Richards & Southern
For six decades, the Calonges have put family & service first as they’ve built a music merchandise empire.
Nashville since 1959.
Scot and Ryan Calonge have a great story to tell. As third-generation leaders of their family business, they’ve been working for their parents for as long as they can remember. From hanging t-shirts to dry on racks made of used yardsticks, to late nights packing orders in their garage, the seeds of hard work were planted in the brothers from an early age. Listening to them talk about the history of their company, Richards & Southern, you’ll understand why this company that started printing postcards in the fifties has grown to an award-winning, full service merchandise company that represents some of the biggest names in the music industry.
Bob & Betty Calonge moved to Goodlettsville, TN in 1959 where Bob took a job as a school teacher. “To supplement his income,” says Scot, “my grandfather (Bob) would go out during the summers and do photography and he started making postcards.” Before long, Bob & Betty realized there was more profit to be made in the postcard business, and they started the Southern Postcard Company. Working out of their garage and kitchen, their four children would help with production when needed. With their postcard venture, Bob & Betty established a legacy that would resonate for generations within the Calonge family.
Terry Calonge, son of Bob & Betty, married his high school sweetheart, Sheri, in March of 1968 and they both were accepted to the University of Tennessee shortly thereafter. Terry was a musician, and early on in his career signed a record deal with his band. But according to Scot & Ryan, though their dad may have been destined for success in the music industry, it wasn’t going to be behind a microphone on stage. “They must not have been very good,” Scot joked, “I think they only sold like three records.” After the band lost their record deal, Terry and Sheri built a simple printing press in their garage and made money by printing & selling protest pennants & other apparel items. After graduating, the couple moved back to Goodlettsville to continue working in the family business.
Back home, Terry & Sheri began to see an opportunity for growth on Music Row. “Mom and Dad were rockers, and had been to some rock shows like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix,” said Scot. “Dad cold-called on Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash & Waylon (Jennings) and asked why they weren’t selling merch like these other rock bands.” Branded apparel wasn’t the norm with country music artists in the 70’s, but after seeing lines and lines of people buying t-shirts at a Joplin show, Terry & Sheri were convinced that this was the future of their business, now named Richards & Southern. Terry persuaded Twitty, Cash & Jennings to give him a chance to sell their merch, and as Scot puts it, “The rest is history. Conway is still a client to this day.”
In the early 80’s, other country music artists and bands were catching on and there was more and more opportunity for Richards & Southern to expand. In 1982, Terry’s longtime friend and country music entertainment mogul Dale Morris, invited him down to Fort Payne, Alabama to arrange a meeting with him and a little-known, but up-and-coming band. According to Scot, “Dale said ‘Hey I’m managing this little band called ‘Wild Country’ and RCA is about to sign them, we’re going to change their name to ‘Alabama’. Come on down, you may be able to get their merch.’” Sure enough, Terry began printing shirts for Alabama.
With great opportunity also came considerable risk. The larger demand meant that the family would need more production capability to fulfill the increase in orders coming in. Up to that point, their operation had been relatively archaic, manually printing each shirt on their 1-color press. Ryan recalled hanging shirts to dry on racks made of yardsticks (Sheri’s father owned a pencil and yardstick company). Terry knew that in order to meet his customers’ needs, he’d have to make a huge leap of faith. “He prayed really hard about it, went to the bank and borrowed more money than he’d ever seen,” Scot said. “He bought a lot of automated machinery and really learned on the fly.” That same year, he was able to sign a deal with George Strait, and in 1982 the Calonge family business tripled their income. Both Alabama and George Strait remain multi-million dollar accounts for R&S to this day.
Recently, Scot and Ryan have taken more responsibility at Richards & Southern as the leadership of the company moves into the third generation of the Calonge family. They’ve assembled an all-star team of people, including account executives Lisa Fults & Todd Cayce, production manager Bill Loveland, as well as quality control watchdog Geraldine Johnson, who Ryan describes as ‘country as cornbread’ and as the trusted overseer of every shirt that comes off the line. They employ about 50 people on site in Goodlettsville, and another 50 that travel around the world managing the merchandise at artists’ tour stops. The old postcard printing company has morphed into a vertically-integrated, full-service merchandise company that skillfully manages the merchandise portfolio for a ‘Who’s Who’ list of clients including George Strait, Alabama, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Dustin Lynch, Mitchell Tenpenny, the ACM Awards, Kacey Musgraves, Brad Paisley, and hundreds more. They are a proud winner of five SGIA Golden Image Awards, and continue to be the leader in the Nashville Country Music merchandise industry today.
Spend ten minutes with Terry & Sheri Calonge and you’ll understand why Richards & Southern has become the success they are today. After nearly fifty years of marriage, they still display a love and respect for each other that young couples need to see these days. Family and faith have been the core values that have sustained them through the difficult times, and kept them grounded during the prosperous ones. Terry, refreshingly humble for a man of his stature, is grateful for the success he’s experienced and is quick to offer the same opportunity to young and hungry entrepreneurs that he was given decades ago. Sheri has a welcoming smile that instantly makes you feel as if you’re a part of the Calonge family. Ryan and Scot, both fathers of two children, are fiercely loyal to their clients and partners and are the perfect duo to lead the company forward. Where other multi-generational companies fail due to apathy and entitlement, Richards & Southern continues to reach new heights because of a faithful reliance on one another, and an unyielding commitment to the servitude of their customers.
Bob & Betty, your company is in good hands.
SEE MORE ABOUT RICHARDS & SOUTHERN, INCLUDING WHO THEY REPRESENT AND HOW YOU CAN GET IN TOUCH, BY VISITING THEIR WEBSITE - https://www.richardsandsouthern.com/
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