Maximizing Merch in a Challenging Environment

Maximizing Merch in a Challenging Environment

If you’re a fan of live events living in LA, chances are good that you’ve been to the legendary “Fabulous” Forum in Inglewood, CA.  The storied venue has seen its fair share of historic events over its 50 year run. Considered by many to be the birthplace of “arena rock” what really makes this beloved venue so iconic is the distinguished list of artists that have graced the arena’s stage over the years.  A variable who’s who of rock royalty.  

In 2013, Madison Square Garden Co gave the aging rock heavyweight a multi-million dollar face lift to help restore the venue to its former glory – kicked off with a 3 night run by The Eagles.  The goal – “to be the nation’s largest indoor facility designed with music as its top priority.” Part of the renewed commitment to all things music meant taking a hard look at every aspect of the live show experience, including merchandise sales.

“Like most folks in this industry, I was using bank credit card swipers and an old excel spreadsheet I had ‘perfected’ over the years to manage merch at all my venues.” says Ricky Stiles who oversees merch operations at the Forum. “For the bands playing my rooms, merch is a significant source of revenue not only for them but for the venue as well.”

Although Stiles, a long time veteran of the merch space, was running a well-oiled machine he was always on the lookout for ways he could potentially improve his operations.

“Excel is great for a lot of things but it is not designed specifically for managing merch,” Stiles says.

“There is so much more that goes into managing merchandise at a show than what excel is capable of doing - whether it’s advancing with the artists or allowing me to track sales in real-time. There is just too much room for error and in my line of work, being accurate is everything.”

The Challenge: Adapting New Technology to Improve and Streamline my Operations

Ricky knew there had to be better ways for his team to scale what he considered to be a number of very manual processes.  Regardless of what artist is in the room, it’s Ricky’s job to make sure they sell as much merch as possible while keeping close tabs on hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of inventory.

“I understand how important merch revenue is to these artists playing my venues.  If a box of t-shirts comes up missing at the end of the night, I’m the one paying retail price for it. If you’re not careful it can get expensive.  I want the best tools available to ensure I can manage this business to the best of my ability.”

Stiles, a self proclaimed “old school guy” who doesn’t consider himself to be “super techy” eventually came across atVenu when one of the artists reps he was settling with told him he was “off by $50” while staring at an app on his phone.

“I literally asked the guy ‘what the hell are you looking at over there?’ and that was my introduction to atVenu.  I don’t consider myself the most tech forward guy out there but if there is a tool that can help me do my job better and can help me save time and make me more money, why would I not check it out?” muses Stiles.  

With that in mind, he reached out to atVenu to see what all the hype was about.  He recalls being interested if atVenu could help him out in a few key areas he felt could potentially use some improvement.

  • Improved Accountability
  • Improve accuracy and speed of show settlement
  • Grow Merch Profits

Improved Accountability

One major factor in Stiles’ evaluation on whether or not he was going to ditch the spreadsheets was the ability to improve the accountability of his vendors.  

“Before using atVenu’s point of sale systems we had those old credit card machines so I was forced to add up 20 to 50 batches of credit card receipts which, in addition to taking me at least 30 minutes to complete, obviously leaves room for error.  If our numbers were off, it was challenging for me to identify what items were missing or which stand was short.

Now that we have implemented atVenu’s point of sale system, I can use the real time sales reporting to tell me exactly what each stand and vendor is doing at any given time during the show. And their stand settlement software even enables me to settle each stand individually so I can immediately identify where counts are off, by how much and if we are short on cash.

I can also easily attribute any shortages to the exact vendor which holds everyone on my team much more accountable.  We’ve seen shrinkage drop to next to nothing.

Not to mention it auto-populates the credit card sales so I never have to worry about wasting time consolidating those 20 different credit card batches again – which is heaven.” Stiles laughs.

By utilizing atVenu’s integrated Point of Sale system and proprietary stand settlement technology Ricky can keep close eye on his inventory and sales numbers in real-time which makes identifying and solving for shortages a breeze when it comes time to settle the show.  And if there is something fishy going on, it’s easy to locate the source. Stiles laughs that his vendors actually asked to be assigned a certain POS and own bank so if a stand was short, they could pinpoint exactly where it came from. “My team now competes to see who can sell the most merch each night. They take pride in what they do and numbers reflect that.”

Faster and More Accurate Settlements

For a small team managing millions of dollars in merch sales every year, every hour and every dollar is precious.

“As a venue that is selling on behalf of the artists the name of the game here is to sell as much merch as possible.  But it’s also critical that we keep close tabs on the inventory because ultimately we’re responsible for it. Nothing hurts worse than having a great night sales wise but at count-out your numbers are short.”

Unlike excel where you’re praying the numbers match up at count-out, atVenu’s sales and inventory reporting suite help you catch any discrepancies in real-time.  

“I’m able to see inventory remaining numbers for each item at each stand throughout the night so I now at least have a general idea of what my count-out should look like.  If our count-out number at a particular stand doesn’t match the number the register report is giving us – I know exactly where we are off and what we need to be looking for.”

Stiles also uses the reporting tools and stand settlement feature to improve his cash management on a stand by stand basis.

“If I see a stand is sitting on a lot of cash, I can do a quick cash drop which also helps me catch any shortages early on.  I can head off the problem immediately instead of waiting to the end of the show which also helps speed settlement up and ensure things are pinpoint accurate.”

Sales reporting aside, Stiles is also a big fan of atVenu’s standardized settlement technology.  Long gone are the days of having to manually calculate taxes, credit card fees, show costs, etc on a calculator or in excel which leaves plenty of room for a miscalculation or a broken excel formula.  These errors can result in the venue over-paying the artists.

“The less thinking I have to do, the better brother.  Once we agree on the count-out, everything else is on auto-pilot.  atVenu does all the math for me AND everyone gets their paperwork as soon as the show is settled.  I don’t have the accounting team hounding me for who they need to pay or where the check needs to be sent or for how much.  Everything they need to settle the show and pay the bands is in their inbox that night.”

Ricky estimates that if it weren’t for atVenu his crew would likely be there 2 hours later each night.  Getting his team out of there early keeps them happy and on top of their game. And the artist reps appreciate it as well.  “These guys want to get out of there as bad as we do so they can get onto their next tour stop. The sooner we can get them on their way with a settlement everyone feels good about, the better the experience is for everyone involved.  

In addition to giving his team and the artist teams hours back in the night, Stiles can also take comfort in knowing that no money is being left on the table.  “All the info I need to make sure everyone is getting paid fairly, that every item is accounted for and the math is correct is available to me in the atVenu system.  It’s made my job so much easier”

Grow Merch Profits

“The name of the game is to maximize our merch sales on behalf of both the venue and the artist.  atVenu has given me the tools to help me do just that.”

With over 8,000 of the top artists on the atVenu platform, one of Stiles’ favorite features is atVenu’s proprietary auto-advancing.  This feature enables artists to electronically advance their merch with a venue or festival in the click of a few buttons which takes a lot of the day-of-show setup work off his team’s plate.  

“Every minute we spend trying to track down images or prices or sizes is a minute we’re not getting ready for doors as well as we could be.  atVenu’s advancing features makes it super simple for the artist to electronically share with me what merch they are bringing with them including images, descriptions, sizes, prices, etc.  Once the artists have advanced their merch through the atVenu system, all that’s left to do is count it in and we are ready to rock. Everything automatically populates to the POS and we’re up and selling.  Saves me at least 45 minutes of setup time.”

Stiles is also a big of fan of leveraging the real-time sales and inventory reporting to help him maximize both his time and sales.   He laughs that he has learned to work smarter, not harder.

Now that we have implemented atVenu’s point of sale system, I can use the real time sales reporting to tell me exactly what each stand and vendor is doing at any given time during the show. And their stand settlement software even enables me to settle each stand individually so I can immediately identify where counts are off, by how much and if we are short on cash.

And the artist merch reps love it too.   They don’t have to worry about us running out of an item after the fact.  Plus I’m not wasting their time having them run back and forth to the trailer to get more merch every few mins.  We can be much smarter with our time.

Besides, I got bad knees, I can’t be walking 8 miles a night like I used to.” Stiles laughs.


When it comes down to it Stiles understands that it’s still about giving both the fans and the artists a top-notch experience.

“At the end of the day it’s our job to make sure everyone, artists and fans, have an amazing time at the show.  For the artists, concert merch has become an integral part of the live events experience and an important way for them to continue to monetize their brands.  On the fan side, it’s a great way for folks to show their appreciation for the artists and bands they love while taking home a commemoration of the special night they just had. That’s what’s most fulfilling for me.”  Stiles pauses for a second before adding with a wink “Plus we’re all able to make a little cash in the process.”