Country singer/songwriter John Rich of Big & Rich Fame is expanding the venture between his Rich Marks branding firm and Acumen Brands to build the Redneck Riviera lifestyle brand through a variety of goods and services, including a bar/restaurant chain that will open in the Lower Broadway area of downtown Nashville next spring.
The Redneck Riviera brand launched in 2014 as a line of footwear, apparel and home décor, distributed by the website and a wide range of retail channels. The Redneck Riviera footwear line, launched last September, has become a top-selling brand across the country.
Rich, on tour this summer with Big & Rich partner Big Kenny, has produced albums and written hits with several country artists, including the No. 1 smash "Redneck Woman" with Gretchen Wilson. He also showcased his business acumen by winning the 2011 season of Donald Trump's NBC reality show Celebrity Apprentice. We spoke by phone with Rich, who was in New York to promote and build his Redneck Riviera brand, as he weighs in on the growth of the brand, the country lifestyle, and the Redneck Riviera mantra of "working hard, playing harder."
So, what are you doing today?
Oh, just bumming around Manhattan in a Stetson. Just seemed like the thing to do today. We're up here talking about my new brand Redneck Riviera and what it means to hard-working, hard-playing Americans, and having an absolute blast talking about it.
How is that landing in New York?
Well, people that work hard and play hard are all over this country, all over the world, for that matter. But, here in America, we know those are the people that make this country turn. Being the guy that's spearheading this brand, to me one big distinction about the Redneck Riviera line that's emerging is my brand celebrates the people instead of the people celebrating the brand. It's for those guys and girls who make this country turn, and to be finally bringing stuff to market and watching people's eyes light up is a really cool experience.
What's a product that exemplifies the Redneck Riviera message?
If you go to redneckriviera.com, you'll see stuff that's out right now, and other stuff that's coming. But right now we have a boot line that is now, officially, one of the top three selling boot lines in America, period. It's a really rock 'n roll American boot, you gotta go look it up, you'll see the picture and go, "dadgum, look at that boot!"
I never forget being a kid with $20 left over and buying a t-shirt, and you wash it one time and you can't put it back on. You've probably experienced that, it shrinks up so bad and fades out. Well, quality control is everything at Redneck Riviera, and no matter what part of the country you're from, it seems people are gravitating towards this brand. Case in point: we've now sold Redneck Riviera boots in 49 out of 50 states. For some reason, Vermont is holding out on me, I don't know why. So hopefully somebody in Vermont will read this article and order a pair of Redneck Riviera boots and I can say we've got all 50 states.
How will you expand Redneck Riviera as a lifestyle brand?
Right now, we're in the process of launching Redneck Riviera bars and restaurants, and I believe that's going to be a really successful chain. It's a lifestyle experience for people to come to; I've had people on Facebook, Twitter, sending me pictures from Lake Havasu [in Arizona] to the beaches of Delaware saying that's their Redneck Riviera. That's how I feel about it, I'm from Northwest Texas, and Redneck Riviera is everywhere from the beach to your backyard, it's wherever you say it is. What a fun way to live, and when you're ready to cut loose, what a fun brand to engage.
I grew up in Tennessee, and I've heard the Gulf of Mexico region, specifically Panama City Beach, Fla., referred to as "redneck Riviera," since I was a kid, so it's amazing to me nobody's latched on to that term, beyond just popular culture.
Yeah, it was incredible to me, too, the phrase "Redneck Riviera" has about 50 or 60 years of people calling it that. I guess the songwriter in me had always said that phrase, too, and I said, "man, somebody should really do something great with that phrase." So, over the past two years I've moved very thoughtfully and methodically, and wanted to bring something to market that really stood up to what that phrase stands for, and the people that enjoy it.
Good thing you didn't waste it on "Celebrity Experience," so you can keep the rights to it.
(Laughs) Yeah, ‘cause you know if you go on Apprentice, Trump owns 90 percent of everything you got, right? That's the deal. (Laughs) I'm joking.
Why Nashville for the first Redneck Riviera restaurant?
To me, Nashville is probably the most exciting city in the United States right now. We tour constantly, and we hit a lot of great cities, but there's just no energy like what's going on in downtown Nashville right now. And if you're going to have a bar and restaurant called "Redneck Riviera," I can't think of a better place to have one than downtown Nashville, so that is what we are moving on currently.
What are your expansion plans?
The expansion plan would be first you start in Nashville, and if they have as much fun as I think they're going to have with it, I think Myrtle Beach (S.C.), is a great one, Pensacola (Fla.) is a great one, Daytona. It's pretty much wherever you feel like those folks are hanging out, I would like to see a place for them to go. I'll tell you one great thing that's going to be in a Redneck Riviera bar: if you go to the back of the bar, there will be a small bar in the back that we call the Heroes Bar, a bar that serves Redneck Riviera Beach Beer and of course everything else, but if you're active duty military personnel or a veteran, the first Redneck Riviera Beach Beer is on the house, and I don't care if 1,000 of ‘em show up. All the veterans, all the active duty, are going to be taken care of, and that theme runs throughout everything we're doing with this brand. That's why I think it's America's brand. It's America's work hard, play harder brand, it's always been that, except now it's coming to a physical representation.
What about music?
I love the energy country music has, the old and the new stuff, but I really like it when you smash the two things together an make ‘em one thing. There's a guy named DJ Sinister right now, he's a good friend of mine, he's on about 42 major country markets on the weekends ("DJ Sinister and His Country Fried Mix"). That kind of energy in music, for me, it's what you turn on when you're on the tailgate getting ready for the football game. That's the kind of music. Of course, there will be a live music element, as well, because your friend John here, when I go there, I want to be able to get up and pick an old Don Williams song, or a Johnny Cash song, or maybe, "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," right? So I need somewhere to get up and play. All of my favorite elements will be represented there.
You had a quote in the Nashville Tennessean about Margaritaville being "where your dad goes to hang out"…
And I don't mean that disparaging, at all. Margaritaville is a certain demographic of folks that that's where they want to go and chill and sit down and hang. Redneck Riviera is more the rowdy, rural version of that. It's still a place you can bring your kids; I have a three year-old son and a five year-old son, and there are certain bars I would never take them to. Well, Redneck Riviera won't be a place like that, but it will have edges on it you won't see in other places. The Heroes Bar is a great example of that. Just the energy of the place will feel like when you said you used to visit Panama City and all that, just that feeling of "I get to cut loose for a minute, but we all know the kids are right around the corner." We keep all that in mind, and I think it's really going to become a great American chain of bars and restaurants.
Country music does seem to have more energy around it right now than I recall, and it's lifestyle driven. So it would seem that Redneck Riviera is positioned to tap into that. But will that translate to the bigger metropolitan areas, or is there and education process?
The reason country music is the biggest is because it connects the most. When you talk about a Big & Rich show, there's an energy about it because there's an American pride about it, there's an actual spirit and soul to country music. It is not flash in the pan, these are artists that make music for 10, 20, 30, 40 years sometimes. We all come to grow up with these guys and girls, these songs become bookmarks in our lives, we all know what those songs are to us. To me, when you work on a brand like Redneck Riviera, I want the experience to be a bookmark in their lives, too. It's the exact same thing, but instead of just a concert or hearing something on the radio, it's a place they can go any time they want. And, being a country music artist and a country music fan myself, I know exactly what that is, I know where I'd like to hang out, and that's how I'm going at the bar and restaurant chain, it's how I'm going at the boots, it's how we're going at the beer, all of it. And we're going to take our time and do it the right way, this is not a shotgun approach to Redneck Riviera. You will see over the next 24 months more and more categories of Redneck rolling out.
Is there any negative connotation to Redneck?
No. I wrote the song "Redneck Woman" with Gretchen (Wilson), and it was No. 1 for like seven weeks, which means it was No. 1 in Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Diego, any town you can name. I think "redneck" has become a term of endearment, there's rednecks everywhere. I had a guy walk up to me on the street here in New York and go, "I'm a Fifth Avenue redneck." I said, "what does that mean?" and he says, "I do high finance here in New York, but I like to go out and hunt and fish and hang out with my friends, and I love this country." That's it, it's friends, family, God, country, having a good time, working hard and playing harder, that's Redneck Riviera.