Client Name: Tiffini Masessa
Business Name: Forward Merch
Business Website: https://www.forwardmerch.com/
Industry: Screen Printing and Apparel Decoration
Location: Dover, NH
SBDC Advisor's Name: Amy Sterndale
Tiffini Masessa couldn’t help but be intrigued by the music industry and more specifically, the tour merchandise industry, while working at a bank in Waltham, MA in the 90’s. Before there was interstate banking and wireless credit card machines, Tiffini recalls a gentleman making routine visits to the bank to deposit large sums of cash. Tiffini says, “And so of course, that piqued my interest like, ‘What is going on? What is this business?’”
That business was Forward Merch, an entertainment merchandiser, which started in 1988 out of a Waltham, MA garage. And that cash was from the merchandise orders of whatever band had just come through Boston. Tiffini inquired more about the business and soon the president at the time offered her a job. “My first job was called Tour Girl,” laughs Tiffini. “I would go and pick up cash, fill my backpack, and jump on the train to go deposit it.”
Tiffini climbed the ladder quickly from there and in 1996, when the business opened a facility in Dover, NH, Tiffini was placed in charge of it. She eventually became CFO and in 2016, when some of the partners retired, Tiffini invested in the company as partner, joining two others, Jeffrey Riccio, President and Kristian Theodore, COO.
Forward Merch describes themselves as offering “design, production, e-commerce, fulfillment, customer service & touring services in-house.” To keep up with demand, Forward Merch opened a second facility in Somersworth, NH in December 2022 to focus on manufacturing, while the Dover facility is its warehouse and fulfillment center.
Tiffini states, “We are the only company in the United States that does this soup to nuts. We actually have a staff of artists that will create your product line, design your product line, we'll produce it in our own facility, and we'll do all the fulfillment and logistics for you.”
Running Forward Merch isn’t all glitz and glamour, like the music industry may seem. They have experienced their fair share of challenges. For a business that caters to the live music / entertainment industry, the pandemic was extremely difficult. Initially, all the ink suppliers were closed, so that made it difficult for Forward Merch to fulfill the orders they had. More so, Forward Merch handles the majority of Broadway shows, and like ink, when Broadway closed, Forward Merch’s need to make product dried up.
That’s when Tiffini turned to NH SBDC Business Advisor Amy Sterndale for help. While the government had a lot of resources available, the Forward Merch team wasn’t sure what all the opportunities were. Tiffini explains, “We were struggling and just looking for any penny, any dollar whether it be a loan or a grant, to get us through to keep our people employed.”
Amy provided the answers they needed, alerting them to the free trainings that were available such as the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. Tiffini says the program opened up doors of communities with other entrepreneurs and businesses where you could share information, struggles and solutions.
Amy also introduced them to the New Hampshire Main Street Relief Fund, of which they were able to take advantage. She also connected them with the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which Tiffini states “has been a great resource.”
“She just hooked us up with resources. The whole amount of resources that she had at her fingertips and was able to share with us, I took advantage of every single one. Keeping the doors open was a full-time job during the pandemic.”
“Amy was wonderful,” states Tiffini. She provided a figurative shoulder to cry on as Tiffini recalls times when Amy kindly listened to her whine, complain, and sometimes cry.
“We asked for help to manage the sudden closure of live events which devastated our industry. SBDC guided us to make strategic decisions to help us survive and now thrive. They are the resource every business needs.”