Souvies Help Keep BD On The Road


The best customers for the Blue Devils’ souvenir stand announce their presence with a rapid tapping of their feet, a palpitating, rhythmic motion of their fingers against their legs, a slight, syncopated bobbing of the head. It’s another drummer with cash to burn.

“Drummers are the biggest spenders,” says Gail Schultz, BD promotions and development director. Though horn players and guard members outnumber drummers, t-shirts highlighting drummers far outsell shirts or paraphernalia for any other caption.

The biggest selling item, however, is the DVD with video and audio of the 2000 show, which posts sales about one third higher than the next highest selling item, the audio CD. The DVDis such a hot seller because “it’s a new product, a new idea,” Schultz said.

Sales last year for the souvenir trailer that accompanies the Corps on each of its 30 plus shows hit a record $210,000 last year, and this year could surpass that total, helped, not coincidentally, Schultz said, by a sales of $1,000 worth of drum sticks to a single customer in San Antonio recently.

Web sales have started to take off, with sales reaching $2,000 to $2,500 per week, from 50 or so buyers. Christmas sales online produced 400 orders, thanks in part to a 10 percent discount. Though the souvenir stand makes a handsome profit, all of the money taken in goes to cover the far greater cost of keeping the kids on the road each summer.

With revenue from bingo declining, the money from souvenir sales plays a much bigger part in keeping the Blue Devils on the road. Reaching those sales totals isn’t just a matter of hitching the souvenir trailer to a truck and opening the doors. Schultz starts her research in the winter. ”I go to the Gap, to Banana Republic, to see what kids are wearing, what’s selling, then she and a designer start collaborating on color schemes and new products.

“We have a real disadvantage with blue in the name of the corps,” she says. “We have to have blue as a major color in the color scheme.” She’s tried to just pick other attractive colors, but the audience didn’t like it. “Beige didn’t work. A red shirt was awful,” Schultz said. “It has to be blue and a complementary color.” This year, it’s blue and gray. Sand, grays and blacks also work along with blue.

Ideas for new products come from Schultz research as well as requests from fans. New this year are a coffee mug, and at the suggestion of former guard member and long time souvenir stand helper, Susie Berry, a two color baseball shirt. The shirt has sold out in most sizes. Staple items every year are a tour shirt, which lists all the places the Corps will visit, a show shirt, which displays the theme of the show, two sweatshirts, one more expensive than the other and usually a polo shirt.

A pair of long plaid pants almost made the cut this year, but was nixed at the last minute. “It would have meant carrying too many choices,” Schultz said.

Though Corps like the Madison Scouts have been successful in selling jackets, the Blue Devils never have. “It’s expensive, would take up too much inventory space with all the sizes you’d need. We’ve always chosen to have (jackets) be special items for the (corps members) only.” Interestingly, the Corps makes no money on the jackets Corps members buy from Contra Costa Trophy, the Concord based store which sells them. One possibility would a booster jacket sold online, since it would not take up space in the souvenir trailer.

Since Schultz took over in 1991, sales have tripled. Her expertise has been acknowledged by DCI, which has enlisted her to give seminars to other corps on how to buy, merchandise and run a souvenir stand.

The first trick: have plenty of items to sell to those fans with money to burn who can’t stop tapping their feet and hands.

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