Futureshirts has been an atVenu partner for years, managing not only live event, on-site merchandise operations at festivals, but also handling tours and other pop-up installation events.
Having the unique role of being on the touring side of artist merchandise, along with the festival side of merchandise operations, we spoke with Matt Pih, the SVP of Touring and Live Events at Futureshirts about how he has helped grow the company to where it is today and some of his experiences on the road.
I have always loved live music, and in college I was in an awesome program called recording industry management, aka RIM (a music business program). I interned at booking agencies and saw people were on the phone all day every day, even in the bathroom, so I decided to go a different route with a management company. I covered tour publicity and worked a few live events during my time there. A lot of tours are based out of Nashville, which is where I was at the time, soI had an opportunity to do a couple of gigs and fell in love with it. I was drawn to the world of merchandise first as a touring merch manager, and I worked my way up to road manager and then tour manager. I eventually went back to merch full-time with major entertainment companies because merchandise was my passion.
I actually first worked for Futureshirts during my off season from an entertainment company I was touring with at the time, filling in as a freelance touring rep for some of their tours in 2017 while I was available. I fell in love with their team and process of truly putting the clients first, so I went in house with them in 2019 to help build up their tour and live events department. Futureshirts was so much more unique to me than the other companiesI had worked with before, which were predominately merch divisions of conglomerates. They had a kick-ass building with showrooms, were proudly independently owned and operated, and the vibe was just so fun and welcoming, plus they had some great tours and festivals at the time, but it wasn't nearly at the scale that it is today.
Oh man, I am pretty sure it was being the merch rep or tour assistant for Thomas Rhett back in2011. I literally drove the van that held all of the equipment and merch in a trailer hitched to the back of the van, along with the tour manager, a few of the crew, and Thomas Rhett driving with me. It’s crazy to think that was over10 years ago already, and how big he has gotten since. He deserves it! That was an amazing tour to have as my first experience on the road.
Inventory management. Pretty soon after I toured with Thomas Rhett, I was the merch assistant on OneDirection's Up All Night tour. That was a whole other ballgame. We had a semi-truck full of merch, plus a merch advance semi-truck ahead of each show, and oversaw all the inventory. I learned how important and beneficial inventory management can be quickly, and the importance of it is something I instill in my touring and festival teams to this day.
That's tough to answer. There were a few tours that were amazing to be on and all for varied reasons. One memorable experience was working with the secret service for the former First Lady, Michelle Obama's: Becoming book tour. The tour itself was amazing to see and be a part of because it was not just about the book, but the unique speakers and unscripted conversations she had at every event. The demographics of the fans were from all over, and it was such a historic event that everyone wanted to be a part of. It was a phenomenal environment to be in, and the merchandise was not just books, but everything, and fans loved it!
It was incredibly hard! I think we had 1 or 2 artists with shows in that year and a half, so we had to adapt. Hell, my team worked in e-comm shipping out packages or made and sold masks with me. I made masks on an industrial laser machine fora good chunk of that time! We still were making cool products for artists, but we shifted our focus to D2C and e-commerce solutions to get by. All our e-commerce numbers went through the roof then! The main product addition was cotton face masks, making them branded for our artists and other companies to sell online, and they were very popular.
The most notable change was that we started doing print on demand in-house. That was one of the biggest changes that came out of COVID for our company and is something we still offer today.
I know touring sounds like it is all fun as you travel around the country or around the world, but touring is still a professional work environment. You put in VERY long hours, and it honestly isn't for everyone. You must have a unique perspective and personality to be able to handle everything thrown at you on the road. You have 12 people on each bus from all walks of life, different perspectives, different personalities, different ages, and they are all your roommates and coworkers for months at a time. I've had some of the most fun times of my life while on tour, the different cultures you experience, the comradery with your tour families, and I want people interested in touring to remember that it is a hell of a lot of work you put in as well, but it can be so very rewarding!
Being on tour is a one-of-a-kind experience, in the best way possible. I learned a lot in a short amount of time. Having had various roles all over the world ranging from merch manager to road manager to tour manager, I've learned what is important to each of them and what they need from me now as the merch company. In joining Futureshirts, I’ve been able to provide a unique perspective based on the kind of touring that I did, from clubs to stadiums, and build a team around that.
Haha, yeah, that is what I am told I am like. I would guess it is just from my experiences on tour and having been in a lot, if not all the roles, that we work with for tours and festival merchandise. When I am talking to the road staff, my tour admin team, or our festival on-site teams, their day-to-day plans aren’t the same, and knowing that has definitely helped with making sure I am never wasting their time and knowing exactly what they need. If I have the time, I’ll always jump in with selling merch behind the stand, loading boxes on the trucks at the office or whatever it is. I’m not afraid to get dirty! There is nothing I would ask of my team that I wouldn’t do myself. There are always hiccups, regardless of the event or artist, and there will always be some type of emergency you must deal with. Going into it knowing that there will always be something, I would say I am pretty calm and rather focused on finding a solution.
Absolutely! We’ve had growth across the board internationally.Being based in Nashville, our biggest genre of artists was naturally country, which perform in Canada often and sometimes over in Europe. In the last few years, we have grown so much and have so many genres from rock to pop, classic rock, EDM, K-Pop, metal, even Nordic folk, to comedy with Bert Kreischer and Chris Rock joining our family this summer. We have so many genres, and I love it!Internationally, we used to have just one-off artists or the occasional tour in the UK or other areas of Europe. This year, we have quite a few tours in UK,Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia, with even more tours all over the world next year as well.
Honestly? Patience. Although our sellers' goals are to finish the sale, ensure the line is moving as quickly as possible, and help give fans the best experience possible, that ‘quickness’ depends on the fans mostly. You may get someone who knows what they want or someone who wants to look at 10 different items, try them on, feel them, compare them, and then return them all and ask for something different.Being able to not only get them what they need and ring up their transaction, but to answer any and all questions, regardless of how ridiculous some of them are is important. That’s one of the reasons tipping at merch booths is so important, in my opinion. The merch folks deal with a lot, and I haven’t even mentioned all the other aspects of their job, selling is just a small part.
What is on display is all we have. Despite what many fans think, there is no secret menu or ‘back’ where we have the better merch. What we have on display is what we are selling. We honestly want to sell all the merch we have, so stop asking “What else ya got back there?” There is no back! Haha!
For any of our tour launches, newer artists or major festivals, I go onsite to ensure everything runs smoothly and to be present if they need anything. I’m actually at Red Rocks right now for the Bert Kreischer show since we recently added him to our Futureshirts family and want to make sure everything is all set up, and they have everything they need. I’ll go to Journey shows when I can, as well, since I toured with them for years and now work as their Account Manager at Futureshirts. We now have a large team with dedicated Managers that watch after the road staff and each tour or live event so if I’m not at a tour launch or a festival I can trust that one of my team is there to ensure things are going smoothly for our clients. We’ve built our team up from having a few staff with a handful of touring and festival clients, into two very well-staffed individual divisions with touring account managers that coordinate the day-to-day from the office side, tour merch managers traveling on the road, as well as on-site festival teams all over.
One shift that I am starting to see and am very happy about, since I have always tried to bring awareness about it to our artists, is smaller product lines on tour. When I was on the road with one of the biggest tours in the world in 2018, three items made up over 50% of their sales, regardless of their varying product line sizes. In the last few years, that percentage has continued to grow, and with a lot of our artists, we are seeing them agree to having smaller lines, which often results in higher Gross Sales, quicker transactions, and added space for transporting.With smaller product lines, everyone is happier. I’m glad that more and more people are becoming aware that a larger product line doesn’t necessarily mean more money. Sometimes less equals more!
Well, we’re in the biggest year of the company’s history, with so many wonderful things happening.Recently, we added our Retail/Licensing division, which now allows us to truly call ourselves, Full-service, from A to Z on merch. We have all entertainment merchandise streams under one roof, and nothing is outsourced. We even have our own D2C fulfillment center next door to our offices in Nashville. Maybe we’ll expand our offices into new regions? I’m looking forward to what next year brings in this new wild world of entertainment merch!
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