- we don’t know if we’re vastly overestimating how dire this is.
- we don’t know if we’re immensely underestimating how dire this is.
- we don’t know more than we know at this stage, but we know we need help.
we are scrambling to figure out what our options are for a plethora of complicated problems this creates. this is a lot of info, so we've broken it down into chunks:
- context / the problem: what's happening and how we're trying to weather it
- "what now?": proposed solutions
- how we can help: info related to orders and refunds
- fundraising measures: how you can help
thank you for your patience and understanding while we navigate this difficult and unforeseen situation.
context / the problem: what's happening and how we're trying to weather it
we recently found out our mail order fulfillment partner went bankrupt (or the UK equivalent of: went into “administration”. i’m not sure the discrepancies between the two tbh, but the premise is the same: they ran out of money). a cursory name search on Twitter shows a bleak landscape of artists, labels, small businesses, employees, investors, suppliers—anyone the company was associated with—left holding the bag. we unfortunately can count ourselves among them.
nearly all of our 17 years worth of physical inventory is currently in a warehouse in Austin, TX,,
annnnnd suddenly can’t be there anymore. UPDATE: former Awesome Merch US employees have banded together to re-start the business under new management and with a new name: FKA Merch. they have taken control of the lease and all of our inventory is now safe and accessible. Awesome also owes us over $40k in revenue they’ve collected on our behalf but have ceased paying or even accounting to us for. our statements are months behind. we’ve made repeated requests over the last half year to reconcile this and have yet to be directly told whether or not we will receive this money at all. recent inquiries specifically and explicitly asking if we'll be paid money owed have been met with misdirection and gaslighting about accounting.
while making plans to book last second flights down to Austin to rent trucks and load up our inventory in order to drive it up to Portland and try and figure out what we would do with it all, we learned that Awesome’s US business is in the process of being sold to an acquisitions company and everything that they had within their facility—all equipment, machinery, supplies, and client inventory—is being treated as property of the property management company, sold AS-IS to this new acquisition company. subsequently, access to our own inventory is now being denied to us. we’re being told we don’t have legal grounds to enter the building nor do we have legal grounds to lay claim to anything in the building. we expect we have several costly legal battles in front of us if this logic prevails. here are a couple choice snippets from some recent ~super productive~ dialogue we have had:
...continues to lawfully have possession of all property located inside of the suite as stipulated in the lease agreement between [redacted] and Awesome Merchandise
[redacted] does not have any obligation to return or allow entry of any 3rd party merchant to remove or repossess property that is claimed as theirs per agreements made between your company and theirs
UPDATE: we now have access to our inventory!!
we also just learned that Awesome Distro laid off their entire mail order and support staff sometime in late August. we were not made aware of this by anyone at Awesome. so we’ve been unknowingly accepting orders that haven’t been [and have no immediate way to be] shipped for at least three weeks now. we're beginning to experience a flurry of emails flooding in asking about orders (if this is you, sorry—we didn't know no one was responding to you! we have taken back over our support email and will be fielding all inquiries ourselves moving forward). we’ll also likely need to process refunds as people learn they won’t receive what they ordered for the foreseeable future.
normally i’d say, “well let’s just have a sale and raise some money!”, but here’s the thing about bankrupt mail order fulfillment partners: no one works for them.
and so, 1,400 miles away, all our shit is just sitting, stagnantly, in an unattended warehouse, unable to be sent out. with a third party saying we can’t get access to it and that we don’t actually even own it anymore. A-W-E-S-O-M-E-!-!-! UPDATE: we have been in touch with former Awesome Merch employees who have formed a new company, FKA Merch, and have taken control of the warehouse. we will be working with them to ship out all outstanding orders in an adhoc interim fashion.
it actually gets worse. a fun anecdote about refunds for us: the way our store operated during our time partnered with Awesome, when someone placed an order with us, that money went to Awesome Merch, LLC., not Topshelf Records, LLC. it went to Awesome’s PayPal and Awesome’s Stripe accounts. they would then account to us monthly after factoring in their expenses and fees (this is a somewhat common practice in fulfillment / warehousing / print services arrangements like this). the problem is, Awesome has had a rush of PayPal complaints, disputes, and refunds levied at them recently and PayPal has now frozen and locked their account, along with whatever paltry funds were still in it. if customers come to us asking for refunds, the money they paid for their order with went to Awesome Merch, not us. we never received that money. every refund we process takes cash directly from the label that we never received, and likely never will.
we had been handling our own mail order and warehousing our own records since our start in 2006—doing it all ourselves—moving from dorm rooms, to parents’ garages, to extra space at a larger label’s warehouse, and eventually, to our own dedicated space we leased when we moved the label to San Diego in 2015. In 2018 though, the building we were in was sold. the new management stopped renewing existing leases and then re-set everyone’s rent at a 36% increase (apparently legal!). Unable to find a suitable location at a price we could afford, we made the difficult decision to outsource our mail order operation to a fulfillment partner: Awesome Distro. back then, it cost us $13k just to ship everything to Awesome's new Austin, TX-based warehouse where we were to be their first US client. at the time this was a pretty big expense for us that we struggled to pay while continuing operations as normal.
since then, we’ve released 70+ additional titles, our physical inventory has nearly doubled, fuel prices have jumped, and inflation is having a real moment rn, gotta say. so the price to move our stuff has only gone up. we’re expecting it could now cost between $20-30k just to relocate all of our inventory this time around. y'know, assuming we're allowed to even access it.
because we can’t currently ship anything, we don’t feel comfortable continuing to accept orders. we have now turned off our stores since we have no idea when we’ll even be able to ship an order again, let alone where it’ll even ship from! this is not a decision we take lightly. we have obligations to our artists to viably sell and distribute their records. direct sales on our Bandcamp and website are a huge part of this and shutting them down (on top of all of the other expenses we are simultaneously incurring) is a huge hit. we recognize that we serve an important role for our artist roster as a source of revenue for them, which this renders us largely unable to fulfill. UPDATE: we have now re-activated our store with a limited supply of items available. everything we have made available for sale is either a pre-order or an item that we have stock on-hand for, outside of Awesome Merch's warehouse. all orders of these items have been or will be shipped to my house, where i will personally hand pack and ship them out. there's no delay on these items as we have them currently on-hand (unless otherwise stated for pre-orders).
Awesome had two main components to their business: Awesome Distro, which handled warehousing and fulfillment (basically everything I have spoken about so far), and Awesome Merchandise, which sourced and printed merch for us and our artist roster. on top of everything i've mentioned to this point, we also had merchandise that was supposedly being printed by Awesome's Merchandise arm. we've now learned that wasn't true and all of our recent merch orders were never even started. all recent merch drops from us just don't exist. we are scrambling to move these merch projects to other printers and will get them made as soon as we can.
figure 1.1: some of these zones can be a pretty good time, but we can all agree the center is usually a bad time.
without steady revenue, and with looming expenses, money owed to us, and the clock ticking—truly at the epicenter of a logistical Venn diagram of “fuckin’ sucks dude” [fig 1.1]—we are scrambling to address this as quickly and efficiently as possible.
"so what now?": proposed solutions
the situation as described to this point is obviously pretty ass. i’m definitely not having a good time. but my cup-half-full overfloweth. i can’t help but re-frame this as an opportunity rather than the heaping caca pile that it so plainly also is. so how can this serve as more than just a reset, and expand to a re-examination and re-imagination of the premise entirely?
this is more than just a problem in need of an immediate solution. i, of course, am looking for stop-gap interim fixes and short-term solutions to keep the lights on and take care of our employees, artists, and customers,, but i also need to make sure those best align with what’s gonna make the most sense long-term for us. we can’t afford to move inventory around multiple times. pondering the long-term of this problem has injected an almost compulsive immediacy to how i am going about running the label right now. what solving this problem could look like, what it means in the context of my own life, things i value and want to see become real, and things i think are maybe helpful in a larger context.
Topshelf has evolved as i have. in some ways, it stands as a record of my own personal development and expansion of world view, tastes, and ideologies. i’m now 37 years old and have been guiding this label since my own adolescence—and for nearly half of my life—through shaky times, through prosperous times, through difficult times, successfully, in failure, in celebration. all of it. it’s impossible for me to separate it from my own identity at this point. so when we made the decision to move our mail order operation out of our own control over to a third party half the country away, that weighed heavily on us. it felt like removing a part of the self in a way i can’t explain. we knew it had to be done, but the savings and perceived efficiencies came with a heavy dose of malaise around this tangible loss of identity and sovereignty.
we see this as an opportunity to re-take control and autonomy over physical aspects of the label once again, but also to potentially go so much farther than that if the opportunity presents itself. we're gonna need your help to get there though. if this label has at any point meant anything to you, we hope you'll consider sharing and/or contributing to our Kickstarter campaign.
how we can help you: information about orders and refunds from our Bandcamp and our website
PLEASE READ EVERYTHING BELOW BEFORE GETTING IN CONTACT WITH US ABOUT AN ORDER. our inbox is slammed currently. if you sent a message to email@example.com, we got it! please don't send multiple emails. it's confusing and slows down our ability to get to everyone else's requests. lastly, please don't email any other addresses at the label. please only contact firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance related to an order. THANK YOU!
- if you ordered something from us before August 17, 2022, this very likely doesn't affect you at all.
- if you pre-ordered a record that will be released in 2023, this does not affect you. if your pre-order contains an item from our back catalog, though, that portion of your order is potentially affected as we do not currently have access to our inventory. we, of course, hope to regain access by 2023. you can wait (THANK YOU) or optionally request a refund by emailing email@example.com with this request and your order info.
- if you pre-ordered an album to be released in 2022, we are re-routing shipments of all pre-order inventory to my personal residence and i will be hand packing them all myself in order to get you your orders on time. your order is unaffected and will still ship! i'll even give it a little smooch on the way out!
- if you pre-ordered a copy of Bellows' Next of Kin or supernowhere's Skinless Takes a Flight on vinyl, it will be arriving at the Port of Houston later this week and we have arranged for the shipment to be re-routed from going to Awesome's warehouse in Austin to a different warehouse based in Houston where the staff there will be shipping out orders for us in an adhoc basis. your order is unaffected and will be arriving to you within the next month (shoutout Night Owls!)
- if you're unsure when a record you pre-ordered is expected, you can check our shop updates page to see when all of our active pre-orders are scheduled for release.
- if you ordered from us and must request a refund, we understand and we will process it. but we ask that you please consider the costly ramifications to us and instead remain patient with us during this time as we pursue getting our warehouse operation back under our own control and again resume shipping orders directly ourselves. we are working to have this happen as soon as feasibly possible and this is our singular focus currently.
- Awesome Merchandise sourced and printed merch for us and our artist roster. for the last month+ any new merch projects we sent to them to print for us were never started (this was not communicated to us). if you've pre-ordered merch from us recently, it doesn't exist. we are scrambling to move these merch projects to other reliable printers and will get them made and sent to you as soon as we can. TL;DR: if you pre-ordered new merch from us: it is delayed, but is still being made and will still ship. you can wait (THANK YOU) or optionally request a refund by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with this request and your order info.
- if you ordered an Elephant Gym "12 Hour Tour" merch item, these were never printed. we are having them printed with other reliable printers and they will be made and sent to you as soon as possible. you can wait (THANK YOU) or optionally request a refund by emailing email@example.com with this request and your order info.
- if you ordered a Knifeplay merch item, these were never printed. we are having them printed with other reliable printers and they will be made and sent to you as soon as possible. you can wait (THANK YOU) or optionally request a refund by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with this request and your order info.
- i know this is still probably confusing despite our best efforts. if you still have an inquiry about your order, you can contact us at email@example.com. please include any information about your order that you can find so we can better assist you. your order number is especially helpful!
- otherwise, if you wish to ask us questions or offer feedback directly, we are available for async / sometimes-real-time conversation and support in our Discord.
fundraising measures: how you can help
below is how we are planning to utilize any funding we receive, in order of immediate priority:
- legal fund
, or cash used to re-gain or buy back control of our inventory (i cannot believe that is a real sentence i had to just type).UPDATE: we now have access to our inventory!! but it is still unclear whther we will need to pursue legal action to recover money owed to us by Awesome Merch.
- cash on hand to process refunds.
- funding and implementing stop-gap solutions for re-routing stock that is currently in transit or scheduled to arrive at Awesome's Austin warehouse location that can no longer be accepted there (we have several thousand records currently in transit to this location via sea freight, air freight, and domestic ground transport that need to be intercepted and re-routed).
- funding the work various interim fulfillment partners will do to help send out orders that can immediately be shipped.
- identifying and funding a short-term solution to get our inventory safely out of Awesome's warehouse, if and when we are allowed access to it again (this will require flights, rental vehicles, fuel, insurance, accommodations, meals, and other intangibles).
- finding a longterm viable partner to safely move our inventory out of Awesome's warehouse to, if and when we are allowed access to it again (this will require flights, rental vehicles, fuel, insurance, accommodations, meals, and other intangibles).
- finding a longterm leased solution that we are in control of that we can safely move our inventory out of Awesome's warehouse to, if and when we are allowed access to it again (this will require flights, rental vehicles, fuel, insurance, accommodations, meals, and other intangibles).
- finding a longterm ownership or co-ownership solution—like, we buy a building and own it ourselves—that we are in control of that we can safely move our inventory out of Awesome's warehouse to, if and when we are allowed access to it again (this will require flights, rental vehicles, fuel, insurance, accommodations, meals, and other intangibles).
i'd like to make it clear that these priorities are not mutually exclusive. it's likely that we will pursue several of them in an ongoing and simultaneous manner. we'll do what feels smartest with the information available to us.
a portion of the label's archive: CDs, cassettes, plus test pressings and copies of every variation of every vinyl record we've ever released. conveniently located like 26 steps away, and not locked away in a warehouse 1,400 miles away.
so how’re we gonna fund this? alright, you read this sob story. you know how money works. this is gonna cost money. the good news is we have some hopefully valuable stuff we can sell and it would be great if maybe you and lots of other people bought it.
back in 2018 when we moved our inventory to Austin, we made the decision to keep archive copies of all of our releases with us. they're now our lifeline and what we're selling to raise funds to navigate this mess. the archive is 5-20 copies of every version of every physical album we’ve ever released, including CDs, cassettes, out-of-press vinyl, super rare vinyl, and hand-stamped and numbered test pressings. every release in our catalog (as well as limited edition merch) is available. please check out the tiers and many add-ons we have made available as part of this campaign!
- we have a modest savings as a business to sustain payroll and continue to pay out artist royalties, etc.
- we also still have cashflow to sustain our day-to-day and continued operation via physical and digital revenue from our distributor, sync placements, etc..
- we are exploring options to take out an interest-free advance from our distributor if needed.
- we have access to up to $33k via a Paypal “Working Capital” loan at a flat fee of $6.3k (19%). we'd like to avoid using this if we can because the fee is so high, but it's there as a last resort should we need it.
and you can contribute directly via any of the below means:
- venmo: @kevinduquette
- cashapp: $kevinduquette
- paypal: paypal.me/topshelfrecords
- eth: topshelfrecords.eth //
if you can't directly help, we ask that you consider sharing this campaign on your socials, on message boards, list servs, Discord servers, Slack channels, individually over text with that super offline friend, etc., etc., etc.!!! WE NEED YOUR HELP!!
below are some limited options we have made available in our shop. you can also check out what we have available as part of our Kickstarter campaign.
- context / the problem: what's happening and how we're trying to weather it
- "what now?": proposed solutions
- how we can help: info related to orders and refunds
- fundraising measures: how you can help