From Music to Design | Pat McBride of McBride Company

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Through years of interviews, MiND has seen the crossover between retail and other creative artistic industries inspire and influence merchandising and the shopping experience. Pat McBride, CEO and Founder of The McBride Company is an iconic example of this. Extremely successful within the music industry, Pat McBride launched a creative concept and design firm working with hospitality, leisure, and entertainment brands to create unique destinations and experiences.

With over 30 years of history working with numerous brands, Pat shares some insight on the start of The McBride Company and to what the future will hold for them.

“Originally I was a part of the rock band, ‘New Colony Six’ and we were fortunate enough to have a couple of top records in the country. I expanded from there into producing records for rock bands and children’s records, and I got to work with some truly amazing people. I eventually started producing music and sound effects for entertainment venues.. Even though I was just doing the music for these companies or brands, I would talk about ideas for attractions, or how a museum exhibit needed to be more dynamic and exciting. Suddenly I had a reputation as a designer, even though I had no academic background or experience in design. I responded to this reputation by forming a design firm, The McBride Company. After a few homegrown projects in the beginning, we’ve had great opportunities to spread our wings into all different areas of entertainment, retail and hospitality.”

Music is extremely important in retail environments and can be used to set a mood or tone of any space. The McBride Company is still using their musical roots today in all facets of their design work.

“Music is still very much a part of our work. One of my sons, Ryan, is a sound designer for the film industry. He’s done a lot of work for Pixar and Sony amongst others. We have studios and offices, for both design and audio, in Vermont. Touch, music and fragrance are all emotional triggers that can affect the way you react to an environment and interact with elements within that environment. They can motivate people. Just like in a film, a sound designer can add drama and anticipation to an experience. My background in music helps me connect with clients too, because I understand how music and unique atmospheres can help play a role in the consumer’s experience of a destination or attraction.”

“Music is still very much a part of our work.”

The similarities between creating music and design spaces are endless. Pat notes that the creative worlds are very much aligned and allow for inspiration in both.

“The creative world is very close. Even if you can’t draw, which I can’t – an appreciation for and understanding of fine art, color, emotion and composition are there. For many people, the transition from music into design is a very natural one. Drama and music are closely akin, and we actually think of design in that way. Even when there is no music involved in the destination we’re designing, I am thinking of it like a composition; I’m thinking of the space and the energy.”

Because of their background in music, The McBride Company has had the opportunity to work with the likes of Margaritaville, a well-known Jimmy Buffett inspired brand, for over 15 years. They have also worked on creative design concepts for restaurants, casinos, hotels and outstanding resorts.

“We’re in an era, as a company, of very specific and niche projects. To be successful at the type of work we do, we have to have a team who understands how these elements work together as a whole – graphic design, architecture, interior design, specialty features, performance and experience – and knows how to bring them all together, whether it’s for a retail shop we’re doing, or a restaurant or boutique hotel. When we started working with clients like Margaritaville and Hard Rock Café, I think they felt that we ‘got it.’ We understood their customers; we understood why they were doing what they were doing. And most importantly, we were going to work with them to enhance the experience they offer their customers. Some other design firms believe that they need to make their own statement. That often fights against what makes the brand succeed. Our goal at McBride is always to appeal to the end user….delivering a creative experience.”

Previous clients have also included Disney, Hard Rock Café, Four Seasons Hotels, ESPN and much more. With Margaritaville, Pat has worked with them to help develop a plan to transition from music to restaurants to resorts to entertainment-driven destinations.

“For Margaritaville, we now have the great opportunity to help oversee hundreds of details in their locations, like collections of art and graphic design. These elements are more important today than even five years ago. In many cases, in the restaurants and hotels, we have tried to create spaces that escape technology.”

Hard Rock Café Key West exterior

Looking ahead, Pat describes their most recent retail design work with Pineapple Express, a cannabis company working to create a brand of cannabis retail chains.

“I think what makes it fun for us is that the design world is constantly changing and presenting new challenges. When Pineapple Express came to us, they were looking for a team who understood their business and would be capable of taking a creative approach to the cannabis retail experience. We knew the retail environment would need to feel comfortable and secure, because the product, obviously, is still a little taboo. To a certain degree, marijuana is like wine. There are different strengths, varieties, and tastes, so many of the future Pineapple Express customers will want to be guided through the process, but others will just want to browse on their own. To that end, we designed an environment that facilitates individual customer service, but doesn’t require it. We used warm wood materials to establish a comfortable, casual space, and we created unique visual moments that help explain the product. There are seating areas where customers can relax or have a laid back chat with a sales rep. The big focal point is a giant ‘mystic pineapple’ which functions as a magic 8-ball of sorts – you can ask it a general question, and the pineapple will provide you an answer – it provides a sense of fun that is appropriate for the environment.”

“Our goal in design is to make the experience appealing and appropriate. That’s our mantra.”

Many of the McBride designs focus on creating a holistic and unique retail experience. But we were curious about his take on the extra elements and gimmicks that can be found in a lot of retail environments today.

“I think every situation and brand is different, but I think having something special is important. It used to be, before the big era of brands, there was Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s and such. But now everybody wants to be a brand, and it just doesn’t always work. If there are five brands in the world shouting at you, you pay attention, but if there are five thousand brands shouting at you, you only pay attention to one. Our goal in design is to make the experience appealing and appropriate. That’s our mantra. Every situation has a different answer. You need to find an appropriate solution for every customer, whether it is a hotel or a casino or retail, you need to find something that works for them.”

McBride Company

When discussing the challenges that Pat faces, he noted there are pros and cons to having such a creative and collaborative team.

“Probably the most challenging aspect is that we have such a creative staff. We have architects and fine artists and writers and project managers, and they’re all very skilled at what they do. Sometimes we just don’t want to stop! We get to a point where the design feels comfortable and appropriate and that’s when we present it to the client, but it’s hard to get everyone on our team to shut down because we work off adrenaline and excitement. So like the manager of a sports team, when you have a group of creative people, you need to make sure that everyone gets playing time, but that the right people are out on the field. But always at the forefront is the goal is to provide the brand and the customer a successful outcome.”

On a day-to-day basis, you can find Pat coming up with original concepts while working with his team to realize and express his ideas. From start to finish, it is a uniquely creative process to deliver cutting edge retail destinations and experiences.

“I work with our clients to help discover and define their goals, and then try to figure out what the opportunities and constraints are that my team can consider to arrive at the best solution. I’m constantly talking to the people we work for to get real-time working information from them, and that helps guide our process. As time goes on, everybody knows what needs to be accomplished, and I try to take a step back for a while. That way I can come back into the process and look at the project fresh and question why we used a certain approach. I guess if there is anything I can’t work without, the answer would be coffee and a challenge. We’ve done five hotels and resorts and over 40 restaurants and cafes with Margaritaville, but each one is unique from the rest, and figuring out a way to accomplish that was a challenge in itself.”

few years back the team made the transition from their offices in Miami, Florida moving to the hills of Vermont in Manchester Center. We were curious what the move meant for a design brand like theirs, especially when most of their clients have a warmer environment aesthetic!

“We still have offices in Miami, with small offices all over the US. When we moved from Miami to Vermont, everyone thought I was crazy – how could I run a design firm in Miami from Vermont? From the way I look at it, my job is to create ways to encourage people to shop in my clients’ stores, have a drink in a specific bar, or choose to stay in a hotel because it has a certain appeal. The way you do this is give people a taste of the lifestyle they want in that moment. When I moved the company to Vermont, it was because I needed a change in my lifestyle, so I trusted that instinct. We came here and found out it was a change of worlds. We work all over the place, but fortunately, home is in Vermont. It’s enjoyable. I always say now, that when I’m inside my office I could really be anywhere, I’m so consumed by the work that I don’t really think about anything external. But when I walk out of my office at the end of the day… I walk into the beauty and lifestyle of Vermont. It recharges and inspires me every day.”

Looking ahead, Pat notes that they are exploring interesting opportunities that push their creative boundaries and delve into new industries.

“The challenges are pretty endless which is really what makes this so fun.”