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‘Lagos is the right city for Hard Rock Cafe’




The stage is set. The sound of the band warming up is a comforting backdrop as anxiety and excitement fill the air. There are dozens of people scattered around the impressive space, all of them busy. Busy cleaning, busy pacing, busy checking their phones. There’s a ripple of excited chatter as a few people cast looks at a dapper looking Banky W. Everyone is waiting.

A man strides in flanked by four men. He has a serious expression. As the other men take in the surroundings he slips off by himself. He lays his jacket down on a chair and starts doing the rounds. He walks briskly, eyes darting from the left to the right as he takes everything in. He must have done this dozens of times all over the world, but today his eyes are on Lagos.

The man is Hamish Dodds, President and CEO of Hard Rock International, one of the world’s most recognised companies, with cafes, hotels and restaurants in 69 countries. Now owned by the Seminole tribe of Native Americans, Hard Rock was launched in 1971 by two Americans who wanted to bring a taste of America to London.

The company is well known for its collection of music memorabilia which started with a single Eric Clapton guitar and has risen to around 80,000 items. It is arguably the largest music memorabilia collection in the world and is displayed at Hard Rock locations around the globe.

Dodds is in Nigeria for the official opening of Africa’s third Hard Rock Cafe: Hard Rock Cafe Lagos. “I thought the traffic was wonderful,” he says of his first few hours in the city. “The people are incredibly friendly. My general observation is that there’s a lot happening here. Everyone’s going around doing stuff there’s noise, activity and commerce happening…Our partner found a great location here with a great view.”

The two-floor building is a lovely space, with indoor and outdoor seating, a swimming pool, an indoor and outdoor bar and a spacious outdoor terrace boasting ocean views. Inside, in true Hard Rock style, the walls are adorned with memorabilia of musical greats; B.B King’s ‘Lucille’ guitar, Aretha Franklin’s skirt, Michael Jackson’s jacket, James Brown’s suit. There is a notable absence of memorabilia of African artists on display, Hard Rock is in talks with some Nigerian musicians and there is a wall for reserved specifically for Nigerian artist memorabilia in a bid to implement local culture.

That does not extend to the menu which will remain predominantly American. “Our philosophical approach is to meet most consumers expectations, this includes food which is casual American cuisine,” he says. “Philosophically, because we’re a global brand, we do encourage our local partners to include local cuisine but we want our menu to be consistent.”

After successful ventures across the globe, it was inevitable Hard Rock would attempt to replicate its success in Africa. “We’re growing in South America, Asia and Eastern Europe,” he explains. “Africa is one of the markets that’s developing and we’re really turning our attention to Africa more strategically. The continent is young and energetic and that’s where we would like to be from a brand point of view so it’s really about identifying the right brands and the right cities.”

For Dodds, Lagos is the right city, “This is where the large critical mass of people and economy are,” Dodds continues. “I think everything sort of gravitates around the trade and the commerce that happens around here so it makes sense. It’s also easier for us to attract a more global audience.”

Lagos is a test of sorts, if successful there’s no reason to think an expansion would be far off “We don’t want to commoditize our brand by putting ourselves everywhere. we’re not a McDonald’s or a Starbucks, ” he says. “In the short term we’re opportunists, we’re looking to see if the right opportunities come up. It really depends if we find right investor profile, the right location and whether the market can absorb the kind of quality of the product we want to put into the market.”

Given the current state of the Nigerian market, why would the decades-old chain choose to invest at such a turbulent time? “We’re a 44-year-old brand, he says. “I see a huge turbulence in the market, because of in oil price, disease, many other things. You can’t run a business based on this, you have to have a long-term view. We look at the Nigerian market as a partnership, we are looking at the long-term investment in Lagos. We’ve just got to figure that over the long haul things will be okay.”

There’s more hustle and bustle as VIPs start to arrive for the famed guitar smash, a ritual that marks the official opening of a Hard Rock Cafe, so what does Dodds see as the future of Hard Rock Lagos? Our brand mission is to create experiences that rock,” he says. “In Lagos we really want customers to walk away feeling lie they’ve had a good time, Great food, great service, a great experience. That’s the ultimate goal. We’re quite unique and we’ve been able to do that consistently around the world.”

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