Drop Party: a better way for top creators to sell merch
That one product
If you’re a Shopify groupie, you work in eCommerce, or you just keep up with the times in general, you might remember when the tech giant launched Frenzy in 2016. It was initially a project that came out of the company’s “Hack Day” and was started by one of their product designers, Tucker Schreiber.
The app’s goal was to help brands with hyper loyal communities facilitate “Flash Sales” when there’s high-traffic.
The idea was brilliant. It was well-received internally by the organization, so much so that they decided to include it as a company objective, launching it as a Shopify product. What was fascinating about Frenzy is that it seemed to be ahead of its time, catering to how we consume products via social commerce.
But Shopify quietly sunsetted the product last year, and no one knows why exactly.
It’s a head-scratcher, especially for a company that hired Jon Wexler as its VP of Creator and Influencer programs. Why ignore a product that had the potential to influence commerce at the intersection of media, sports, and entertainment et al?
Shopify could’ve evolved the product from being a drops platform that serves brands (like KITH or Antisocial Social Club) to being a drops platform for top creators (athletes, celebrities, entertainers, etc.).
But they didn’t. And that’s a shame because today, there’s a massive opportunity to support the entertainment industry by dropping high-quality merch.
Let’s look at the state of creator merch in 2021, the problems it faces, what Drop Party is, how it stands out from the existing landscape, and why it’s uniquely positioned to win in the long run.
NOTE: for today’s purposes, “creator” means: athletes, celebrities, internet creators, artists, musicians, and so on.
The state of creator merch in 2021
In 2021, top creators still don’t have the support they need to seamlessly sell merch and connect with their superfans.
Remember when Marshawn Lynch told everybody to “take care of y’all chicken” in the NFL Playoffs last year?
Well, he went viral that night, and we all laughed. The internet begged Marshawn to sell merch saying, “take care of y’all chicken.” You know how long it took to launch his store?
You know how long it took for everyone to forget about the memes and videos from his interview?
And then there are turnaround times.
Think about Ariana Grande. She released merch for her God is a Woman single, and it took MONTHS for the merch to arrive.
Or how about Travis Scott? Remember when he released the chicken nugget pillow? It arrived 6 months later. Even then, the nugget looked nothing like what was in the photo.
The buzz is gone, and the fans are disappointed.
Whether the creator is methodically planning a drop, or they want to ride a viral moment, someone has to handle:
- Product Design
- Sampling & Production
- Building your site (and make sure it’s properly hosted, so it doesn’t crash from traffic)
- Fulfillment (& international shipping!)
- Customer service
The current landscape doesn’t support top creators that way. So, where do you go?
Drop Party has entered the chat
You might not know about them yet, and that’s on purpose. They’re quietly building a product to support the way top creators already connect with their communities through product drops and engaging digital experiences.
Founded in 2020 by Marco Marandiz, Drop Party partners with top creators to sell products to their communities. Drop Party is a full-service eCommerce platform, but also more. I had the chance to chat with Marandiz and what he had to add…
Our eCommerce platform is built specifically for drops and capturing the hype on social media. When we partner, we handle the complexity and logistics of merchandise that creators don’t have the time to focus on: from design, sampling, and photography to fulfillment and customer service.
We're literally a one-stop-shop for the entertainment industry, serving up the most brandable moments in culture.
Take it a step further. Think of Drop Party more like a vertically integrated creative studio that happens to own their tech.
It’s a white-glove treatment for creators and their business managers. When you need to move fast and don’t have the time or experience to handle orders, tech, fulfillment, production management, CX, or anything else that comes with running a drop, that’s where Drop Party thrives.
Marco should know. He’s done it himself.
A better way to do drops
Before doubling down on his vision for Drop Party, he orchestrated merch stores built on Shopify for Patrick Mahomes and Will Smith’s Bad Boys and Fresh Prince store. As management shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to build stores that would go dormant for months at a time and buy inventory that couldn’t move, he knew there was a better approach.
It goes something like this…
- Design, sample, and photograph the products
- Hype up your drop on social media.
- Open up the store for pre-orders.
- You sell a ton of merch for 36-48 hours.
- Sales go silent. Close the drop. Produce and fulfill.
Marandiz believes creators are best positioned to monetize their super fans over a short period, not overspend on website development, sampling, and inventory when there’s no need for the products a week after the drop.
If you’re still wondering:
Doesn’t Shopify already do all this?
Why not sell on Fanjoy?
Can’t you just drop ship?!
These are all good questions. Still, all solutions to a problem that doesn’t quite suit top creators.
Here are some tools and platforms that already exist.
Hello, anybody out there?
Let’s be honest: the landscape for creators isn’t great. Why?
It’s a field of patchworked tools and platforms that don’t seem to support top creators the way they need support.
This is the lowest tier out of the bunch. The merch is poor quality, and there’s no customization involved, but it’s worth mentioning because some creators resort to using these drop shippers. Think of websites like Teespring and Teepublic, where you can easily design affordable merch and connect it to your Shopify or WooCommerce store.
The upside? They handle production and fulfillment.
The downside? They print on demand, so it’s generally poor quality in the print and product.
Started by CEO Chris Vaccarino, Fanjoy is one of the more well-known websites in the entertainment industry. They handle everything from production and fulfillment to customer service for the world’s top internet creators...
Unfortunately, they’re not a platform.
Oh, and they lock creators into contracts forcing them to sell their merch on Fanjoy. They’re a merch website built on Shopify that lets you buy apparel from creators you love. That means no customization and no domain ownership. In the end, you’ll likely find yourself sandwiched between Addison Rae’s heart sweatshirts and David Dobrik’s big, cheesin’ smile - which is cool in a way but not great for building your brand.
Represent is another version of Fanjoy. Both websites have carved a niche with internet personalities and creators.
However, I would contend—that as a creator—you ultimately want to own your website and experience, and that’s where these platforms can lose value.
Fourthwall can be a good option. What Shopify is for brands, Fourthwall wants to be for the long-tail of creators (i.e. the bulk of the internet personalities).
Started by Walker Williams (founder of Teespring), Fourthwall is the platform (tech), production (design and manufacturing), and fulfillment partner for your products.
If you’re on the website and their store themes look similar to Shopify themes, it’s because they are. As a creator, you choose the theme you want, add the products you want Fourthwall to design, and they’ll build you a website so you can sell evergreen merch.
The question is: just how many creators are out there regularly maintaining a store, regularly pushing the same SKUs to their fans every month?
It’s still early, so we’ll find out.
Ah, Shopify. The seemingly obvious choice for anyone who wants to sell products on the internet. They democratized entrepreneurship online.
And accomplished that by building software for brands. If you want to scale your business, you need all sorts of other plugins, tools, apps, and a lot of paid growth to enable that.
But top creators don’t need that.
They don’t rely on merch as their sole source of revenue. Their need to sell products comes when there’s a moment they want to capitalize on. Like Marshawn Lynch. And Ariana Grande.
What creators need
They need a simple landing page that feels on-brand, with a one-click checkout that enables their fans to buy a product seamlessly. They also need it not to crash when there the servers are overloaded with traffic (something they have struggled with in the past- remember when Jeffree Star’s Shopify store crashed?).
Oh, and all the other stuff I mentioned above, like:
- Design quality merch
- Produce the merch
- Package the merch
- Build the store and checkout
- Fulfill the merch
- Handle customers
...so they can do what they do best: create.
Drop Party is built for all that.
After dropping a product, they can get that product to your door in 4-6 weeks (not 4-6 months).
Everything’s made to order. No minimums. Not holding inventory. Better for the environment.
All while you get to own your audience data, from SMS to emails, keeping a direct relationship with them.
The best part for the creator? You can be as hands-on or hands-off as you want.
A noteworthy drop
Marandiz is in the business of only working with people he likes and trusts. That’s why he collaborated with well-known designer Tobias van Schneider, who was commissioned to design NASA’s new Mars logo for the Perseverance Rover landing that happened last month.
It was a wildly successful drop with custom merch designed by Tobias himself, while produced and photographed by Drop Party’s creative arm.
Here are some shots of the products:
Enabling drops for the entertainment industry
Some ask whether Drop Party is changing the way we consume or if it’s merely supporting our consumption habits.
Marandiz contends the latter:
Drop Party serves us in the way that we already want to consume content and buy products. These merch drops are an extension of the media that we consume. We don’t need to create new formats. Rather, we want to optimize for social-first content and commerce experiences.
It’s built to capture the hype already coming from social channels.
The market is massive and ripe for a platform like this. When asked about whether to prioritize the long-tail creators or top-tier ones, he said,
We approach our drops as a partner, not an agency… We take bets on our partners and put skin in the game. We want to be selective with who we work with. Few long-tail creators can move significant volume… but the top-tier creators bring loads of creative opportunities, so the sales justify the investment on our end.
At a time in our short digital history, capitalizing on cultural moments as a top creator is both easier and harder than ever. Easier in that it’s as accessible as ever to go viral and drop products. Challenging because the entertainment industry isn’t built to handle the lift required to make drops happen seamlessly.
Creators are desperate for a platform to step in and be their Shopify.
I think I know someone who can help.