West Exchange, a cluster of bars in one central location in the Stockyards, recently closed down after being open for barely three months. Sounds tragic, but, based on the backstory, it wasn’t entirely unexpected.
Earlier in the year, Spencer Taylor, he of Billy Bob’s Texas fame, led an investment group that he said would spend about $2 million gussying up buildings that had seen better days. The unspoken goal: to provide an escape from the young, largely Latino, hip-hop crowd that has seemingly taken over the area. But Taylor not only didn’t know what he was doing, he also didn’t have a solid, well-researched business plan.
The concept isn’t inherently flawed: Charge customers about $5 for access to six different clubs in one place. City Streets, which offers four different kinds of clubs for one cover charge, is thriving, has been for years. Maybe West-Ex’s main problem was that all of the clubs were pretty much the same. They looked the same, played the same kinds of music (mainstream country or classic rock only), and catered to the same type of customers – tourists and other people who preferred clean-and-safe to downhome-and-funky. Basically, older, married, white folks.
Everyone knows that, in the bar business, older crowds come in early, leave early, and never let the partying get out of hand. How often do you see white fiftysomething professionals drinking or dancing ’til exhaustion? Conversely, for better or worse, how often do you see barely legals going hard until last call? Every night, at least? Young customers have the energy to stay late, party hard (and spend a lot of money), and still be able to get to work on time the next day; probably extremely hung over, but still.
Taylor also made bad business decisions. According to some investors and consultants who were brought in to help right the project, no one at West-Ex was paying attention to the money. “I asked to see a [profit-and-loss] statement, and [West-Ex] couldn’t even produce one,” said one bar consultant who doesn’t want his name used. Having a profit-loss statement “is just basic business,” he said. “You have to know what is coming in and what is going out.”
Philip Murrin, a Stockyards businessman, has taken over operations. He calls the plan that Taylor put forward “a complete and total misfire, and we are going to go forward to see what we can salvage.” The misfire actually began before the clubs even opened in June. According to several sources, Taylor burned though all of the investors’ money – several hundred thousand dollars – before the first customer was even served. Most of the dough was blown on a huge office staff with cushy salaries. The rest was eaten up by mega-sound systems and way too many flat-screen TVs. Several contractors also said that Taylor didn’t pay them for their work. He had run out of money.
Taylor was banking on recouping some expenses through VIP memberships, as if his target audience – rich cowboys and cowgirls – aren’t already members of country clubs, don’t already have box seats at Texas Stadium, or would rather haunt six nightclubs at once than go to The White Elephant, Fred’s, some other homey, truly Western joint, or, really, anywhere else. Taylor figured he could sell 500 memberships and rake in about $250,000. As we can all imagine, he didn’t even come close.
Taylor, who stepped up willingly enough when Fort Worth Weekly did a cover story on West-Ex a few months ago (“Spencer’s Last Fling,” June 6, 2007), didn’t respond to calls for comment. Murrin said that the investor group to which he belongs “wants to make West Exchange a little more Western” and hopes to have some of the clubs reopened by the end of the month. But it won’t be easy. Murrin said that several of the clubs have been broken into over the past week and that burglars got away with flat-screen TVs and DJ equipment. The investors are offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to recovery of the equipment. Anyone with any info can call Murrin at 817-625-8600. – Dan McGraw
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