Alan Philips and Josh Shames. Take two childhood friends, give them a few minutes (weeks or months), and they'll give you the marketing plan to make trendy restaurants, hotels, and casinos scorching hot. But that's just the beginning. Alan Philips and Josh Shames, the masterminds and founders of The SKY Group, a hospitality firm specializing in strategic marketing for the nightlife scene among other things, are branching out into social networking for event planning with the launch of Deluxe Experiences. And while some trends and hot spots come and go with a swig of champagne, the venture is new ground for the pair who've managed to keep their business running and in demand for eight years. We've got the exclusive interview with this dynamic duo on their past, working their to the top of the list, and their plan to revolutionize the nightlife scene.
What have your backgrounds working behind the scenes (promoting special events and the culinary world) taught you about the industry? Alan: Our industry is filled with some of the most hardworking and passionate people in the world. We put in long hours in kitchens, nightclubs, restaurants, hotels and always have to keep a smile on our faces and make people feel fabulous for their occasions. Most people have no idea how much is going on behind the scenes. You go to a place like a Casino or Disneyland and all you see is the window dressing, little did you know how much time, effort, planning, and energy went into your making your experience perfect. There is an Italian term, Sprezzatura, it means “a nonchalance so as whatever you do or say appears to be without effort and almost without any thought.” The true professionals, the best in our industry, are the ones who can make it all seem effortless for the guest, but still put in all the work behind the scenes. Josh: To the outsider, nightlife just happens. Clubs are just packed, good music is always being played, waitresses and bartenders are serving and pouring drinks and everything happens easily. Behind the scenes the amount of research, hard work, planning and tinkering is endless. In the hospitality world there is no such thing as perfection and all projects are works in progress. But I love knowing over 10,000 ppl from all over the world and from all different backgrounds with all different stories. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
When you started SKY, what was it like tackling a huge city like NY? Alan: To be honest, I don’t think I was aware it was such a huge city at the time. This whole path started in High School and I just thought this seemed like a really cool thing to do and it was my passion. That naiveté allowed me to approach some very successful people like Wolfgang Puck, Drew Nieporent, and Noah & Jason with confidence. Once I was involved and committed turning back was not an option. Josh: Growing up in NY it’s not as intimidating trying to take on the Big Apple as it may be for others coming from outside the NY. But trying to conquer NYC seems no easier today than it did 10 years ago. If anything harder today as we get more knowledgeable.
A lot goes into marketing, so for those unfamiliar with the job, what's a typical day like? Alan: That’s actually a funny question because when I started in this business people used to ask me out at events a lot, what do you do during the day? I would think, do they just think 1000 people show up and the staff all know what to do? In marketing, events, and hospitality more of the work is done during the day than at night. We like to refer to our marketing as “layered” and that means using many different methods to spread and reinforce a message. So basically I spend my day strategizing with my team, sending & designing marketing messages, and analyzing the results so we continue to get better. In between that, I eat Sushi Seki, Cipriani, watch movies, read, and run the reservoir.
Josh: The best thing about our days is that there is no "typical" day. The day starts and ends when we choose it to. There is no opening or closing bell. The blackberry starts to go off at 7 30am and does not stop until about Midnight. At which point we choose to stop checking it is completely up to us. We have traveled the exotic locales, and made friends all over the country and the world. The last thing our jobs are is typical.
SKY has a lot of big clients, how do you guys handle all of the work?
Alan: You know how they tell you that you should work to live not live to work? Well I live to work, nothing in the world makes me happier than doing what we are doing. With that said, it is far better to be great at one thing than be mediocre at many. We try to abide by that principal and focus on a few great projects at a time and do them really well. Also we have great people and strategic partners our partner Derek Feinman is incredible, he plans about 25 parties a week and my brother Jason Philips has just joined us to oversee business development and operations for Deluxe. Josh: We have big clients but we never carry a tremendous amount of clients at one particular time. We may only take on a few hotel clients at once single time, or a certain amount of liquor clients, outdoor spaces etc. We would rather turn down a potential client than over promise and under deliver. That is not what we are about.
Best part of the job? Worst part of the job? Alan: My favorite part of our work is the free booze, just kidding. I love when we come up with an idea and then see the idea come to life, like a name, a concept, or even something as simple as a electronic flyer. When people say something positive about an idea you had, nothing could be more exciting. On the flip side, the worst part is when they don’t like it because that is 110% on you also.
Josh: Traveling and relationships that have been built both personally and in business. I love seeing two people who are married or now have a family because they met at an event that we produced and organized. The worst part is that it never stops, but maybe that’s the best part.
Can you tell us about your recent projects? Alan: Our two most recent projects are Deluxe Experiences (DELUXEXP.com) and the Chelsea Hotel in Atlantic City. Deluxe is an on-line nightlife concierge and party planning service that is completely FREE to the customer. We have been working on it for about a year with our partner Andrew Fox of Track Entertainment, the founder of Clubplanet, New Years.com, and Wanttickets.com. It allows you to fully plan a party, make reservations, buy extras like Crumbs Cupcakes or Photographers, and send your invite all through the site. It is like a opentable.com for nightlife, but with a focus on service and personalization, we are committed to creating memorable experiences for our clients. In a few words, Deluxe gives you insider access, insider pricing, and insider service, with none of the hassle.
Josh: Cabana Club and C5 at the Chelsea Hotel is our follow up to the mur.mur project we did with the Borgata. Our partners Moodswing 360 and us are the only people who have ever successfully created a upscale and profitable Vegas/NY style nightlife experience in Atlantic City. The Chelsea is different than Borgata because it is an authentic Atlantic City experience that draws on the roots of the city as America’s Playground from its heyday. People have been reacting extremely positively to the authenticity and design by Shaun Hausman who did the Standard Hotels and Chateau Marmont. The clubs are beautiful and have both indoor and outdoor elements that overlook the city and the Atlantic Ocean from the fifth floor of the hotel. We are very excited about the launch of our euro/vegas style daytime pool party at Cabana Club, it is a first for AC and as GofaG knows is very of the moment.
Deluxe Experiences is an internet service pegged to revolutionize the nightlife scene, can you explain what this means? And, how did the idea come about? Josh: The way an open table changed the way customers make dinner reservations, Deluxe will change the way customers make nightlife reservations. We pretty much provide a free nightlife concierge to the consumer and work to make their event perfect and we do this free of charge. We like to joke around that we did not create the idea, the idea created itself. Between the SKY network and our partner Derek Feinman we deal with over 3000 events annually and knew there had to be a better way. We are the first company to properly implement the idea as a web based solution for nightlife reservations and party planning.
Alan: Deluxe grew from the idea that you want more than just an event or a night out. You want an experience; a memorable, personal, and stress free occasion for you and your friends. Never before has there been a brand or site that is solely there to provide great service the customer free of charge. Great service used to be a surprise, now it is an expectation. If you plan a birthday party in Manhattan, you would probably call 10 places and be on the phone for hours, on Deluxe you can plan your party, get the best deal, and send your invite in minutes. Additionally you can personalize your event with security, cupcakes, late night food, car services, hotel reservations, get deals on bottle service, all while sitting in your office.
What sets it apart from similar services? Alan: There are no similar services to Deluxe there are just parts of Deluxe available in other places. To get the service that Deluxe gives you from a concierge would cost $1000’s of dollars a month. Or you can go on other sites, email your event specs and hope that you get an email back. In this economy we believe people deserve SERVICE and VALUE, Deluxe gives them both and allows young professionals to Live Big for their special occasions without breaking the bank. Additionally there are no internet based services that provide you with the quality venues that we do, we have only chosen the best in their class, such as Goldbar, Marquee, Tenjune, Kiss & Fly, Empire Hotel Rooftop, Hudson Terrace, Cain, The Griffin, Greenhouse, Morgans Hotels and many more. Finally you can do everything from your computer, I don’t know anywhere else where you can do that, it is like a luxury Expedia for nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and event planning.
Josh: Other services are lead generators. The customer fills out a form and submits it to an email address. Our system works in real-time to check if the reservation that the customer has requested is available. We also have more pictures and information than any site on the market about the venues. I don’t know of anywhere else that gives you real info on door policy, dress code, bottle deals, inside info, specialty cocktails. I know Alan mentioned the personalization options, but he did not tell you about our experience agents. Not only can you do all this through the internet, we have Experience Agents, who for a small fee, will meet you and your party outside the club and ensure that you have no problems. How many times have you gone to friends birthdays and they have had problems getting in all their guests or the manager doesn’t have their reservation. With Deluxe these are a thing of the past.
SKY also launched Cabana Club and C5 at the Chelsea Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ. What was that like? Alan: If you asked me a year ago whether I would ever be back in Atlantic City this summer, I would have told you that you were crazy. With that said when our partners Moodswing 360 brought us this project, we had to do it because the hotel is really spectacular and Cabana Club & C5 are especially unique spaces. The Chelsea and it’s owners Cape Advisors are very forward thinking and have built a fabulous property with real style and sophistication, while paying homage to the local market. That combined with the incredible pool scene and restaurants by Stephen Starr have made this project extremely exciting.
Josh: Launching any business takes all the strength and energy our company has. We live and breathe it until we get the venue operating at the capacity we feel comfortable at. We were at Borgata so we know the Atlantic City market and we know how to be successful there. We love having to do market research in different cities as learning about the city, its residents and its history. It is an education all in itself.
Does marketing for a hotel differ from a club, restaurant, etc? Or, is it all the same? Alan: When you are doing a free standing restaurant, nightclub, or bar it is like being an only child. All the attention/revenue is being generating within certain hours from certain places, and you are all that matters. When you are in a hotel it is completely different because usually no matter how much attention/revenue you generate it is just never as much as the hotel or casino. At all times you have to be aware of the umbrella brand and your brothers and sisters, what you are doing is affecting everything else from like private events, spa, room rates, even valet. It is much more complex and requires an ability to see the bigger picture.
Josh: Marketing for a hotel is different than marketing for a club or restaurant, and marketing from club to club or restaurant to restaurant is different. The first part of marketing is identifying your target market/demographic and giving them something they want. The basic guidelines of marketing always remain the same but the way they are implemented change drastically from project to project.
What's next for SKY? Alan: Spending all of this time in hotels makes me want one. Look for new and exciting things from Deluxe in the coming months. Josh: Fortune and Glory.