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Phish Foundation Saves Labor at Concerts

WaterWheel, the rock band's charitable arm, is using Truecount's RFID EPC UHF solution to make inventory counts efficient and accurate for merchandise it gives away to donors as thank-you gifts.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 02, 2012The WaterWheel Foundation, the charitable arm of rock band Phish, is employing an RFID-based solution to improve its inventory process, as it takes its nonprofit program on tour with the band. The TC Mobile Merch solution, provided by Truecount, was utilized by volunteers during a trial deployment throughout last summer.

Phish is often on the road, and therefore, WaterWheel must be as well. As the band tours throughout the United States each summer, the foundation joins them, opening a venue at every location from which it raises money for local charities, as well as through donations and the sale of shirts, hats, sweatshirts and other WaterWheel merchandise. Those items must be inventoried at each stop, when they are unpacked from the truck and again when they are returned to the vehicle. With TC Mobile Merch, the foundation reports, the task can be accomplished within 10 to 12 minutes, instead of two and a half hours.

Matthew Beck packs WaterWheel merchandise into a case at the end of a show in 2011.

Truecount's founder, Zander Livingston, has been following Phish for years, and has joined the band's entourage on the road, donating his own services to assist in the loading and unloading of equipment from one location to another. Livingston's company, fueled by his determination that radio frequency identification could expedite the efforts of WaterWheel's volunteers, developed the TC Mobile Merch solution. Having donated a deployment of the TC Mobile Merch system to the WaterWheel Foundation, Truecount is now in discussions with other festival and event managers regarding the use of its solution to manage merchandise at music or sporting events.

Phish created the WaterWheel Foundation in 1997, to consolidate and manage the band's ongoing charitable activities. The foundation aims to raise funds for pre-selected charitable causes in the communities in which the group performs. As a way to raise money, WaterWheel gives away eco-friendly, sustainable Phish-related merchandise, such as clothing and accessories, as gifts to concert-goers who make donations.

At each show, WaterWheel volunteers help unpack cases in which hundreds of items are transported. The volunteers count each item, maintain a paper record of those goods and then place them on display. At the end of the show, the merchandise is counted again by volunteers—not always by the same individuals who performed the previous count—and they, too, record the results before packing the items onto trucks. Based on those counts, the WaterWheel Foundation must then order additional merchandise from its warehouse, which ships replenishments to the next tour location, to be added to the existing inventory. The counting process typically took two and a half hours to complete, Livingston says, and was error-prone since it was carried out by new volunteers with a variety of training backgrounds. The building and then dismantling of Phish concerts, including the WaterWheel Foundation booth, "is carefully choreographed, and it's all about speed," he explains. If the counts fall behind, the goods' transportation can be delayed as a result.

"We work in a continually changing landscape from day to day," says Matthew Beck, the WaterWheel Foundation's touring director, "ranging from festivals and arenas to amphitheaters and beyond." This frequently changing environment, he notes, "provides a constant stream of variables with regard to time and space constraints." Livingston proposed an RFID solution to Beck, who says he was hopeful that the technology might "stabilize the variables," thereby improving the accuracy of inventory counts, and reducing the time required to conduct them.

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