Merchandise can be tricky.
A failed attempt to sell something printed with your name or logo can end with a garage full of shot glasses and a cutlery draw full of limited edition forks.
There’s market price to consider, local and global trends, your own image, where your tours will take you and which screen printing company will do the best job for the best price.
To go with that is the process of actually finding someone who can resist the temptation of happy hour to stand behind a table for two to three hours at 7pm on a Thursday night.
Luckily for you we’ve got the help of two merchandise industry veterans to thrash out the basics of how to formulate your first merchandise venture.
Tim Everist, Australian Fashion Industry Guru and Director of Soundmerch® has given us his two cents, while the illustrious head of Midnight Merchandise‘ David Weekes has also weighed in on the very best ways to sell your stuff.
We begin with sales expectations and cost.
It can sometimes end up being ‘the luck of the draw’ when selling something heavily reliant on iconography. While brands like Coca Cola and Samsung pay millions to a team of experienced marketing executives and researchers, you have to rely on the best that you can find within your budget.
First thing is to get advice, either from other merch companies or another band that’ve sold well. Because when you start out, you think you’re going to take on the world and sell a lot of merch- and that might be true- but generally not true when you’re first starting.
It’s a real ‘how much you need’ versus ‘how much you can sell’ thing. For a small local band just starting out to buy a hundred shirts straight off the bat, it might take you a year to sell those shirts, with a sale every month or so.
Local bands don’t have the push that their fans are going to buy their merchandise.
The other thing is, if you have an amazing design on a t-shirt it’s generally going to cost more to put it on there especially in smaller quantities.
And you have to consider that when you decide the price you sell at. For a local band, people are only going to pay $20 for a t-shirt.
Keep it simple; maybe print on black or white t-shirt.
The amount of colours you use in a design affects the final unit cost; if you just use one or two colours in design, it’ll keep your costs down and make it more profitable at the end of the day.
We’re always conscientious that at the end of the day the band has to make some money from what they’re producing, so we try and keep the prices low. It’s a pretty competitive out there with merch; what with ATM, and Love Police. We’re probably the second biggest merch company in Australia, and we’re up against a lot of screen-printing companies as well.
Price is a big factor for bands that are shopping around.
It’s a statement that seems all too common in the music industry but one that remains relevant: there often isn’t a whole lot of money in music making.
You don’t want to waste precious dollars adding an extra shade of magenta to a product, and your graphic designer may want to take your shirt in a particularly floral direction, but unfortunately it all costs $$$.
Intricacy comes at a cost in the merchandise business, and for small bands this can mean that often the best way to go is with a simple black and white printed logo, not that it’s a bad thing.
Trends also play an enormous role in your profitability, and these can shift in a matter of months.
I haven’t seen too many bands’ that haven’t sold anything, although I remember one particular example when Beth Orton came to Australia and she had this great range of shirts, and there was one I think that as just to be ironic: a heavy metal style shirt. And she didn’t sell any of them at the shows I was at, because people didn’t get it, they didn’t get the irony of the heavy metal font.
And another on was Bernard Fanning with one of his tours, and he had a teaspoon. I don’t think Bern was particularly a fan of the idea, but when the merch company brought them out, they didn’t sell. They dropped the price again and again, and in the end there were still hundreds and hundreds of teaspoons left. So, you do need to think about what your crowd are looking for as opposed to what you want. It’s the same as any business venture; you have to know your market. Look at it from their point of view, or you won’t sell it.
We still sell tens of thousands of black and white t-shirts; that’s just the go to item for everyone.
Crewneck sweaters, lots of hats, caps, beanies. I guess the big new merch trend of 2015 is which everyone finds quite amusing is socks. We’re doing lots and lots of socks, hundreds of socks. You can have sports socks with the logo knitted through it or business type socks.
We’ve done socks recently for flight facilities, Client Liaison, In Heart’s Wake, Allday, Chet Faker, the list goes on. It’s a good little item. Relatively inexpensive, and bands sell them for $15 at a show. A nice little memento for people at a show who go to the show who just want to take something home and don’t want to pay $30 for a shirt but they’re happy to buy a $15 pair of socks.
There has been a lift in socks in the last year.
It’s all dependant on trends. I know a lot of big companies look at what’s happening in the UK and the US, and they pre-empt the ‘new’ things by observing what happens overseas, and that tends to catch on. The Grates when I was on tour with them brought out sock hand puppets, in the shape of a giraffe that you could put on your hand. So yeah, socks are good. The basics: that any band can sell a t-shirt, the next step is to sell something different.
While the graphic artists provide the designs, it’s more often than not the merchandise companies that figure out the best ways to use your brand to it’s best potential. In saying this, you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot by not properly communicating with the company you’ve chosen.
Email is the common way in which businesses like Soundmerch or Midnight Merch will ask for a rundown on size, and other particulars, and like dealing with any business that potentially will unlock a fair portion of your income, it pays to be polite.
We also asked Tim and David what their main lasting advice would be for merchandise first-timers.
One thing that new bands should remember, and what screen printers will always tell them, is that if you buy more units, you’ll get them at a lower price per unit. The fact of the matter is you can buy all those shirts and save a few dollars but if you can’t sell those shirts you’re not making your money back on them anyway.
So the thing is: start small, think about the funds you have and what you want to make from that.
I guess just promote it; do a small run.
Utilise Facebook and Instagram, get a photo of it up there. Get an online store, ask someone like me for a bit of advice, if you have any questions.
They’ll be fine, they’ll smash it. They’ll be putting t-shirts up there in no time.
We also recommended that shirts are sold at a profit margin of 40-60%, if you can make a shirt for $5 and sell it for $20, that’s a 75% margin.
Don’t be too concerned with the price hike; people need to take your merchandise seriously, and as well as providing money for the band you also need to take into account how much your merchandise sellers will take away from the night.
Of course, shirts and wearable items make up the majority of onsite sales, but if you are thinking about exploring the regions of CD’s, make sure it looks good.
A cardboard sleeve is a cost effective method of packaging your disks, and for a good EP you can charge it around the $10 to $15 range.
Some final tips on merchandise:
1. Announce where your merchandise stand is located at the end of your show, concertgoers have a habit of maintaining tunnel-vision, and anything that isn’t the bar or the stage can blend in with the furniture.
2. Man the merchandise stall yourself when possible, it pays to have the same face on stage selling you the crewneck.
3. Accept credit cards, if and when possible. Look here for the basics on how to set up a terminal.
4. Promote your stuff. Facebook, newsletter, morse code. Anything and everything.
5. Give the option of subscribing to your newsletter; having a dedicated mailing list can really help with audience attendance at future shows.
6. Set up a decent stand, a clear display of items and sizes, and your largest poster adorning the back wall if possible.
A big thanks to David and Tim for helping us out.