Cracking the Vegas Market


Why do some businesses that do well in other cities tend to struggle here?

It can certainly seem that way. Plenty of successful storefronts swagger into Sin City, assuming that by doing so they’ll have a license to print money—an attitude that leaves them vulnerable. This cockiness can come from wrongly envisioning Vegas as an unsophisticated market, something often cited as the reason we have no Ikea (the Swedish store recently announced it would finally plant roots here in 2016). Perhaps the infiltration of middle-brow chains says we’re an easy mark, eager to be wowed by the sheer awesomeness of this popular L.A. restaurant or that retail concept attracting the hipsters in San Francisco. And how could the A-list nightclub killing it in New York or Miami (The Act? Nikki Beach? Bagatelle?) not kill it in Vegas? Even original, big-buck concepts (Goretorium, anyone?) often fall flat.

So why can’t everyone replicate Spago’s game-changing success? The answer is complex: First, launching a business anywhere is a pricey endeavor, and our city’s most obvious and coveted real estate isn’t cheap. Further, Las Vegas is not as unsophisticated as it once was, thanks in part to a significant increase in the volume of discriminating, Black AmEx-swiping international visitors. It is they who have likely scored a seat to the intimate NYC eatery, so why would they patronize one here that’s 20 times the size—especially when their Instagram friends who tried the Vegas versions were truly #disappointed?

Most importantly, Las Vegas is no longer a dusty shell begging to be filled by out-of-state operators. Several local businesses have a firm market-hold they’re not willing to hand over to someone with a pretty PowerPoint and pricey eyewear. We have an established business culture here, and, for better or worse, our own “good old boy” network—one just as difficult to penetrate and navigate as those in L.A. and NYC. Plus, thanks in large part to the Gaming Control Board, businesses here must navigate a unique framework of rules regarding liquor licensing, age restrictions, background checks and “morality clauses”—all of which can frustrate, stifle and even intimidate those not accustomed to them.

Bottom line: If you want to launch a business here, it pays to learn our systems, our culture, our quirks. And even if you do all that, the odds are still likely to be stacked against you. Think about it: How many times have you walked into a new place and wondered how they’d ever survive here—only to return months later to find out they didn’t?

So, to Ikea, I say, “Good luck!” Chances are, you’ll need it.

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