Move Over, Margaritaville: John Rich Introduces 'Redneck Riviera'

Wendy Geller
Senior Editor
Our Country

John Rich has a proven head for business — in addition to building an empire as both a performer and a highly sought-after songwriter, the Nashville tycoon is well-known as winner of the 2011 season of "Celebrity Apprentice" (his victory even prompted Donald Trump to don a cowboy hat on air). Now, Rich has turned his creative acumen toward a totally new enterprise: A lifestyle brand and clothing line, which he launched this week.

The line, dubbed "Redneck Riviera" after a nickname for the Gulf Coast, offers T-shirts and caps slapped with cheeky beach/leisure-related slogans such as "Hang Ten, Y'All" and "Here for the Par-Tay!"  Designs are currently available for men and women, all with a price tag in the $20-25 range, and a kids' line is coming soon.

As Rich tells Billboard, he was surprised nobody had marketed the phrase "Redneck Riviera." Once he decided to launch his line, he carefully developed the concept, finally deciding to target a demographic of "people who work hard, and people who care about God, country, and their family."

And, of course, those who like to have fun and par-tay.

Capitalizing off of a Florida-centric music/beach lifestyle certainly isn't anything new — Jimmy Buffett famously pioneered the concept with his Margaritaville brand in the mid-'80s (he's now worth an estimated $400 million, with a significant amount of that coming from non-musical revenue).  And, more recently, megastar Kenny Chesney attempted to create a similar lifestyle brand in 2009, Blue Chair Bay, which kicked off with a line of leisure apparel. Chesney's brand proved much less successful than Buffett's, with Chesney redirecting his marketing efforts into a line of premium rums.

Although Rich claims he's done his research — he says he's working with marketing company Earthbound on the project — the fashion industry is notoriously a difficult field to enter and sustain. "I would say it is extremely hard to make it in the real fashion world," says fashion expert Claudine DeSola of Caravan Stylist Studio, whose job involves dressing celebs in everything from top designers to emerging hip brands. "A lot of people think they might have a good idea or a name so that will naturally sell product, and they don’t realize all the work that goes into it."

Although Sola believes Rich's designs might sell very well at a concert or online to specific fans, she is uncertain of their overall retail appeal. "I don’t see a store selling [Redneck Riviera] as a collection," she says, noting that he seems to have a limited reach. "I think his audience is going to be his fans, and with 150,000 Twitter followers does that justify a big enough market? I definitely think right now he is for that specific country-singer lover."

Still, if anyone could successfully reinvent the idea, Rich might be the one. The singer's overall success record has been remarkable, even in a town such as Music City where extraordinary talent abounds. Plus, the phenomenon of "redneck appeal" has reached epic proportions in the past couple of years (two words: Duck Dynasty), and the current popularity of Nashville in the media, film, TV, and music circles can't hurt his case either.

"I know a great idea, a great hook," Rich assured Billboard. Fine and well: We'll see who stays for the par-tay.