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Moving Merch with Kelsie Powers

Guest Feature: Kelsie Powers

Most kids grow up and spend their summers going to the city pool, riding their bikes around town and playing soccer with their friends. My upbringing was a little different. I worked at music festivals every summer from the time I was in elementary school, and had sold merch at more than 100 festivals for my family’s business by the time I turned 18. Today I support the multi-million dollar festival merchandise division for that same company, Powertex Group. I learned at a young age how to harness the passion behind events to drive sales and generate excitement surrounding festival merch and have been able to build on that knowledge over the years.

Then came the year 2020. With the coming of the pandemic everything that I had learned seemed, at first, to get thrown out the window. But in looking back, what seemed an insurmountable blow actually proved to be an opportunity to learn and grow as an organization. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and 2020 reminded us how important invention and adaptation are.

Our biggest question, in a normal year, has always been “How can we increase average cart size?” and there have been some pieces of conventional wisdom that I have learned over the years that lead to a festival’s success.

Kelsie Powers

Give Guests Their Space. One best practice that continues to prove to be extremely important is allowing an open floor plan for the merchandise area. This lets guests shop around at their leisure and allows for more one-on-one engagement and the opportunity to up-sell. The wait times are more manageable, and guests feel like they are more immersed in an experience rather than just waiting in a line. By allowing for a more open space to merchandise properly, you can turn a normal tent into a full retail space.

Data and Analytics. Offering the right inventory and merchandise mix is another key concept that is important when designing merch for an event, to ensure that the majority of guests can get something they actually want. Demographics, past years’ merch sales, and geographic profiles are all a part of finding the perfect product mix. If guests can come in and find something not just for themselves, but their family and friends as well, that ends up being a win.

Strong Marketing Presence. Finally, aggressively and creatively marketing both before and during events is extremely important when it comes to guest experience and results. Creating that excitement and drive to go straight to the merch booth when the gates open only escalates final numbers at the close of the event. Things like posting lifestyle photography across social channels, promotions run throughout the event, and stage announcements are just a few ways that the guests can be engaged. The goal is always to get as many people who attend the event to walk through our tent as possible.

2020 Dashed Conventional Wisdom. While all this has helped us see success in the past, when 2020 hit we knew we needed to find some new ways to drive sales. With all events cancelled or moving to virtual spaces, we scrambled to find ways to sell merchandise. Fortunately for us, as an online e-commerce provider, we were able to provide online stores to our festival customers to supplement their virtual events and make up for some of the lost event sales. Using our platforms, we were able to support the Winstock Festival in selling merchandise to fundraise for the school they support every year. It was the first time in their 27-year history that they used an online store to sell merchandise, making it possible to open up new avenues for fans to support the effort. With the Blue Ox Music Festival, we were able to integrate into their virtual event format, placing ads directly into the broadcast, and driving traffic at key points during the event. Our technology, combined with their agile approach to pivoting into the virtual world created a seamless and immersive experience for fans. Even during the pandemic, we were able to create brand engagement, interact with customers, and trigger sales online. While not quite as effective as an on-site booth, they each hit our projected sales benchmarks and helped drive some much-needed revenue.

It is clear that even when live festivals come back, things will be very different, and we will have to make some changes to be able to safely and effectively sell merch to the guests during a pandemic. That got us thinking again, strategizing on how we would adapt to the future landscape. Eventually we realized that the answer was right there in both our existing service offerings and in our original question; “How can we increase average cart size?”

Finding a Solution. The answer seemed simple enough, with our festival experience, infrastructure, and online store capabilities, we began planning our new offering for 2021, “Will Call Merch”. In this program, guests will be able to order online from the safety of their own homes, and then come to a secure location onsite to pick up their order during the event. As we developed this concept, it dawned on us just how many benefits this provides to us, our event clients, and the guests. We capitalize on excitement prior to the event and engage the guests before they arrive on site, reduce wait times, allow for fewer people in our booth at a time, offer more ordering convenience for the guest, gain better inventory control, and create a more socially-distanced path for interactions between guests and staff. Our infrastructure and e-commerce systems were already set up to handle what was essentially a pre-order model, making it a simple matter to transition to an online format. All we had to do beyond setting up the ordering infrastructure was to engage with promoters to send various pre-event communications via email, print, and social media to raise awareness and provide instructions on how to place and retrieve their orders. With a simple, coordinated messaging plan (ideally folded directly into core event communications), our marketing team could support our partners with driving engagement. We could tie the merchandise into the overall marketing plan and help to increase anticipation while making the pre-event experience much more immersive.

Learning from the past to make a brighter future. Working with various festivals around the country over the years, I have learned firsthand that this group of people is resilient. Looking ahead in 2021, we are excited to use upcoming festivals as opportunities to reconnect with guests and get back to what we do best; all while using what we learned in the unusual year that was 2020 to be even better. We will come out swinging on the other side and make 2021 the best year yet. See you out there!

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