« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2005, 11:38:36 AM »
Front page of the biz section of the Miami Herald today. His resturan is suppose to be fabulous.
Barton G's events made him an icon
BY JIM WYSS
Barton G. Weiss strides around the corner of a sprawling warehouse in little Haiti and throws open the doors to a room roaring with industrial washing machines.
''This is another one of those things I never really intended,'' he says, as workers steam-press linens and uniforms in the laundry he owns. ``But I couldn't find anyone locally who could turn on a dime and really understood mixed fibers.''
Over the last 12 years, Weiss has spun his obsession with detail into a multimillion-dollar event-planning company that shares his name, Barton G. His extravagant parties, often featuring his own pets -- including three giraffes and two chimps, have made him a South Beach icon.
While other event planners build their businesses around working with vendors and suppliers, Weiss has turned Barton G. into a vertically integrated mammoth. The company has more than 400 employees, its own fleet of trailers and more than 100,000 square feet of production and storage space. It builds its own furniture, sews its own tablecloths and set up its own flower trading company to feed its demand for six to nine million stems of flowers a year.
''My vision is to provide a turn-key experience,'' says Barton Gerald Weiss, 49. ``We don't work with other companies. We don't work with other caterers and we don't work with transportation companies.''
For all the flash and bang of his events, Weiss seems down-to-earth -- particularly for someone chauffeured around in a top-end BMW. With rolled up sleeves and a quick smile, he sports a brand of laid-back luxury that blends nicely with the two-story townhouse in the Design District serving as headquarters.
It's there the company dreams up and organizes more than 450 events a year -- everything from intimate weddings on South Beach to corporate galas for 10,000 in Minneapolis.
It's a lucrative niche. Corporate event-marketing alone is worth $15 billion to $20 billion a year, according to Michael Hughes, the associate editor of Tradeshow Week, a journal that follows the industry.
''The overall industry is so vast and fragmented it's hard to get your hands around,'' he says. ``But it's estimated in the $60 to $80 billion dollar range when you include attendee spending and economic impact.''
Weiss is reluctant to talk hard numbers, but a Forbes article in 2000 reported Barton G. had sales of more than $25 million (an estimate he calls ``aggressive''). And according to public documents, the company has local sales of between $20 and $50 million.
What Weiss will say is that he is expecting growth of about 30 percent in 2006. The company has not taken on debt and does not have investors, he says.
''All we have done is strictly by self-propelling,'' he says with a touch of pride. ``I started literally in a spare bedroom in my rental.''
Actually, Weiss' career started on ice. A professional figure skater, in the 1980s he grew weary of life on the road and started working as a production designer in New York. He conjured up costumes and sets for television and film, and worked with the likes of Cher, Whitney Houston and Liza Minnelli.
Then, in 1993 he packed his bags and moved to Miami with the intention of slowing down.
''I was going to freelance, Rollerblade and eat healthy,'' he says. ``That never happened.''
His holiday was cut short when he was recruited to choreograph the opening ice-skating spectacle for the Florida Panthers hockey team. Shortly thereafter, he threw a party for an AIDS foundation, and business hasn't stopped since.
Anyone who has ever stumbled into Barton G's world is likely applying for citizenship.
The company is famous for throwing soirees ranging from the über elegant (it owns Gianni Versace's personal custom-designed china) to the over the top (Weiss has set beaches on fire, let African elephants roam free on Miami Beach and turned the Design District into a hedge maze all in the name of corporate promotion.) When he opened his own restaurant, Barton G., on West Avenue in 2002, guests were greeted by his giraffes, chimpanzee Sabrina (now deceased) and a French burlesque troupe -- not to mention live performances by Gloria Gaynor and a bevy of other disco stars.
For the last decade, Barton G has also designed, built and staffed the hospitality tents on the PGA tour, complete with hardwood floors, linen napkins and flowers. The same goes for the FedEx tent that has materialized at the Orange Bowl for the last 10 years.
About 30 percent of Barton G's business comes from sporting events. An equal amount comes from social events such as parties and weddings, and the rest from corporations. As corporate America looks for edgier ways to connect with its customers, that segment of the market is booming, Weiss said.
To kick-off a mega mall and sports complex in New Jersey last fall, Barton G. workers turned a pancake-flat parking lot into a ski slope. At showtime, a snowboarder swooped down, did a mid-air back flip and skidded to a stop in front of then-Gov. James McGreevey.
It took four days to lay on the snow, and just hours for it to melt away. But the PR stunt made The New York Times.
It takes a fair amount of discipline to pull off such outrageous stunts, and Barton G. appears to both have it and demand it.
''He has high expectations and is a meticulous person, just like I am,'' says Dan Vazquez, president of All Over Miami, one of about 20 local competitors to Barton G. ``I'm tough, but so is he.''
He also seems to enjoy going out on an artistic limb. For one event for the Rubell Family Collection, a Miami museum, Barton G. flew in an opera company from Italy. For another, he suspended lilies in tanks of liquid to echo the work of artist Damien Hirst.
''He's a very artistic and creative person himself,'' says Rubell curator Mark Coetzee. ``I think he gets excited by being able to create these fantasies for people.''
Things haven't always run so smoothly. In July, military supplier DHB Industries took the company to court and accused it of price gouging. According to DHB, Barton G. tried to add $25,000 to their $91,000 bill by moving their corporate party at the last minute to Casa Casuarina -- the former Versace mansion where Barton G. has an exclusive catering contract.
Earlier this year, a party Barton G. organized for hip-hop mogul Sean ''Diddy'' Combs that featured six penguins in a plexiglass box earned the celebrity a public chastising by animal-rights group PETA.
Weiss comes to a stop at his warehouse in front of a team of muralists working on eight jungle-themed canvases.
''If it were up to me I would spend all my time here,'' he says almost wistfully.
The warehouse is where battalions of carpenters, metal workers and seamstresses churn out everything from lampshades to serving platters. In the upholstery and Formica workshops, artisans create bar tops and overstuffed couches. In a nearby warehouse is the party arsenal: more than 5,000 chairs and enough china place settings to seat 1,500.
''If you ever have an intimate dinner party for 4,500 it wouldn't be a problem,'' he says.
It's a set up that's not common in the industry, said Mary Power, the CEO of Convention Industry Council, a federation that represents more than 17,000 event-planning companies.
''You might find that some of the larger convention planners have their own registration staff and sign makers,'' she says. ``But most people don't have the resources to own all that, so a lot of them rely on alliances and preferred vendors.''
During a recent event in San Francisco, Barton G. trucked out everything from plants to waiters. Weiss has more than a dozen trailers used to project his forces across the country.
He also has a voracious appetite for staff. Recently, he launched an international search for a cake artist, and eventually found her in Toronto. Her work will ultimately make its way to one of Barton G's catered events or his restaurant, with its three-level gurgling chocolate fondue fountains.
There are, of course, disadvantages to doing it all yourself. Unlike Barton G., All Over Miami employs only seven full-time people and worked with 250 subcontractors last weekend for White Party. Vendors and partners offer the newest in their fields and allow for variety, says president Vazquez.
''It gives us the ability to look at several different sources for one solution,'' he says. ``If you do everything inhouse, you only have one source.''
Back at his office, Weiss is sitting at the head of a large marble dinner table, next to a picture window that looks into his research and development kitchen.
Despite having created a fantasy land around him, Weiss wants more.
He's leased space for another restaurant in Miami's Upper Eastside. He wants to play an ''active'' role in Las Vegas by 2007 and is searching for more space in Miami to expand. The dollar signs are there, but Weiss claims that's not the biggest part of his drive.
''My creative side and my business side are always fighting with each other,'' he says. ``But my creative side always wins.''