Lawrence-based Merchtable plays the tune of an accidental tech company, said co-founder Burton Parker, but it’s proven to be a song of success.
Operating 200 online merch stores for such varied artists as singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, comedian Maria Bamford, avant-garde metal band Neurosis, and a host of podcast, DJ, dance and EDM clients, the business has grown to about 20 employees in the center of the country, Parker said.
Initially headquartered in suburban Eudora, the operation — then known as Blue Collar Distro (an extension of sister company Blue Collar Press) — revolved around screen-printed T-shirts and handling merchandise for bands on tour in the early 2000s, he said. But the business came to a critical crossroads when artists started requesting online retail options, Parker said.
“You have to remember we’re talking 2002, so if you wanted to sell something online, there really wasn’t anything like Shopify or WooCommerce or anything like that,” he said. “Believe it or not, some bands just used eBay.”
“There was a New York merch company that was founded by bands, and there was an LA one, and then there was us here in the Midwest,” Parker added.
With co-founder Sean Ingram in a band himself, the company had key insight into the industry it hoped to support, he said.
“Bands are writing music and releasing albums and touring. They don’t have time to be a web developer or deal with the hurdles of setting up a store,” Parker said. “That’s where we came in — making it easy and doing all that work.”
The company moved to Lawrence in 2005, and would eventually change buildings three more times as business grew, he said. In addition to screenprinting and facilitating online sales, the operation handles order fulfillment and in-store setups — along with offering marketing and other digital services, he said.
After years of using other companies’ software, the business built and debuted its own system in 2012, officially rebranding as Merchtable (though the “Blue Collar” name still applies to the screen printing side of the operation, which is run by partner Jim David), Parker said.
“It’s always been the same people. It’s always been bootstrapped. We did everything ourselves,” he said. “But launching the Merchtable software was a pretty pivotal point in the company for us — just having custom shopping cart software that caters to the music industry.”
The technology has since continued to be adapted to changing times and customer needs, he said, noting a vital integration with Stripe Elements, an online payment processor that has been a partner since the business’s early days.
Merchtable has seen 190-percent improvement in conversation rate, a 17-percent increase in successful payment submissions, and a 13-percent decrease in sessions without a transaction since January, the company said.
“Those results — especially the boost in conversion rate — are beyond anything we could’ve imagined,” Parker said. “Just having a like-minded company that is constantly upgrading its software and fraud detection is really on point.”
It’s all about prioritizing customer satisfaction: whether that’s for a fan buying a band’s poster or an artist getting started on the long road to fame, he said.
“We really want people to enjoy the experience,” Parker said.