,” he says.
“In the liquor business, you sell what people want,” says Sheldon Robinson, general manager of The 40/40 Club in New York. For him, the marketing behind Red Bull was what sold him on carrying the product at the club. “It’s the best one that complements the drink,” he explains.
Fourth Street Live! in Louisville, Ky., features Monster behind the bar.
Building Brand Loyalty
Monster’s “edgy and underground” aesthetic highlights the alternative image of the indoor venue Revolution Live, John says.
“First and foremost, I love that the brand fits our brand perfectly,” he says, adding it’s the diversified product line that keeps his business growing and customers intrigued. From the popular Regular and Monster Lo-Carb choices to the Java Monster coffee options and Monster Rehab, the energy drink-company “offers more and speaks more to the customer,” John says. “It was like our culture; it was family oriented.”
Jake Miller, senior vice president of ECI, a Baltimore, Md.-based company that operates restaurants, lounges and clubs throughout the United States, made the decision to switch from Red Bull to Monster. “We have people that insist on Red Bull, people that are ambivalent and some who are loyal to Monster,” he says. But it’s Monster’s branding that was attractive to Miller. “Monster is on-the-ground aggressive. Monster identifies with people.”
Red Bull is served at San Diego club FLUXX because it’s one of the most influential and well-known brands in the industry, and it was the first energy drink introduced to the club scene, explains bar manager Mike Vizcarra. “People order vodka Red Bull. They rarely say vodka energy drink, even if the venue” is selling another brand. “People are creatures of habit,” he adds.
John argues that even though customers may ask for a Vodka Red Bull at his establishment, customers never reject Monster. “No one argues with the brand,” he says.
However, for new brands, such as Street King — the brainchild of rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and Chris Clarke, founder and chief executive officer of Street King owner Pure Growth Partners — branding centers around the associated celebrity face.
Clarke describes the relationship with 50 Cent as a “big partnership effort.”
“It’s not a traditional celebrity endorsement,” he continues. “It’s a genuine partnership, and we’re committed to supporting this brand long term.” 50 Cent’s image helps connect Street King to a “strong hip-hop and nightlife culture,” Clarke adds.
San Diego club FLUXX serves Red Bull.
A Competitive Edge
“Honestly, we go with Rock Star,” says Tommy Georges, general manager of Nightclub & Bar’s 2012 New Club of the Year The Mint in Scottsdale, Ariz. Initially money attracted Georges to Rock Star. “Rock Star pays us a lot of money and is exclusive in all our locations,” he adds.
If a bartender recommends a new energy drink, people are willing to try it, Georges says. Once people try it, they like it. Plus, he adds, if another place doesn’t sell Rock Star, “people come back to see me.”
Robinson from The 40/40 Club said he doesn’t know how lucrative selling energy drinks other than Red Bull would be at the bottom line. “I could sell another energy drink but [probably] couldn’t sell the volume,” which is 10 to 20 cases per week.
“It’s going to be tough for other brands to get into the nightclub business just because [Red Bull] is the first one, and it’s the one people are familiar with. It’s what people call for at the bar,” Vizcarra says.
“Look, we would love to have a footprint close to Red Bull,” Clarke explains. “Red Bull’s footprint is phenomenal, and we think there’s a place for [Street King]. Vodka Street King, Tequila Street King — you feel the difference and taste the difference.”
However, “Rock Star has grown into a really huge brand,” Vizcarra says. But those other energy drinks vying for nightclub supremacy are taking a different route to reach the industry’s zenith. “It’s more the off-premise accounts; the liquor stores are pushing those products.”
But that’s exactly what attracted John to Monster. By selling off-premise, Monster executives got consumers to buy the product in stores so they look for it when they go out, he says. “If you’re buying Monster at stores and taking it home, why would you go into a bar and order anything different? I enjoy their approach, and they created a lot of brand loyalty that way,” he explains. “I thought it was intelligent.”
Financially Sound Investments
Knowing your brand’s identity is key, but energy drink choice also comes down to financial savvy. For John, Monster saves him $10,000. The brand’s 32 oz. cans mean a bartender can get 10 pours from one unit. “It makes $10,000 look like nothing. Most operators don’t look it at that way. They want the quick hit, but you’re cutting yourself short.”
Vizcarra says energy drinks equal additional profit. “At Fluxx, if you order a Ketel One drink, it’s $12. With Red Bull, it’s an additional $5. So many people drink it, it’s an easy upsell, especially as an alcohol-free product.”
Initially, Miller says deciding on an energy drink was a roll of the dice. The fear, he says, was that changing to Monster would mean a decrease in sales, but they “went up 25% across the board.”
Marketing Efforts that Pay Off
Finding an energy drink for your business isn’t just about guest satisfaction; brand marketing support also is important.
“If I need anything extra for a promotion, they’re here,” says John about Monster. “The support is phenomenal. They make you feel very comfortable, and, like I said, it’s kind of like a family environment. It’s more of a personal touch.”
“They’re a true promotional partner,” Miller adds of Monster, noting that his venues host many promotional events. Monster plays an active role in everything they do.
Georges says that Rock Star helps him book entertainment at The Mint. “We have DJs, and they help fund that.”
But, most importantly, the energy drink business is built on a foundation of commitment. A club that wants to flourish and thrive in an increasingly competitive market needs to find a brand that caters to guests’ needs while cultivating loyalty and ultimately satisfying bottom-line goals.
For more on Street King and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson's involvement in the 2012 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show, click here.