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Lawrence-based Merchtable supports bands on- and offline

Left to right: Sean Ingram, Jim David, Burton Parker

If you’ve ever gone to a live band performance, you’re familiar with the merch table – the place in back where you can buy t-shirts, recordings and other band merchandise. Merchtable, a Lawrence, Kansas startup, has created a digital platform to extend the reach of on-site merchandising.

“We started in 2002 as Blue Collar Distro in Eudora, Kansas,” Co-Founder Burton Parker said. “In the early part, it was just screen printing. Toward the end of that year, our early partners told us they needed to sell stuff online.”

Working with the bigger bands in the Lawrence music scene, the company started down the e-commerce path in the early days of electronic payment processing.

“This can’t be too hard, right?” Parker said. “We were going into this fresh, so it was all learning on the fly. Luckily for us, it was quickly successful.”

Proximity to Black Lodge Recording down the street in Eudora also provided access to national acts.

“Ed Rose had a bunch of national acts in there working,” Co-Founder Sean Ingram said. “When they were done working on their music and board, he would send them to us. We serviced Motion City Soundtrack during the height of their career.”

Payment processing was in its infancy during this period, which created some complications.

“Back then, Paypal had only been out a few years, and we were using a different payment processor,” Parker said. “We had a successful Christmas, but after a certain amount the processor started withholding payments for 90 days.”

The pivot in branding and approach started when the co-founders noticed that no one had scooped up Merchtable domains. This led to a rebrand in 2012 and a decision to build their own custom shopping cart.

“That was the turning point, deciding to do all this in-house and create our own thing,” Parker said. “We completely cater to the music industry, and we have stuff unique to this business.”

The economic downturn in 2008 was an eye-opener for the company.

“That was a wake-up call that we needed to diversify,” Ingram said. “EDM (electronic dance music) and comedians started coming in.”

Now in its 13th year in Lawrence after moving from Eudora in 2005, Merchtable continues to provide screen printing and other production services along with the digital presence. The screen printing operation is run by a third co-founder, Jim David.

“Part of our business is online retail, but we still have our own production facilities across the street, including warehousing and cold storage” Ingram said. “We try to do everything through there so we get money on both ends.”

Merchtable now supports clients and customers around the globe. Shipping internationally has been a challenge at times.

“You may be a casual fan in Australia and pay $25 for a t-shirt and another $20 in shipping,” Parker said. “We wanted some other options so we worked with our shipping partners to bring down international rates. That led to a 40% increase in international shipments.”

Integrating the Merchtable platform with Stripe Elements in January has led to some dramatic performance improvements.

“We’ve seen a 190% improvement in conversion rates since the integration,” Parker said. “There’s been a 17% improvement in successful payment submissions and a 13% decrease in sessions without a transaction.”

Merchtable takes an active interest in the success of their clients.

“We really take a hands-on approach with our clients,” Parker said. “We’ll fund social media campaigns on our own dime. We believe in them and want to be a partner.”

This type of support, along with continuous improvement in the software platform, means one less thing bands and other clients have to worry about.

“If you’re a band, you’re going to have that help from someone looking under the hood, improving your conversion rate,” Parker said. “That sets us apart, something that’s unique for this business and optimized for it.”

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Rod Armstrong is the Vice President of Fundraising at AIM Institute and a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.

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