There’s a lot to pick apart at your average merch booth. Every band has their own way of doing things, but some bands clearly do way better than their peers – even if they aren’t that much bigger. Obviously some of this relies on your ability to draw superfans and how good your show was, but there are also things you can do that will both maximize your profits and pretty much guarantee solid sales at your merch booth no matter what. I want to talk about these things, the things that can save you after a shitty night in Cleveland, or which can put you over the top after a killer show in Texas. It’s by maximizing your merchandise strategy that you are going to find the most money and which will guide you forward to exciting new pastures of financial gain.
First of all is the question of getting t-shirts printed. There are a couple things with regards to T-shirts that you can do that will help to maximize your profits. First of all be aware that the fewer colors you have the cheaper your shirt is going to be. This is important to keep in mind when choosing designs. Beyond that – XXL shirts sell a lot better than you might expect and are worth it, even if they do cost a little more. By the same token – XXXL rarely is worth it. There simply aren’t enough people in that size bracket to make it cost effective. Furthermore, as sexist as it might sound, female cut shirts probably aren’t worth it unless you’re approaching a 50/50 gender ratio or better in favor of women buying merch. In most cases though in the male dominated world of independent music, going for intersex shirts is the best choice and most women will just purchase them. Tour shirts too aren’t really that much of a selling point. Sure if you have a tour shirt it will sell more, but the odds are there aren’t a lot of people who wanted a shirt who are walking away just because the dates aren’t on the back. The issue too, asides from the fact that these are more expensive, is that if you get tour shirts you’re kind of obliged to sell out of them that tour, otherwise you’re stuck with a bunch of useless shirts to give your friends. Just keep things as simple as possible, and remember that Large is usually the best selling size, regardless of genre.
What is important to note though is that having more designs is better than having more colors. With every color added to a design on a run of fifty shirts it’s going to cost another twenty or more dollars to the final cost. That money is better invested in multiple designs of one or two color shirts. For many of the bands I manage, their best selling shirt is a one or two color design – so why bother investing in the more colored shirts? It’s not like you’re pricing the more colorful ones higher anyway! Speaking of best selling shirts – be aware that you probably will end up with one design that outsells all the other designs by two or three times. That’s just one of those weird tour life things that no on can properly explain but which is a nice little bonus to your revenue streams and often a pleasant surprise. Be aware though that if you are selling a lot of a certain design, keep as many as possible in stock. Some people might like that one design and be unwilling to bend and try out other models.
When you are managing merch for an independent band what truly matters is the upsell. Be sure to have a ton of cool packages, and items that you can sell for another five bucks. A CD+shirt package is always a good idea, because if you sell someone a shirt you can easily turn around and say, “Would you like a CD for 10 more?” a question that almost always has a positive answer. Having the smaller ticket items is great too. While selling stickers is rarely a good idea, forcing them as a ‘with purchase’ type thing usually works. Be sure to stock up on coozies and patches though – even if you are an opening band a lot of people are interested in spending a mere $5 if they can help a band who they thought put on an admirable show. Hell – people might even pick one up if the merch guy was sufficiently flirty. They also are a great way to help convince people to buy more merch, ie “If you get a CD on top of the shirt I’ll throw in a patch” If you’re an indie band it’s all about the art of the deal and getting people to buy as much stuff as possible.
The final major tip I have with regards to getting people to buy as much shit as possible is to have a ton of variety on your merch table. Have five shirt designs, coozies, patches, hats, stickers, picks, and whatever the fuck else you can come up with. If you have a huge variety of items, not only does it increase the odds that someone will be interested in what you have to buy, but if you have enough unique stuff it will attract people towards your merch stand, just to look. From there it’s an easy matter to start talking to the fans and convincing them to spend a little more money on your band. Don’t be afraid to have a weird one off piece of merch. For example, ACxDC were known for selling onesies – sure they didn’t sell a ton, but a huge amount of people would come up to check it out and then be converted into buying a patch.
Selling merch isn’t a hard thing – it’s just something that requires a little foresight, upfront investment and a charming merch guy. If you can find this magical combination then you are going to be set. Merch is how every band lives and dies, and you need to give yourself every advantage that you possibly can. If you don’t then you’re setting yourself up to fail. The music industry has lost faith in CD’s (To the point that even in shows where we run out of CD’s our merch sales aren’t much lower) and T Shirts have become the core of so many bands very existence. Before you get sent into an existential crisis, realize that this is the new way to advertise bands and we can’t change that, so instead embrace it, go forward and see what happens.
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