The first time Rainer Scheer put on a massive entertainment block party for 2,000 people, back in Sarasota in 2008, he worked day and night to intricately plan every detail.
But even with obsessive preparation, he made one costly mistake: He forgot to hire security personnel for the VIP tent, so no one stood by to check if people had the special wristband for entry. “People were just walking in for free,” says Scheer.
Making sure to hire VIP security is one of many lessons Scheer has learned in the unique business venture he launched eight years ago, while the recession was just beginning to percolate. The company, and the events it puts on, is Chillounge Night.
Scheer calls each Chillounge night the “ultimate cool outdoor lounge experience.” Each event has an array of music and dance entertainment mixed with oversized lounge chairs and canopy beds, hip lighting and plenty of food and beverages. Scheer makes money off tickets, usually around $20 a person, and sponsorships. “There’s nothing like this around,” he says.
Now Scheer aims to expand the party business outside of Florida, where he has put on 36 Chillounge Night and related events in eight cities statewide since 2008. He seeks outside investors and partners, hoping to raise at least $500,000, which would enable him to put on Chillounge Night parties everywhere from New York to California.
“I would love to find a way to put a show on in Bryant Park in New York City,” says Scheer, a native of Germany who moved to Florida in 2002. “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.”
Around 98,000 people in total have attended either a Chillounge Night or a more recent addition to the chill lineup, Cirque du Chill, says Scheer. Locations, in addition to Sarasota, have included St. Petersburg, Orlando and Boca Raton. Chillounge Night events, on average, cost about $40,000 to put on, while more complicated Cirque du Chill events can cost at least $80,000. That covers everything from permits to use streets and parks to food and entertainment.
All but three of the 36 events, says Scheer, have been profitable. Yet he says there’s little money left for marketing, which is one way outside investors could help grow the business. He thinks with enough funding, he could do closer to 20 events a year, and create additional themes and formats. More events, Scheer projects, would also help reel in national sponsors.
“The great thing with this outdoor party is that you get to create the atmosphere,” Scheer says. “If we had more money behind this, we can take it really far.”
Scheer started Chillounge Nights on something of a whim, when business stalled at the art gallery he ran on Palm Avenue in downtown Sarasota. Scheer wanted to create a classy, upscale event where people could just chill and relax. He flew to Jakarta, Indonesia, in late 2007 and bought three truckloads’ worth of outdoor lounge gear. His furniture-buying binge cost about $80,000 — an investment Scheer says would have cost at least $300,000 if he bought the goods stateside.
In the early days, Scheer rented Ryder trucks to haul around the furniture. Now he rents three semi-tractor trailer trucks, and he leases a 9,000-square-foot warehouse to store the furniture. “At first some people thought I was crazy, and it was a big risk,” says Scheer. “But I thought, ‘How can you go wrong when you put 2,000 people in the street?’”