The Flora-Bama Promotions Playbook

Exterior of Flora-Bama, celebrating their 53rd year in operation.

Considering the fact that Flora-Bama has more than 50 years of continued success under its belt, it hits the ear a little funny when the operators refer to their bar as “a little honky-tonk on the Gulf.” But that’s exactly how owner Pat McClellan and assistant general managers Melissa Purvis and Michael Coates describe the bar. Of course, there’s much more to it than that. There’s also its consistent ranking as one of the top 20 bars in the United States. And there’s the ranking they earned from CNN Travel just a few years ago as the 17th Best Beach Bar. Flora-Bama hasn’t just experienced decades of success, they’ve earned awards and solidified their legacy as one of the best that’s ever done it.

During an informative presentation in Las Vegas at the 2017 Nightclub & Bar Show the owner and two AGMs shared a years’ worth of the promotions that have helped catapult Flora-Bama to its spectacular success. Treating every guest with the respect they themselves expect in return and giving back to the community are also keys to the bar’s longevity and accomplishments. As it turns out, promotions play a large part in Flora-Bama’s commitment to giving back to the community that has supported the bar for so many years. Let’s take a look at some of their standout promotions, how they’re executed, and how you can do something similar.

We’re going to kick things off with Flora-Bama’s Memorial Day promotion. First, let’s address something we’ve explained a couple of times in the past: Memorial Day is not the same as Veterans Day. Memorial Day is the day we celebrate those we’ve lost because they made the ultimate sacrifice defending our nation. Flora-Bama honors the fallen in a respectful manner, flying our nation’s and armed services’ flags, offering military discounts, handing out miniature flags at the door, and making donations to local veterans groups, the VFW and American Legion, and other veterans organizations.

June through September means summer break for most families. School lets out and prepares to start back up in September, and people are using vacation days and piling into the Family Truckster for some family time (“You think you hate it now…”). Flora-Bama hosts their Family-Fun Fishing Rodeo the first weekend in June. The promotion can be hosted just about anywhere, it appeals to all ages, and they partner with local vendors to offer prizes.

As any bar, nightclub or restaurant operator knows, the next month is all about the 4th of July. To succeed in July, start planning now for some of the busiest days your venue will experience. Flora-Bama’s promotion features All-American BBQ, bluegrass and blues bands, a simple food plate just about anyone can enjoy (ribs and/or chicken, baked beans, chips or potato salad, a pickle, apple pie, watermelon, etc.), old-timey root beer and PBR, a Ms. Firecracker bikini contest, and fireworks. If you plan on shooting off fireworks, partner with your local fire station.

For many, Labor Day is the day of rest before school really starts, and it’s the first day of national and college football. In short, you should be preparing for a large crowd. Flora-Bama capitalizes on their Labor Day crowds with a bikini contest featuring a $5,000 purse and promotional support by Hawaiian Tropic. The bar’s operators recommend partnering with your vendors to have them promote your bar as the Labor Day destination for beer and food specials.

We’re sure you’re expecting a Halloween promotion next but not so fast, Turbo… You should be thinking about Oktoberfest first. The Germans celebrate theirs in September because they like to confuse Americans (kidding – it’s because September offers better weather and their festival does spill into October). Flora-Bama recommends checking out what’s scheduled in your area to make sure you host your promotion at a time that doesn’t conflict with local fairs or festivals. After all, you want to maximize the crowd you draw. They also strongly advise you to earn solid community support, feature polka music and German food, have plenty of beer on hand, and decorate appropriately. Alright, now we’re ready to tackle Halloween. Flora-Bama keeps their promotion simple, which is why it works (and why all of their promos work, really). Their keys for Halloween success are as follows: host your costume contest the Saturday before the actual holiday, offer up either a $1,000 prize (or more) for best costume or go all out and offer a trip to Transylvania like Flora-Bama has done, and schedule your costume contest before or after other bars’ or clubs’ contests since many people try to enter as many contests as possible.

Too many operators assume that nobody is looking to hit a bar or nightclub on Thanksgiving. That’s a mistake in many areas. Instead, view the holiday the same way Flora-Bama does: they leverage the large amount of displaced students, military personnel, tourists from overseas, and other people to draw a profitable crowd. How large of a crowd? Flora-Bama sees 600 guests for their Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner, including military personnel they bus back and forth from a local base. You may not draw a crowd that large the first time you host this type of promotion, but give it time; Flora-Bama proves a Thanksgiving promotion can work, creating loyal locals and tourists.

That same potluck dinner is hosted by Flora-Bama again on Christmas Day, and yes, they draw a crowd of the same size. That plus their Santa Drop, Make it to the Line run/walk and fun run, and New Year’s Eve promotions equals a busy and profitable December. For the Santa Drop, Flora-Bama partners with a local club that parachutes Santa in, which you can imagine the kids love, and Santa’s helpers hand out treats, gifts, and a drink ticket to anyone who brings a canned food item for the area’s food bank or a toy for Toys for Tots. At dusk Santa raises his hand and points a finger to the Christmas tree that happens to be located atop the Flora-Bama building, and it lights up, in turn lighting up all of the other decorations. For their Saturday-before-Christmas run/walk/fun run, Flora-Bama chooses their local volunteer fire department as their charity. That means safety and publicity for the promotion, along with the rest of December’s promotions. Their giveaway is usually a souvenir coffee mug, and the crowd they draw consists of all ages and a near fifty-fifty split male to female.

Of course, the big day in December is the last day, New Year’s Eve. Flora-Bama knows they’re up some serious competition, so they have to step up their game to draw a big crowd. That doesn’t mean they have to do anything insane or too expensive. The bar features an all-you-can-eat buffet from 7:00PM to midnight to attract the large crowd they’re after. Also, to squeeze out the most profit, they offer souvenir sparkling wine splits rather than just pouring Champagne out at midnight. This translates to more bar sales and cuts down on overpouring expensive bubbly.

New Year’s Day at Flora-Bama means their Annual Polar Bear Dip. The promotion starts “at the crack of noon” and is a fantastic way to get people through your doors on a day that can be slow for bar operators. On the inaugural New Year’s Day of this event, Flora-Bama attracted a dozen participants; they now draw 5,000 people to their Polar Bear Dip (2,500 watching, 2,500 in the water). If you don’t have access to a water feature, consider your community, what’s around you, and create something anyone can get into. Reward them with traditional eye openers like Mimosas or Bloody Marys, and try “hiding” something that won’t choke a guest or crack their teeth. The guest who finds it with a bar tab, bottle of Champagne, or a gift certificate. Flora-Bama’s operators pointed out that if you purchase a Hawaiian getaway as a top prize in bulk it won’t break the bank.

There it is: the rest of your year and January 1, 2018. Of course you’ll have to do what’s best for your concept, brand and community, but much of what Flora-Bama does can be scaled up or down for your venue. Here’s to a successful second half of 2017!