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5 years of Merchandise Essentials

by Janne

A big dream, some savings and a parents' living room, that’s all Steven Callens and Niels Vandecasteele needed to start a business.

Five years ago, Merchandise Essentials saw the light of day in the living room of Steven's parents, which served as the very first office. Five years later, Merchandise Essentials is a blossoming company with 4 offices in 4 different countries and employing 38 employees.

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Night Essentials: the start

Back in the days, childhood friends Niels & Steven found a gap in the market: merchandise for DJ’s, events and festivals.
As a DJ, Steven (Audiophonic) changed the game by creating and successfully selling customized merch.

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In the words of our co-founder Steven: “Merchandise has always been an important part of my success as a DJ back in the days! And from that point of view, this is where Niels and I started Merchandise Essentials with awesome merch for other big DJ's, festivals, events.”.

With clients as Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Hype-O-Dream, Ostend Beach and The Chainsmokers, the company quickly grew larger and started to become a known name within the nightlife community.

Nightlife to general merchandising

Ambitious as they are, both Steven & Niels continued to learn and grow. In order to achieve more challenging goals, they decided to make the switch from nightlife to general merchandising. 

Receiving awards and being nominated as 'SME of the year' in 2018 was one of many accomplishments.

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‘Changing the world of Merchandise’ became their ultimate vision for the future. Let’s take a look at how this was put into a step-by-step plan for the future. 

When taking big steps or making important decisions, everything comes down to these five values:

Continuous improvement
In order to keep growing, you have to always keep learning. When you want to keep reinventing yourself, honest self reflection is key. Every year, each employee is asked to do a revision of their performance. This is used to improve what’s already going well and to efficiently identify challenges.

Great people & atmosphere
The team went from 2 people in one living room to 38 enthusiastics employees in 4 different countries. Each employee has their strengths, just like everyone has their challenges. To keep the team spirit up even during international expansion, monthly meetings to talk about our successes and learnings are a must.

More than Merch
Selling merch is one thing. Selling a vision, a marketing strategy or a way to improve is a very different thing. When implemented in a correct way, the impact of merchandise can be huge. Merchandise Essentials decided to not only sell branded clothing, but to also be a leading expert on effective merchandise strategies.

Premium quality
Quality is our number #1 priority. We hold a very high standard for our people, products and services. To ensure the highest possible quality, Merchandise Essentials decided to bundle all the necessary players to create merchandise. That’s why ME houses designers, manufacturers and merchandise strategists all under one roof.

International expansion: step 1

In April 2019, the first office abroad was founded in Utrecht, Holland. “We started to reach a lot of clients in Holland”, Niels said. “There’s a real match there and people easily drive four to five hours in a day to come look at our showroom or to visit our office for a meeting.  That’s why we started a pop-up showroom in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. They quickly became so successful that we had to look for a permanent location.”

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Utrecht turned out to be the perfect pick: a hip city with a lot of untapped potential. Niels Lukaszczyk became Country Manager and further conquered the Dutch market. The first Dutch client to choose Merchandise Essentials was Red Bull. Since then, it’s been clear that The Netherlands were more than ready for high quality custom merchandise.

Unclear future for the company

With the Covid-19 crisis the future of the company was at risk, nobody knew what was going to happen.

Almost every business was closed and because of that, it was nearly impossible to do anything productive. Deals got canceled, meetings got postponed and doing business became more and more difficult.
After evaluating the situation, Steven & Niels decided to close the offices until the Covid-19 crisis was over.

Teamwork makes the dream work

But then something unexpected happened… 
When the government obligated the people to wear face masks, they saw the opportunity!
Merchandise Essentials started selling blanco face masks and got featured on all the major news channels. Being a company that produces and sells customized merch, customizable face masks couldn’t be missing.

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Because of this, thousands of people started to request custom face masks for their business and employees.
After 4 weeks of lockdown, the full team could go back to work.

It was at this moment that the complete team got back together and started grinding to answer all these requests.

Planting flags

After planting a flag in Berlin, they started to expand in Poland.

Merchandise Essentials already started working with several Polish textile manufacturers in 2016, mainly out of necessity as this was no longer to be found locally in Belgium.
Since their first car journey to Łódź, during a blizzard in January, both the company and the country Poland have changed a lot.
The speed of evolution is impressive and Merchandise Essentials is convinced that the 3 new offices (1 in Germany, 2 in Poland) will be strong acquisitions for the company.

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5 years of ME

And then there is today, the 2nd day of October, the day Merchandise Essentials celebrates its 5th anniversary, HOORAY!

Even though they have been growing rapidly, there’s still a long way to go before they have achieved their end goal: Changing the world of merchandise.

The Merchandise Essentials team is preparing themselves for further expansion to other countries and continents. Make sure to follow us on our social media channels to follow our expansion!

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