Monday, March 11, 2013

Shout It Out Loud: How Gene Simmons Rocks The Business Of Merchandising | Photo: Viki Lascaris

You can find business inspiration in the most unexpected places.

For me, it was from the “master of merchandising”, rock legend Gene Simmons, bass player and vocalist from glam rock band KISS.

It is said that the band, launched in 1973 and famous for its painted faces, has made more money from its merchandising than any other band in the history of music.

Speaking at an invitation-only event for the Australian Children’s Music Foundation on the weekend, Simmons said: “It is fair to say that among the 3000 licensed products – I mean, literally, the KISS Golf Course in Las Vegas and KISS coffee houses, we make everything from KISS condoms to KISS caskets – we’ll get you coming and we’ll get you going.”

I was there at the Hard Rock Cafe in Sydney to see my 12-year-old son’s rock band, The Tempting, perform, so I wasn’t expecting to get a business lesson – but that is what Simmons delivered, along with a sales spiel for his Axe guitars, to an adoring audience of middle-aged, black-clad, inked, follicly challenged men.

Simmons, who has said he believes the band is worth between $US1billion and $US5billion, says the difference between someone who makes it big, and those that just talk about it, comes down to energy and persistence.

“I do things, I sell,” he says. “Anyone who wants to achieve something, we are not born into doing this. The difference between them and some of us is that they get up hours earlier than you do and then ... they put the left foot in front of the right one and they keep going and they keep working hard and it doesn’t matter if they fail.

“I fail all the time, but I win sometimes and that’s what makes you big.”

While lots of musicians have had instruments designed for them and merchandised under their names, Simmons designed his own guitar, designed to look like an axe, found a manufacturer and came up with a business model.

“When I first started playing in a band, my heroes were the Beatles and I wanted to get a bass just like Paul McCartney and I loved that violin-shaped Beatlesque-type bass. But I didn’t know how to do that.

“So I started designing these. Musicians called their basses axes, but nobody ever trademarked that. So I had an inferred fiduciary duty to myself and that means ... make sure you take care of business.

“So I trademarked the term ‘axe’ and then I thought, ‘why wouldn’t my bass look like an axe? That’s kind of cool, that’s who I am, that’s who I stand for.’ So I literally designed and built this thing and found the right manufacturer to do it – the same people that make Gibsons and Fenders, highest quality – but I fiddled with the business model.

“The high-end stuff is not available in stores. I wanted to make sure that everybody knew that each one is hand put together, hand painted, some of the chrome ones. Nobody owns this process in the world.”