Q&A: Tim Haughinberry
Southern California native Tim Haughinberry moved to Las Vegas in the late-’80s to attend UNLV’s hospitality program. He wanted to open his own hotel one day, he said. Instead, after working many years in the food and beverage industry, in 2007 he launched his own company, Back Bar USA. The marketing and consulting firm specializes in implementing corporate and national beverage and marketing programs within the high-end hospitality and food and beverage industry. Las Vegas Magazine’s Kiko Miyasato sat down to talk with the owner and CEO about his Vegas-based company and its successes so far.
Where did the Back Bar USA idea come from?
I used to have my own brand; I created my own brand of rum. When that went out of business, I was literally unemployed. It went out of business and I was like, “What am I going to do?” So, I decided to roll the dice and become a consultant, and I was hired by some friends that ran Pure Nightclub back in the day and that took off from there. (I consulted for) Pure, Caesars, MGM Resorts. That was 7-8 years ago, and we’ve grown from myself into 30 full-time, 200 part-time employees, and it became a business. It became a great, beautiful business. We’re a gay-owned business. Eighty-five percent of my employees are from Las Vegas; about 60-70 percent all went to UNLV. We’re extremely diverse from LGB to trans; and 100 percent of the executive team is female. We have a cool culture at work. But I’ve pulled back, so I can focus on what pumped me up in the first place—I’m starting a new division, being more creative, meeting with people on a day-to-day basis, and sharing ideas as opposed to executing the day-to-day operations. But I believe that the reason I have any success is because of the relationships that I formed in Las Vegas. If I didn’t move here in 1987 I wouldn’t be who I am today. The town exploded. I was able to have cool jobs where I was able to meet people. If you work hard and you’re not a shyster, you can find success in Vegas.
Why do you think your company has grown in such a relatively short amount of time?
I run my business like you would run a restaurant. My sales force are the waiters, they go out, they meet the people, they give great customer service, and deliver the products as fast and hot as possible. The back of the house, the graphic arts people, the accountants, the human resources—they’re all the chefs. And then our client is the customer that walks in and orders a hamburger. So, as long as we could service our customer in the way that they ask and get them something back fast and hot—our company grew on that philosophy.
What are your thoughts when looking back on your successes?
You won’t really appreciate what you have till you sit back and look at what you have. So as an entrepreneur, yes, we’ve had fast growth, but I didn’t make any money till about four years ago. You need to reinvent, spend money on rent, computerize, modernize, hire employees—so I’ve never felt that I’ve been so successful that I’ve reached the comfort zone. As an entrepreneur it could all end tomorrow. As the company has reached where it is I’m able to go and try this new division. For the first time in my life, I actually feel comfortable doing that. I don’t feel like I’ve reached the pinnacle yet, but I’d say one of my accomplishments is just getting myself to a point where I actually feel comfortable about my own business. So how do you phrase that? One of my better accomplishments is getting Back Bar to an internationally recognized company that it is today and accepting that it actually is.
Any lessons or pieces of advice that you’ve picked up along the way that has stuck with you?
Yes, one of the most important things I learned is don’t fight invisible dragons. So you wake up with this fear that there’s this dragon, this fear that there’s something going on that you don’t know about. Or you wake up with this fear that someone is talking about you, so you spend half your time as you’re growing in life worried about something that doesn’t even exist or that hasn’t even confronted you. The more time that you worry about things that aren’t even in front of your face and real, the less you’ll ever get done in life. Don’t fight the invisible dragon. Wait till it’s a real dragon and it blows smoke in your face, then you deal with the f*cker! Quit worrying about what might happen.
You moved to Las Vegas, created your company here and grew the business—in your opinion what makes this city so special?
Vegas is just my home. From 21 years old it’s been nonstop. I’ve traveled to so many restaurants and hotels in so many cities and I always sit at the bar and I don’t think I can go three minutes without somebody mentioning Las Vegas. Then the entire conversation is about Vegas, this happens no matter what country I’m in. I just love telling people that Vegas isn’t just the casinos—Vegas is everything, from the university, to the sports, to the mountains, I just get pumped up. I consider Vegas my home and I’m just extremely proud that I was able to come here and that’s it’s actually taken care of me. I dig it. I just love it.