Interview with Vanessa Ferrer, CEO of Online Merch Platform Merch Cat

September 10, 2018 | Interviews

Vanessa Ferrer has been a successful businesswoman for over 15 years in finance and artist management.

After managing several touring clients and consulting with high-profile industry professionals, Ferrer used her multi-faceted background to develop and launch Merch Cat, a musician-friendly platform for music artists to sell and manage merchandise at live shows.

1. Tell us a little bit about your history and why you started Merch Cat.

My name is Vanessa Ferrer and I’m the Founder and CEO of Merch Cat. Before founding Merch Cat, I had a 15+ year career in accounting and finance.

I had always been passionate about music, but never really knew what to with it. One winter, I was skiing in Vermont and met a guy whose band had just signed to a NYC Indie label. We kept in touch and when the record was released, and I took an interest in helping them.

I watched that band ultimately implode, and I believe a large part of it was rooted in the fact that there was no core person focused on the band’s best interest. That was the lightbulb went off for me as to how I could combine my years of biz experience with music and put it to use helping artists.

I started my own management company, InFocus Artist Management, and began moonlighting as an artist manager. Through these endeavors, I saw how important merch was to an artist’s business, and I came up with the idea for Merch Cat when I couldn’t find an app or software out there to use to keep track of the merch business.

A few managers I knew sent me spreadsheet templates and I was just like wow this is crazy. And I knew that if I, as an accountant, didn’t want to deal with it that way, then there were probably lots of other people out there who also didn’t want to, especially artists who were running things themselves.

I held on to the idea for about a year and in 2014 when the company I had been at for 14 years got acquired and the new management decided to outsource my department, it was glaring to me that it was time to dive in to music full-time and take a chance on myself and the idea I had come up with.

By developing my merch management idea, I’d be able to help not just a couple of artists, but could be impactful in a much bigger way.

2. What is the biggest challenge for artists when it comes to managing their merchandise?

From what I’ve encountered, the biggest challenge seems to be actually wanting to deal with it, at all – “where do I get merch, how do I manage it and how do I make it sell?”

Merch is a last-minute focus for a lot of artists and they let other things take priority when merch should really be at the top of the list.

Yes, it’s a pain, which is why we’re here, but with a little time and effort invested up front, merch can be one of the most lucrative revenue sources for an artist today. The name of the game is to always have something for fans to buy, and to have the styles and sizes that they want.

Any artist who is not paying attention to these factors is leaving money on the merch table. It’s imperative to have merch on hand with you at shows and live events where 80% or more of merch sales occur.

3. How can artists use merchandise to engage with their fanbase?

Telling fans to go buy it on your web store will likely be in-effective because merch is an impulse purchase and fans want a keepsake to keep as a reminder of the event. A webstore should be used as a supplement to the live show and fans should be directed there when there are no shows or tour.

Artists need to make and sell items that people would want to use and wear. Start small and basic and then when you start to understand who your fans are and what they’re buying, expand from there.

When you’re first starting out, consider the practicality of the items you’re making and when in doubt, ask your fans – they are your customer.

From what I’ve seen, especially lately, there are too many empty merch tables at shows. Artists who have shows where fans show up should never be without merch.

This is the prime opportunity for capturing merch sales and there is no other facet of music where an artist can invest $5, sell it for $20 and put $15 directly and immediately into their pockets or bank accounts.

Merch revenue is a low hanging fruit that’s there for grabbing and a revenue stream that can be 100% in their control. I can’t think of any other revenue stream in the music business that’s like it.

4. How does Merch Cat help simplify artist merchandise management?

Merch Cat is a musician friendly iOS app and web platform that helps artists sell and manage their merchandise at live shows.

It’s a point of sale system powered by Square or PayPal, with real-time inventory and sales tracking and show analytics. It allows artists to accept cards or cash, tells them what their sales are, what’s being sold at each show, what inventory is sold and what inventory is left.

It helps artists streamline their merch business, stay organized and gives them the data to help them understand what their fans are buying or not buying, when inventory is running low, and what is going on in their merch business overall. We also recently released Merch Cat FAN, a connected direct to fan app that allows fans to buy merch directly from artists in their own app.

We did this to help artists expand their reach stemming from the live show to the fans who don’t want to wait on the merch line, don’t want to carry merch around, want to buy merch ahead of time, and those who couldn’t make it to the show.

Fans can buy merch anytime/anywhere, ship to home or pick up at the merch table. They can share the merch that they purchased with their contacts and on socials.

We collect fan emails, and provide a shipping label to the artist. Inventory and sales from FAN are tracked in one place along with their Merch Cat sales.

5. How do you see the future of merchandising for independent artists?

I see the future of merchandising being very automated, which is what we’re in the process of building – merch utopia – remove all or most of the friction for artists so that once they are set up they can run the business part with as minimal effort as they want to put in, and just focus on the creative part and the fan engagement.

When Merch Cat was in development someone told me “that will all be online one day”. Wrong. No way around it – there will always be a need for merch at the show, just as there will always be a need for live shows for the reasons I mentioned earlier.

So instead of focusing on how to remove merch from shows, we need to focus on how do we streamline and make processes more efficient to trim the unnecessary brain strain and maximize opportunities at the live show and beyond.

One of my goals since starting Merch Cat has always been to make independent artists embrace their merch business. Over time, I’ve learned that doing that involves more than just one facet, and we are getting there one step at a time.

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