London Summit: Coyote Ugly's key considerations before taking on the world

| by S.A. Whitehead
London Summit: Coyote Ugly's key considerations before taking on the world

As business plans go, Liliana Lovell's was a relatively simple one when she first wrote it on the back of a bar napkin. It went something like this:

Girls + Booze = Money

From that loosely scribbled foundation in the early '90s, grew a worldwide chain, movie subject and source of countless "great drinking stories," known as Coyote Ugly. 

And as Coyote Ugly Vice President of Development Justin Livingston told a crowd of restaurateurs from 17 different countries last month at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in London, that one-time New York City "hole-in-the-wall" bar with the loyal-as-the-day-is-long customers has today grown into something of a global phenom that now has people from Oklahoma City to Tokyo eager to dance atop the bar. 

But that didn't happen without global growing pains, and that was the subject of the closing presentation at the July event at London's Grange Hotel.

In a room packed with restaurant people speaking all sorts of different languages, Livingston explained the dos and don'ts that the chain's leadership has learned in the process of going global, starting with his tongue-in-cheek "suggestion" that "if you can get a movie made about your brand, do it!"

That major stroke of good luck — not to mention the numerous "media placement" opportunities it came with — catapulted the now well-known bar onto the world stage.

In fact, it was such a boon to the brand that even after expanding throughout the U.S. to meet popular demand, the chain survived pretty darn well through the economic downturn the U.S. slid into about a decade ago. Not only that, Russia called. And with the brand's leap to that nation, Coyote Ugly became a worldwide chain putting down stakes in seven countries so far.

Before entering the world stage, brands must ... 

Livingston outlined some of the things brands need to think about before going abroad. These include leadership's full knowledge and understanding of the following: 

  • what the brand is exporting;
  • how the local culture and customs affect it; and  
  • whether the brand and its leadership can change to meet local expectations without irreparable damage. 

As examples of these export "litmus tests," Livingston recalled receiving interest from Saudi Arabia, where Coyote Ugly would not be permitted to offer booze or include women. It was quickly nixed.  

But in Kurdistan, where "no smoking" establishments like Coyote Ugly would be expected to permit the culturally ubiquitous hookah, the non-smoking model of the brand clearly would have turned Coyote Ugly into Coyote Dead. So, with all other factors working, in Kurdistan, Coyote Ugly is smoking — literally and figuratively.  

The road around the globe is fraught with potholes 

Livingston said that a brand can encounter a number of problems on its worldwide trek. He advised not only knowing what these problems are, but figuring out ahead of time how to prevent them: 

  • Will global expansion suck the life out of current business success?

Among the many resources and additions that must be made to accommodate current and future international success are money and manpower. As Livingston told one summit participant who asked what he knows now that he didn't know then about going global, he replied, "How much it costs and how much time it takes."

  • Have you, or can you, put everything you know into a culturally matched manual?

If it's not already in the manual, the brand must be able to commit to getting it in, organizing it, culture-proofing it, translating it and having it legally reviewed, as well as teaching it effectively and repeatedly. 

  • Do you know your globalization goals intimately?  

Again, these goals must be part of a long-term strategy for the brand as a whole, which must know how to measure success and how to will detect and handle failure. 

  • Can you identify the right people to make it all happen? 

This means not only the local employees, but also the franchisees who sign on with the brand. Leadership must know how best to identify these key people, communicate with them effectively, train them and build the two-way trust vital to brand growth and survival. 

  • Are you ready, willing and able to take on the red tape?

To protect the brand, operators, employees, customers and investors, it's essential to connect with a great law firm — and a local counsel in the foreign market well ahead of time. Then, make sure that the franchise structure floats in that market and that you've done a thorough job pre-assigning costs to establish the brand there. 

Granted, there's plenty to consider before heading abroad — along with the outright anxiety the move can evoke. But Livingston's enthusiasm for taking a brand international strongly suggests that the results can be worth it.

Beyond that advice, he told the London gathering, "I pray every day for a [movie] sequel."

Feature photo: iStock

Inset photo: Networld

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Franchising & Growth, International, Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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