'Merch' maker for traveling bands, entertainers opens plant

Posted 1/22/23

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — When Daytona International Speedway hosts the Welcome to Rockville music festival in May, some of the T-shirts and other “merch” sold by the bands will be made just …

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'Merch' maker for traveling bands, entertainers opens plant


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — When Daytona International Speedway hosts the Welcome to Rockville music festival in May, some of the T-shirts and other “merch” sold by the bands will be made just up the street.

Culture Studio, a Chicago-based contract manufacturer of branded apparel for touring entertainment acts, recently opened a production plant on Fentress Boulevard. The factory also serves as the company’s distribution center for the eastern United States.

“We liked the energy, we liked the people and we liked how they were building around the stadium,” said Culture Studio CEO Rich Santo, referring to Daytona International Speedway and NASCAR’s nearby One Daytona entertainment/retail complex.

The company over the years has made branded apparel for a wide range of entertainment acts, including Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Jane’s Addiction, Tool, The Weeknd, and Steve Austin of Wrestlemania.

The products are commonly referred to as “merch” — short for merchandise. They include T-shirts, jackets, hoodies, knitted and baseball-style caps, and backpacks. Culture Studio’s name does not appear on them. That’s because as a contract manufacturer, it makes goods sold under the name of the customer as opposed to its own, Santo explained. “We just a factory for them,” he said of his clients.

Building was previously home to CosmoPro

Santo’s company paid $5.5 million in April 2022 to acquire the 75,000-square-foot, two-story building at 280 Fentress Blvd. that now serves as its Daytona Beach plant, according to Volusia County property records.

The building was previously home to CosmoPro, the equipment side of spa beauty products maker Pevonia Botanica Skincare, whose headquarters and production plant is next door at 300 Fentress Blvd. CosmoPro was sold several years ago to an Italian company, said Eddie Hennessy, whose parents Philippe and Sylvie founded and continue to run Pevonia.

“We still (also) own Pet Caress, a pet skincare line at 374 Fentress, and Medicalia, our medical skincare line that’s also at 300 Fentress with Pevonia Botanica,” said Hennessy. “We’re in 90 to 100 countries. My parents are still going strong. They never stop.”

Culture Studio’s Daytona Beach plant employs 40 full-time workers. “Over the next two years, we will probably add 100 people,” he said in a phone interview.

Stuart Miller, the company’s director of southern production, oversees the Daytona Beach plant. “We’re definitely going to be expanding,” he said. “We’ve got more equipment coming in and we’ll be running multiple shifts.”

Black Sabbath was Culture Studio’s first entertainment industry client

Santo launched Culture Studio in 2008 with his younger brothers Nick and Joey and longtime friend Carlo Oviedo. Nick is director of logistics. Joey is chief operating officer. Oviedo is chief revenue officer.

“We originally started on the retail side. We had a streetwear brand of our own called Chii, but started to utilize our relationships in the entertainment industry to produce merch for bands,” Santo recalled. “Black Sabbath was our first (touring band) client.”

Santo said he and his brothers and Oviedo previously worked in and managed nightclubs, primarily in the Chicago area.

Culture Studio employs 160 people at its Chicago plant.

Miller is a longtime apparel industry veteran whose decision to relocate from Missouri to Central Florida in 2020 sparked the Santo brothers’ interest in opening a manufacturing plant in the Sunshine State.

“We hired him right off the bat to run our Florida location even though we didn’t have one yet,” Rich Santo said. “We looked everywhere. What drew us to Daytona Beach was the size of the building and the fact that it’s so close to the stadium (Daytona International Speedway).”

Culture Studio already has contracts to produce some of the band merch that will be sold at this year’s Welcome to Rockville festival, May 18-21, just as it did last year. “We’ll be working with Kiss and Slipknot and you name it,” said Joey Santo.

Rich Santo said he looks forward to attending this year’s festival, as well as the Daytona 500 on Feb. 19. “I expect to be spending a lot of time in Daytona Beach this year,” he said.

Culture Studio has hired Carl Lentz IV of SVN Alliance Commercial Real Estate Advisors in Ormond Beach to oversee leasing the 280 Fentress building’s approximately 12,000 square feet of “surplus office space.”

A tenant has already agreed to occupy an office space on the first floor, said Lentz. He said he was not yet at liberty to disclose the tenant’s name. He is still looking to lease the remaining surplus space on the second floor.

“We are close to signing on a smaller tenant for the second floor who will be taking two of the 12 (available) offices,” said Rich Santo. “The (surplus) space will be multi-tenant and someone can lease as little as one office.”

Team Volusia CEO Keith Norden said his group was put in touch with Culture Studio by Pam Rauch, vice president of economic development and external affairs for Florida Power & Light.

“FPL’s Office of Economic Development learned about the project when we were contacted about power requirements for the building Culture Studio selected,” confirmed FPL spokesman Sean Helton.

Norden said Team Volusia introduced the owners of Culture Studio to several area business leaders as well as officials at Daytona State College, and local commercial real estate brokers. He added, “There were no economic incentives involved that we know of.”

Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry said he is thrilled about the new jobs Culture Studio is creating in his city. Starting pay at the plant ranges from $16 to $21 an hour plus benefits. “We are a great community for manufacturing,” he said.

Jessica Lovatt, CEO of the Volusia Manufacturers Association, said Volusia County is already home to more than 450 manufacturers. “I’m very excited that another manufacturer has come to our area,” she said.

Joey Santo was in town Thursday to check on the new Daytona Beach plant as it gears up for what he expects to be a busy year. “The city’s been amazing and it’s snowing right now in Chicago so it’s great to be here,” he said.