Richards & Southern CEO Terry Calonge spoke to MusicRow recently about his thriving merchandise business. “I love what I do and I wake up every morning supercharged because this is the most exciting time,” he says. “God has lined us up for this moment. And every time I say that, it gets bigger and better.”
It’s a growing operation.
Calonge: We recently bought 11 acres on I-65 at exit 97 near the Prevost bus company. We are designing a business campus with the main building set to house operations, distribution, production, administration and fulfillment. There will be a second building at the bottom of the hill. Plus, we have room for two additional 42,000 sq. ft. buildings for fulfillment and international distribution.
We’ve got a great crew of 45 people, with designers and logistics people who are the best in the world. They can move goods to a show in Australia in two days. My sons, Scot and Ryan, work with Luke Bryan and a lot of the younger acts. My wife Sheri is President and takes care of accounting and operations. We recently hired Sean O’Halloran to create video and still content, for example to post on Instagram. Sean also did a full-length music video on Julia Cole, which Richards & Southern paid for. The more we help our clients advance their brand, the more it is going to drive sales.
Retail statements tell a story.
Our job is to interpret an artist’s brand, and we do that by creating a retail statement. It is a group of merchandise that tells a deeper story about an artist. You can’t look solely at fabric or artwork. You have to put it all together, then step back and look at it from the eyes of the artist’s fans.
One of our very first clients was Cracker Barrel, and through that we learned about creating a retail statement or retail story. And as the story draws you in, you will be more likely to buy multiple pieces of merchandise. At Cracker Barrel, an example would be the John Deere table. At a Kenny Chesney concert, it could be a mini surfboard, or a No Shoes Nation flag.
Kenny Chesney has a fall-back career, in case this music thing doesn’t work out.
Kenny Chesney is one of the smartest marketing people on the planet. First of all, he is a wonderful human being. He cares about his fans and giving them something extra special every year.
Usually, Sheri and a designer will meet with Kenny at his home. And he already has mental images of what the title of that tour means to him. They all put together the images that are the retail statement—the store. Richards & Southern makes the concert assets—the big screens that cover the stage and the sound tower. Then the video folks bring those assets to life. Kenny directs every piece of that. He oversees the product line himself.
Because we created the ideas for merch first, all the concert assets lead right back to the merchandising stand. That’s one of the reasons why his per cap sales are so high. He will spend hours moving one little piece in a design. When someone spends that much time on the details, they soar past all the usual sales percentages. He sells more at the venue than anywhere else, but he also has amazing sales online. He doesn’t distribute his merchandise outside of his own outlets, to protect it and make it special.
Millennials love exclusivity.
As we’ve grown in the direct-to-consumer business online, we discovered the ways in which fans want to connect with artists. Merchandise is an extension of the experience of the show. Our job is to interpret the artist’s brand and to reach fans. So Richards & Southern offers different designs for different demographics. For example, Millennials and their parents.
Millennials want an even closer walk with an artist. They want to feel like they are having a genuine experience with the artist, like the tweets and posts are going to them personally. Millennials want to think you designed it for them and their friends personally. They want less of the names and picture, and more of the branding
You dream it, we can make it.
CID Presents is an amazing company and we work closely with them to give the fans who buy their VIP experiences exclusive products that aren’t available out in the marketplace. Whether it is a neon sign, a padded barstool or a hand-painted Adirondack chair for Kenny Chesney, we will make it happen. We have 145 clients and CID Presents works with a big portion of them. Right now we are working on freshening George Strait’s merchandise for Las Vegas, because some fans are buying VIP packages to every show.