Merch Madness: What the other Merch articles don’t tell you

With CD sales on the decline and touring expenses increasing how’s a band or artist to make money these days? One of the best ways as always…MERCH! While I’ve seen many articles on how to sell more merch I don’t believe any have hit on the specifics points I’m going to show you on specifically how to make more money with your merch. Many of the articles out there are written by companies that manufacture the merch and while they bring up good points, they are not usually in the trenches selling it like I’ve been. I’ve sold merch for club bands such as my own and Lillian Axe and arena mainstays such as Kid Rock, Slayer, Five Finger Death Punch, Keith Urban, Jimmy Buffet, Kesha, Alice Cooper, and others and worked in Taylor Swift’s merch warehouse. Now, while many of these bigger acts are obviously selling mass quantities of merch the principles of what people buy and why remain the same even on a smaller scale. So, read on and learn the Do’s and Don’ts from the pros.

It’s Not About You

This may be the MOST important point so I’m laying it out first. Nothing will help you sell merch quicker and more than having a GREAT design. Sure, you may just want your band name/logo on a shirt and feel that’s enough. You may get your mom, close friends and even a few fans to buy it simply because it has your band’s name on it. But I guarantee you will sell MUCH more of any type of merch if it has an amazing design that resonates with your audience. Who sells the most merch? Metal bands! Why? They have really cool designs that their audiences love. OK, so you’re not a Metal band, come up with something that creates an emotion to your fans. Many people will buy a shirt or other merch just because they like the way it looks. I like Miranda Lambert but I’m not a “die-hard” fan, however she sold a set of 2 small old time saloon looking posters that I bought because I thought they would look cool in my recording studio. One of my favorite ball caps I have is a Five Finger Death Punch hat and I honestly don’t care for the band too much but I LOVE the hat so I bought it. See where I’m going with this? You will sell more merch based on the design than you will your band name. I’ve seen many people not buy any merch because they just didn’t like the way any of it looked. I sell shirts/hoodies that Guitar players love and while it does have my name on it, that’s not the focus. They love it because of my original Yin-Yang Acoustic/Electric Guitar design and it says “Life Is About Balance”. If you’re interested: So, the shirt sells because of the design, not because my name is on it

Know Your Audience

This may seem obvious to some but it’s often overlooked and so are opportunities to sell more merch. Most bands just think of selling shirts and naturally apparel are the big sellers but think about other things your audience is really in to. Are you playing to mostly teenagers? Maybe sell phone Pop Sockets with your logo on it. Do you play coffee shops? My friend and Nashville singer Jasmine Cain sells coffee with her logo all over the bag. A quick side note on that, it may not be a good idea to sell coffee while actually playing in a coffee shop but you can always direct people to your website or if you’re gig is not in a place that sells coffee have at it. Are they beer drinkers? Everyone loves koozies….especially when they have a beer in their hand at your show and their fingers are getting cold. How about jewelry? Keep in mind if it’s handmade or each piece is unique you can definitely ask a higher price. So, dig in and really try to ask yourself what else besides the music and shirts might your audience be interested in?

Know Your Demographic

Yes, this is much like know your audience but let’s go deeper. Are most of your fans male? Female? Straight? LGBT? These things make a difference when deciding what to sell and how much of it you will sell. I worked a stadium show for Luke Bryan and his main shirt was basically his face and name. There may have been slightly more women at the show than men but I promise you, not too many guys bought that shirt. While it was a decent seller to the ladies he lost out on a lot of sales to guys by not having something else that appealed to them. I worked a show for one of my favorite bands The Cult. Their main shirt was a Lavender unisex shirt that just said “I (heart shape) Cult” on it. Very plain for a concert shirt and again not something most of the guys there wanted…a Lavender T-shirt. Likewise, they did have a very cool design with Egyptian wings on a shirt that all the guys did want to buy…till they realized it was only available in a ladies cut. So think about the ratio of your audience and make sure you consider that when deciding what to sell and what kind of design you are going for.

Size Matters

Yes, again, KNOW your audience. There are studies done on ratios of how many shirts in each size you should have and I encourage you to Google it however, again, know your audience AND demographic. Are you playing to mostly young teenage girls? You may not need many 2 and 3 X’s. Touring Asia? Probably the same. Playing at a Sumo championship? Better think BIG! Seriously though, even just different parts of the US can have differences when it comes to the average size of people. Playing to a bunch of beer drinkers…remember, that usually means “beer belly”. A quick note on 2X and 3X…don’t be afraid to charge more for the upsize. More than likely whoever prints your apparel will charge you so you might as well recoup some of that. Some might think, well I don’t want to charge more for that which is fine but keep in mind, people that wear those sizes are already accustomed to paying more for it anyway.

Have Something In Every Price Point

It’s a good, no, it’s a great idea to have something in every price range. I can’t tell you how much you should be charging for your shirts etc. That’s something you have to figure out based on a number of factors but if you’re worried about charging too much and/or not charging enough, having items in every price range helps that. Also, someone may want a souvenir from your show but not have $15-25 to spend on a shirt but they’ll buy a koozie for $5. Try to think of that items you could have in various price ranges…$5, $10, $15, $20 and so on. Maybe even offer a one of a kind or limited edition high dollar amount item. Are you good at painting? Sell a hand painted item for $150. If you have the right audience some people love to spend a good amount on something that only THEY have. On the opposite end I actually don’t recommend any items under $5 for a few reasons. If you’re taking cash (which you should…and should also be taking credit cards…there are too many easy and affordable options out there now not to) it means dealing with singles. NO ONE wants to deal with that and it becomes much more of a hassle than what it’s worth. But wait, you have guitar picks, stickers, buttons and other small items you can see charging $5 for? I get it. Package them together in a $5 bundle or use them as give-a-ways if someone spends a certain dollar amount. Trust me, people will spend $5 just as easily as they would spend $1. A side note there, since you are going to be taking credit cards…right??? Don’t be afraid to do a minimum purchase of like $10 for all card purchases. Again, most people are used to this as most bars do that, a CC purchase will take you a little more time than a cash transaction so you might as well get more out of it, and, for most CC purchases some third party somewhere is taking a cut of your money so you might as well boost your margin a bit. One show I worked we had a LOT of people coming up to buy $5 koozies with a credit card. Much more hassle than what it was worth so we just decided to put a minimum of $10 purchase on all CC purchases. Guess what happened? Suddenly everyone started buying TWO koozies 😊

To Choose Or Not To Choose

Obviously it seems like a good idea to give your fans choices…different styles, different colors but make sure you don’t give them too many choices. Too many choices can make it more confusing for your buyer and they could end up just waling away. I’ve seen it happen more than you may think. If you have 8 different shirt designs that can be a bit overwhelming to your fans not to mention, hopefully you have a line at your merch table and you don’t want to hold up or lose other sales while people decide. Also, make sure whatever designs you do have are varied enough. I did a show for one artist who had 2 different tote bags. The only issue was both were the same exact design except one had a song title on it and the other had a different song title on it. Fans were very confused because first, they didn’t even realize that the 2 totes hanging on the display were different since the design was the same. They only found that out when I told them or they looked VERY closely, Second, then they couldn’t decide which one they wanted? Bad marketing. I promise you if the totes had rather different designs many people would have bought one of each and he could have sold a lot more. On that note, totes are smart thing to sell…especially if you play a lot of outdoor events…people have accumulated goodies through out the day, they’ve bought some of your merch, maybe another bands, they have that golf club shaped plastic Pina Colada cup they want to take home but not carry around. Sell them something to carry it all in.

But My Names Not On It

When it comes to merch we always think about selling items that have your band name or logo on it and you should (just make sure it’s a cool design, remember?). However, some other thing you may be able to sell (and heck, if you can get your band logo on them go for it!) are items like rain ponchos and ear plugs. These are two items that when some one wants or needs them, they REALLY want or need them.

Other Things To Consider

You can try bundling merch items as a package deal. A shirt, CD, and a poster for a reduced price. Keep in mind the only problem in doing this is it can make it more difficult to keep track inventory and how much was sold that night since the numbers won’t add up the same as if the items were sold separately

Give away some merch from the stage. One, this draws attention that in fact you have merch and it’s a GREAT time to let everyone know you have a merch table set up…you do right? Secondly, sure you didn’t make money off that shirt you threw out into the audience but it was great moment to get the audience more involved in your show and hey, I promise you they will wear that shirt AND proudly tell their friends they caught it at you show so it’s free advertising for you

Make sure you have GREAT looking merch display that’s easy to read and easy to find. That is SO important! Having your merch set up off the side of the stage may not be a great location as there’s usually gear and it can be cluttery. It’s ALWAYS best to have it near the door so people see it when they come in and you can make easy sales as they are about to leave. Make sure it’s well lit so it stands out and screams… HEY I’M THE MERCH TABLE OVER HERE!
ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS go to your merch table when you are done playing or at least one or some of the band. People are much more likely to buy when they are getting to know what a cool person you are…you are, right? It’s also a great way to get them on your mailing list and when they buy that shirt you are there to say hey, you wanna buy a koozie for that beer in your hand? How about a tote bag to carry it all home in.

Lastly, plan ahead to set up your merch. Think of it as part of setting up your gear. Don’t wait till the last minute and throw it together. If possible, try to have it set up before the doors open so people can see all the cool stuff you have as they walk in. They may see something they really want (and not buy that last beer later) so they set money aside to get it…shhhh….don’t tell the bar owner I told you that.

There are many other aspects of selling merch I didn’t touch on here… Shirt styles, where to have your merch made, should you buy in bulk or do Print On Demand, and so on. There’s a lot that goes into it but you really owe it to yourself as a musician to understand it. We spend countless hours learning our instrument, rehearsing with the band, marketing on Social Media, booking shows to make money and get our music out there but unfortunately many musicians do not spend much time understanding their merchandise which can yield a good deal of income and if nothing else be a nice supplement to covering touring expenses and can even be the difference in whether or not you make money on a tour. Lastly, remember, when someone is wearing your shirt, they are a free (actually, they paid you) walking billboard for your band.

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