Thursday, September 26, 2019

I Have No Credentials But I Do Have a Stack of Musicland POs

So, I know the title of this blog is Semi Entrepreneur and for the most part, I want to explore the concept of the 21st century entrepreneur, but, hey, it's my blog so I get to digress when I want.

For this entry, I'm gonna go into the wayback machine and tell a story from my early days. I suppose it does tie together with the theme in some regards in that I was very green and completely making up the rules as I went along (still do, in fact).
Image result for im making it up as i go

I previously mentioned that I had started Palisades as a marketing firm in the fall of 1994 (25 years on my own this very month!). This was the summer/fall of 1997 and South Park had just come on the air and was a huge hit. Sidebar: I definitely was on the chain that received a ratty VHS copy of The Spirit of Christmas. If you are unsure what that is, it's a must watch: https://www.rollingstone.com/tv/tv-news/flashback-animated-short-the-spirit-of-christmas-births-south-park-39256/

Anyway, many of the specific details have been lost to the abyss of time, but I was able to get a license (my very first license) to produce life-size cardboard cutout standees for South Park. Of course, "life-size" for these characters was about 36 inches. Interestingly, I learned that the way they printed the 6 foot tall ones is with two pieces of printed material. Usually you will see a tiny seam between the top and bottom halves.
 
We had also gotten a literal stack of Purchase Orders from Musicland. Remember them? Musicland/Sam Goody/Suncoast/Media Play. At the time they had about 1600 stores. Because this was a hot trend, they had us ship to each individual store, bypassing the central warehouse. Well, in those days that combination of factors meant that they cut us 1600 separate purchase orders! I literally received a large box filled with paper POs! AND.....they required us to invoice them 1600 separate invoices since every PO had a different PO number. To deal with this, I made a single invoice in my Quickbooks, but we typed in and printed out 1600 individual paper invoices using some Excel template. When I say "we," I really mean Kate, then my girlfriend, now my wife of 20+ years... We shipped them the box of invoices in the same box that their POs came in!

But the real "figure it out" part was: How in the hell am I going to actually produce and ship these things? I was three years in business, 28 years old, no credit to speak of--certainly not Business credit that would cover the manufacturing of thousands of these things. Like I mentioned, some of the details have been lost to time, but I do remember that the order breakdown had between 2 and 6 sets sent to every store, depending on the store size. So quick math: 4 units x 4 characters x 1,600 stores ended up being around 25,000 units. My cost must have been around $4 - $5 each, so call it an even hundred grand to make them. Then ship them. Then get paid.

So how did I solve this?

First, I somehow convinced Musicland to pay me on receipt of the goods instead of their normal Net 30 terms. (Ha! Net 30? Remember THOSE days?!). Part of the problem solved.

Then, I went to the printer. A guy I had not met in person but could do the work. Mr. Jimmy Cohn. He had a large printing facility in LA. I went out to visit him and told him my dilemma. We were at his home, sitting outside, talking about solutions. (Another funny aside: I distinctly remember this part of the story being the two of us having a beer and talking it over. I have since learned that Jimmy has been decades sober, including this time. So maybe I had a beer or I just invented that part...)

We agreed that Jimmy would print and ship to all the stores and my terms would be one day after I get paid from Musicland, I would pay him. I know we added a little bit to the unit cost to cover this risk, but really he was just trusting this kid with a stack of POs. The only agreement we had was a handshake and gentleman's honor.

The rest of the project actually went perfectly smooth (at least that's how I remember it). Jimmy printed and shipped. Musicland paid (thankfully, we got ONE check. I'm sure it was a check, too. No electronic payments in the 90s). I paid Jimmy.

I never produced this product category after that. We went on to do many millions with Musicland over the next decade or so.

Because I was out of the print biz, I kinda lost touch with Jimmy until Facebook. We reconnected, had a laugh, and I even took him over for his first China trip about 6 or 7 years ago. (We really just flew over together to HK and he had his own biz to tend to but I take credit for taking him)

Footnote to this story: Jimmy is still in the print biz, mainly focusing on packaging. Hit him up if you need innovative packaging/POS materials.


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