Located in an Industrial Park in Madison, Tennessee lies a business established in 1986 by a young man as a Junior in high school and his father. Jay Jackson, and his father created the business entitled Screen Play. Upon entering the building, the office displays many tee shirts and hoodies in different eras of country music artists including Patsy Cline, Kentucky Headhunters, Hank Jr. and many others. The office is very professional, spotlessly clean, and great lighting on their displays of sample shirts, hoodies and photos. Screen Play produces merchandise for performing artists, such as their number one selling product, tee shirts, as per information given by Jay. The business began with five artists. In the beginning Jay did 95% of all the designing, but with the modernization of computers and photoshopping, most merchandise arrives ready for print and production.
For the records, Jay, “What was the best year for your business prior to this Pandemic that has suppressed your business?” “It would have to have been in the mid-nineties with Tim McGraw, Randy Travis, Hank Jr. Pam Tillis, Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn. We had all these major acts in their hay day. Again, I would have to say shirts were the number one seller with caps or hats being second followed by the sale of koozies, key chains and bandanas.”
“Jay, before the Pandemic, who was your largest single purchaser of your merchandise?” Jay’s response was with fervor, “The largest single order we ever had came from Toby Keith, however our most consistent orders come from Tootsies Orchid Lounge. We started business with them in 1992 right up until now. It is amazing how lower Broadway has grown down there. Their business has been steady until this year. Businesses have had to close, close early and limit the number of customers that may enter their establishment, so with limited tourism, there is no one to buy the shirts and memorabilia.”
When asked, “How soon was it before the Pandemic affected your business?” Jay responded, “It was immediate. Concerts were cancelled and our orders were cancelled. May artists have ordered stock in advance and have enough merchandise to last for several tour schedules. They keep a truck load and probably still have a truck load. Most come by in their buses or trucks to load their merchandise. We don’t deliver merchandise unless an artist is on tour and runs out of merchandise, then we drive to their location and deliver it. Some of the artists that are still appearing do not want their merchandise handled by the public and then put back on their bus due to Covid.”
I ask, “Have you tried different avenues of keeping your business in service?” Jay responded, “I actually had to shut down for three (3) months. We are running a skeleton crew, but we are doing some tee shirts for restaurants with their name and the safety precautions taken by the restaurants due to Covid. Many restaurants, of course, have had to close or operate under strict guidelines timelines and limited capacity of customers. We have done some work for some local realtors, of course our regular business is not back, and we just continue to look for little things to keep us going. Our customer base is tourist business and concert artists. I guess I could say there are no tourists much and no artists touring or playing, and that is our selling base. Most companies that would buy promotional items and did buy them, are no longer buying because there is no one out to purchase them. Everyone is locked down at home and not going anywhere to buy them.”
Jay explains his plans for 2021, “I am just going to try to hold on and see what happens and what this next year brings. I just think as soon as the artist starts booking concerts our business will pick up as quickly as it diminished. The Pandemic didn’t just affect the artists, but Sound Men, Bus Drivers, Set Builders, and Merchandise Handlers. It really is a big business and I hope for a better year for all of us.”
Story by Jan Braun