BRAND MERCHANDISER MAKES AN IMPRINT THAT REACHES GLOBALLY
Recognized as one of the leading entertainment brand merchandisers in the nation, Goodlettsville based Richards & Southern is celebrating 51 yeas of success built on postcards.
The business started in 1959 when school teacher Bob Calonge and his wife Betty moved to Goodlettsville from Indiana. Calonge sold postcards and souvenirs during the summer months to help supplement his income for a growing family of four kids. Working throughout the south, he soon discovered tourism mechandising was a growing and lucrative market. Founding Southern Postcard Company on his kitchen table, Bob Calonge was a hard worker who later bought a company called Richards Novelty that specialized in the popular sports novelty of the day–screen printed pennants. Richards & Southern was born.
Now a third generation full-service merchandising design, manufacturing, sales and licensing company, R&S is serving major branding clients and entertainers worldwide.
“As the business grows and gets increasingly more sophisticated on the systems side, our core business is still t-shirts and pictures and souvenirs and hats—all the things it’s always been,” notes CEO Terry Calonge. “As the economy and the technology dramatically changed the entire concept of the way music is sold and transmitted, we continued to grow and assimilate new delivery models to keep up with the future of merchandising.”
So effiective is the business model at R&S that in an era of challenge for concert tours to get bodies in seats,
precise sales tracking shows R&S increasingly upping the per fan dollar ratio of getting wearable merchandise off the sales tables, into the hands and on to the bodies of concert-goers.
The Calonge family philosophy for R&S is simple. “The basis of all business is constantly providing great service, continually improving your product, and providing consistent excellence no matter what you sell,” notes Terry.
With a broad client base that includes an impressive array of corporate, non-profits, major tourism destinations, and schools, it’s the entertainment roster at R&S that reads like a Billboard music chart.
These days R&S merch is loaded on buses emblazoned (many of them with art graphics and bus wrap designs from the creative workshop of Calonge and team) with names such as Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn, Sugarland, George Strait and Brad Paisley. And that’s just the diamond tip of the music client roster that reads like a virtual ‘who’s who’ of country music. Alabama, Reba McEntire, Lonestar, The Oak Ridge Boys, Gary Allan, and Luke Bryan are just a handful of ‘name drops’ from the mega-star list of major artists who carry R&S generated merchandise.
“We are blessed to be doing many of the major tours coming out of Nashville right now,” notes Calonge. “One of the biggest features Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Josh Thompson, Easton Corbin, Justin Moore, and Steel Magnolia –all six artists on one tour and we are fortunate enough to work with them collectively and individually on the tour product development, packaging and delivery system.”
“Sugarland has a huge tour we’re ramping up for on the merchandise side. Another major priority is the Brooks & Dunn “Last Rodeo Tour” –which will be undoubtedly one of the biggest grossing tours ever.”
High on the R&S success chart is the development of a customer-friendly merch delivery system dubbed ‘Just in Time.’ “There’s a skillful dance a supplier has to do these days with their client base to figure out what their sales are actually going to be and to be able to produce product quantities that will match those projected sales numbers,” commented Calonge. We’re customizing costs and inventories down to a science. We factor sales from the shows against inventory and we can generate not only a full profile of exact sales but also an accurate merchandise report forecast for our clients that will be exact within a plus or of 2%.”
Housing a staff of 40, R&S is outfitted on-house with four full time designers and an art director.
With success opening the future ever wider, Terry Calonge is quick to credit wife Sheri for her role in the closely knit operation. “My wife deserves a lot of the credit,” he notes. “She’s the President of the company and she’s the one who has built all the systems including our internet fully automated store system. My older son Scot goes out and gets business every day—he has been on the board of the Academy of Country Music and is greatly responsible for the strong working ties we have with major labels such as SONY/BMG, Universal and Warner Brothers. Our younger son, Ryan is the CFO of the company. R&S as a company is 100% debt free and we operate on the basis of making sure everyone is promptly paid. Our philosophy is to make our vendors part of the corporate family.”
Ahead on the near horizon R&S has negotiations underway to handle merchandise for the national chain of Improv Comedy Clubs and a multi-artist roster of comedians. High on the company CEO’s personal list of exciting new ventures is the prospect of working on merchandise for the 175th anniversary in 2011 of the battle at the Alamo.
“For a kid who grew up in the 50’s watching Davy Crockett on Walt Disney’s TV program, it’s a huge thrill to think of our company working on the anniversary merchandise for the Alamo,” notes Terry Calonge.
“I am daily amazed that working folks like us here in Goodlettsville, Tennessee have been able to work with all the wonderful people we work with. It’s a blessing that can only come from God.”