Congrats! You’ve reached the point in your music career where it’s time to start thinking about merchandise you can sell to your fanbase. Now what?
Merch can get expensive. You need to order shipments in advance to bring to shows, and place your best bet on whether fans will clamour for it, or if you’ll have boxes full of band snow globes stored in your closet for years after your bassist moves abroad.
The point I’m trying to make is ordering physical merch is a financial risk. So to better determine whether it’s one you want to take, here are five factors to consider, which I will explain in detail below: Fan Appeal, Wholesale Cost, Retail Markup, Ease of Transport, and Ease of Storage.
It all boils down to: will your fans love this merch item enough to buy it? Knowing who your super fans are is key. Are they mostly men, or women, or both? If you have a large number of women supporters, maybe consider also ordering t-shirts in a feminine cut (yes, there is difference, and yes, they will notice).
How about their age? If your fans are mainly tween girls, they probably would gravitate towards different merch items than retirees, university frat boys, or young urban professionals.
And don’t forget their relationship to your brand! If you are a teen heartthrob, you might do really well with signed posters of your face… A prog-jazz trio may not. If you are a metal band with a unique logo, iron-on patches might be a hit… but teddy bears wearing mini band shirts not so much. If you are an alt-rock group who plays the bar scene, custom hangover kits might be perfect for your crowd… but a contemporary Christian group might leave moms in the crowd clutching their pearls in horror.
Know your audience, offer merch they would buy that aligns with your brand.
The next big consideration is how much will it cost you upfront to order this merch (don’t forget to factor in shipping, duty on international orders, and any other expense involved). While merch order companies that cater to independent bands and artists may let you order the exact custom number of units you need, many bigger places with cheaper prices have a minimum (for example, “you must order at least 100 pins for it to be worth our time to set up”).
They also offer discounts for bulk orders – but please remember to use your common sense and elementary school math when it comes to these. Yes, you get to save 10% on your order if you purchase 2500+ custom coffee mugs… but if you only have 6 people on your mailing list, you’ll be lugging those to gigs for a long time. If in doubt, order smaller amounts.
The next factor to consider, if the retail markup, AKA, how much can I sell this for? Evidently, the point of selling merch is to make more money. So, to break it down with math… If you paid $1000 total for an order of 100 custom t-shirts, their wholesale cost to you is $10. If you don’t sell them all, or price them at less than $10 each, you will not make $1000, and lose money. If you sell them all at $10 each, you have broken even. If you price them at, say, $20 each, you only need to sell 50 shirts to make your money back, and the rest is profit.
Tip: Don’t forget that you can change the retail prices of your merch while on tour or when playing different venues. For example: the residents of the big cities are used to paying more for band merch (when they’re also holding a $5 soft drink – the cheapest thing on the menu) than a smaller town with a lower cost of living. A large corporate gala with millionaire politicians as guests can probably afford a deluxe merch bundle more than college students.
** Make Fans Feel Special: Video Lessons + a .PDF download of 100+ non sales-y email ideas to send fans! **
Ease of Transport:
So, the boxes of merch just arrived on your doorstep the morning of. You load up the van with the drum kit, the PA, and the boxes. Now, time to pick up the rest of your band… Ergonomics: on a scale of stickers to helium balloons. Fragility: on a scale of t-shirts to vinyl disks. Choose wisely.
Ease of Storage:
Last, but not least, you need to factor in what to do with the merch in between gigs. Obviously, the best possible option is to constantly sell everything you order, and never have to store silicone bracelets in the vegetable drawer of your apartment fridge because there’s no other place for them (your three roommates may object, but they have to find them first – and that requires them opening the vegetable drawer!).
In all seriousness, try to order merch you can sell quickly, and never have to hold onto too long. Smaller items such as patches and pens can be tucked under your bed. If you’re at the end of your album cycle and have an assortment of stuff to get rid of, take a cue from stores at the mall.
Have a sale on t-shirts sized XXXS and XXXL (the two ends of the sizing spectrum is what’s usually left after the vast majority snap up S, M, and L. Raise the price of your show tickets, and everyone in the crowd gets a “free” key-chain that would cost the difference (if people actually bought it). It’s a balance between losing a bit of money short term, and losing a lot of closet space until you move.
** read next: Band Merchandise – How To Get Started & Sell More **
There you have it! Please tweet me pictures of your merch at @popofcolourmm – I love being inspired by your ideas!