Covid has created an outstanding demand for “normalcy” while simultaneously leaving global supply chains ravaged and the labor force depleted. And it doesn’t look like its stopping anytime soon. This doesn’t bode well for the merchandise industry, especially when it comes to live events. To put it simply, ‘Merch-ageddon’ is upon us.
At the peak of the “Tiger King Era” of quarantine, we became deeply familiar with the phrase “unprecedented times,” and as we head into a new era of live music and events, expect more of the same. On the surface, there are the challenges one would expect to see during the process of planning live events in the middle of a global pandemic–staffing, safety and security– but looming belowground is the impending and seemingly unavoidable tremor that the merchandise industry is about to experience.
The global economy is facing a supply chain crisis. According to Business Insider, there are currently 56 cargo ships sitting at the port in Long Beach, CA, waiting to unload raw materials and bulk items. This is the largest backup of cargo ships to ever go on record, and is up significantly from last weeks record of 44. Unfortunately, if you have worked in consumer goods for the last year and a half, this is just another day in the news. Gildan, a common staple in the merchandise industry, cannot even create blank garments fast enough to keep up with the rising demand. They are simply unable to source the yarn needed to produce their orders. Print shops are facing both labor shortages and a major increase in labor costs and raw materials as well. All while artists and merch companies alike are in a mad dash to secure printing press time, creating heavy delays in turn times and a bidding war for clients willing to pay more to push their projects to the front of the line.
As live music returns, the challenge of meeting my client’s needs has been nothing like I have experienced in my 10 years in the industry. In short, it’s been pure chaos. And that’s just on the production side. Once the artist merchandise is produced, the fight to get it to the show begins. Shipping carriers like FedEx and UPS are currently facing major delays, creating logistical agony for tour managers, merch companies and artists alike. Furthermore, rising fuel costs and a shortage of drivers is adding more salt to the wound by driving up costs of standard ground shipments while reliability is plummeting. Lines at the airport to ship goods via air freight are hours long, and local couriers are now being booked weeks in advance, leaving industry personnel no real affordable and reliable solutions.
So why not just print the whole tours worth of merch well in advance and avoid some of these logistical nightmares? Well, we are still in the heart of the pandemic with the Delta variant causing even more uncertainty. Every day a new tour or festival is cancelled. Every artist with a tour still on the books for the fall has undoubtedly had that discussion. What if the pandemic worsens, and they are forced to shut it down? What if a band or crew member gets Covid? Or what if the venues make the decision to cancel the shows? Artists that take the risk to order a full tour’s worth of merchandise in advance could be left with overwhelming debt if the tour gets cancelled before they get the chance to sell the merch. That means merch companies have to be hesitant to print any tour merchandise well before the uncertain dates even if the artist gets the order in early.
With depleted stock and backorder dates into November, it’s evident that keeping items in stock while on tour or even before a tour is only going to get harder the further we get into the fall. I expect the cost of raw goods, labor and shipping will continue to increase, and timelines will be even more delayed the closer we get to holiday season. If you are an artist, be prepared. If you’re a fan, don’t take that concert tee you just bought for granted. It’s been through hell and back to get to you.
Co-Founder and CEO, Absolute Merch