A merch company for musicians, by musicians.
An interview with Shannon Welby, the man behind Pins & Knuckles merchandise.
Shannon and I met over a decade ago playing in local metal/hardcore bands. He went on to achieve great things with his band and eventually turned the drive and enthusiasm he had for playing music into building his own merch printing company for bands and artists. He and his team are extremely hardworking and caring people, dedicated to giving bands the best product and prices out there. Almost all of them come from a background of being in bands/music and touring so they know first hand the troubles and requirements that people face with running a band/brand. Whenever I work with a band, I always refer them to Shannon and P&K for their merch needs, as I know they will be looked after and get an amazing product, so I thought I'd interview him for my blog so you guys can get more of an insight into the good work that they do!
For the benefit of anyone reading this who might not know, can you tell me who you are and what you do?
I’m Shannon. I live between Kent and Johannesburg and I run a couple of businesses based around music/ fashion merchandise. The main company is Pins & Knuckles Merch and we're extremely lucky to work with some of the best talent out there.
Awesome, thanks man! So we met each other way back in 2009, whilst both playing in young bands. I’m a strong believer that those early days of hard graft in my band, travelling about without a clue/care in the world as to what we were doing (simply just "doing") shaped the person that I am and career path I’m in today. I'm wondering if you feel the same way?
Absolutely without a doubt. Those days are the reason I do what I do. I had some of the best times of my life on tour and we also some of the lowest times which led me to take a different direction in the music scene and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Your company is based partly out of South Africa, which is incredible. Something in my mind remembers that being a base for your old band too. Is that something that came from playing in the band or did it come from something else?
Yeah my band had a great opportunity to go on tour to South Africa back in 2010, and we ended up having a magical time, met a lot of close friends and made some incredible memories. We ended up heading back a few times over the years to tour and record and I really got the flavour for the country and the people. Around 6 years ago I decided to set up Pins & Knuckles over there and we have built an incredible team of people who work on tours and orders in the UK office and globally from Johannesburg. If you ever get the chance to visit, you won’t be disappointed.
That's so amazing man. One of the reasons I recommend you so highly to my friends/peers/clients etc. Is because I know how much effort you put in behind the scenes to give bands the best products and service they can get. I seem to remember a Giants t-shirt order that went Pete Tong, right before our appearance at Hevy Festival 2011. It was in the early days of our band and your business, but I remember that you worked through the night to reprint them, and then drove the box of replacement shirts from Kent to my house near London yourself at 6am the next morning so that we would have them for the festival appearance!! I tell people this story all the time when I'm recommending them to you, explaining the amount of care that you have for your customers. I’d never seen such dedication like that from a merch company before and I believe that it's one of the reasons you've managed to grow the way you have. Have there been any other times where you’ve had to put the extra 10% in order to get the job done for clients in need? If there's any other crazy stories like this, it'd be awesome to hear them! (Really hope there has been other times like this and I’m not the exception/painful memory hahaha)
Haha yes I remember that day very clearly back when we started in London. Im glad we managed to sort it in time, I think it was a screen split issue and we had to make a DIY one.
This happens quite regularly actually and especially when relying couriers. We have a company value to “Make A Plan” when things don’t go our way so that’s exactly what we try and do. The main one I remember was a courier not picking up a batch of flags for While She Sleeps, who had a huge show in Berlin the following day. So I jumped on a plane and flew to Germany to deliver them personally the following morning. Sounds like a big deal but I managed to catch a crazy show and explore the city so everything always works out. A few years ago I was in the US for work and we had another issue for a tour delivery so the guys started printing replacements and 5am and my Dad drove to Amsterdam to get them there! I still owe him till this day for that.
These days though, we have a established a good network of drivers both locally and internationally so that’s saved a lot of headaches.
Do you think that having that will to go all the way for your customers at times comes from the fact that you were in a band yourself, and know the struggles independent musicians face?
Yes, definitely! The reason I started the company was because my band got stitched up quite hard with our album launch merch. We were basically told "tough" and pretty much to "get over it". It was almost too embarrassing to give away the stock.
So from that day I set out to ensure that doesn’t happen to any other band as far as I can help it (weather permitting). Merch has become vital for a bands sustainability in the current climate of the industry and in some desperate cases it's a means to survive on the road. Most of the P&K staff come from a musical background and share that same view and it's something we aim to approve on year on year.
Incredible man. I really do commend you guys for that. Although it’s quite clear now that your clientele is no longer limited to just music, I’ve sent a few skateboarding companies your way myself. What other industries does Pins & Knuckles serve now?
Yeah this is a really interesting one that has shifted rapidly over the last 2 years, we have gone in a lot of directions but it all seems to stem from a music link or recommendation somewhere down the line. We work with a lot of cool people and industries such as Wrestlers, Skateboard Companies, Streetwear brands, Tattoo artists, eSports, Vape companies and charities etc.
Did you ever think Pins & Knuckles would be working for people in industries like that? Was it something you went after, as a goal/target client kinda thing? Or did things just fall into place that way from doing good work and word getting around.
I wouldn’t say it was a target but we follow the same values with them as we do with our music clients. Tom from our sales team follows the wrestling industry heavily and is extremely passionate about all of our clients. We are planning to go to some events to support them, just like we would with going to gigs for our music clients. Most of us have tattoos and follow a lot of artists. The streetwear/ skateboard brands have ties to the music clients we work with so it’s all become very natural and really fun to work on completely new projects.
What advice can you offer to young/new bands that are just starting out, getting their first batch of t-shirts printed etc.?
Start easy and test the water to see what your fans want. Try order small but in bulk to get the best unit cost so you can invest in your band.
Where can people learn more about your company and connect with you on the internet/social media?
We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all those good things - @pinsandknucklesmerch Thanks so much for doing this buddy.
Thank you, must catch up soon!