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  • Technique: Merchandising From A To $

    By Chris Marion |



    Merchandising From A To $



    Whether your band is Maroon 5 or you’re just five guys marooned in a cargo van in Gary, Indiana every Friday night, you stay in business by generating revenue. Besides performance fees, there is no more consistent method to generate revenue than the sale of band merchandise. It not only augments your performance income but it also represents phenomenal promotional value when a fan leaves with a physical representation of your band in clothing, audio or various other sundry types of product. We’ll camp out in merch world this week to examine technique and strategy for getting you started correctly or enhancing what you already have going.


    Developing Your Product Line


    Having great marketable merchandise is by no means accidental. It requires careful planning and consideration. Let’s look at some specific angles.


    1. Know your demographic


    It’s important to have a good idea of what your fans or usual concert attendees might consume, wear or be interested in. If you entertain frequently at retirement homes, selling a band thong might end up being a frustrating task – not just for your merch girl but for staff at the nursing homes after the shows. Take a look at your crowds and base your merch development accordingly.


    1. Know your budget limitations


    It’s really cool to walk up to a full merchandise table. It’s not so cool when you have to pay for all of that merchandise up front. Let’s do some math – if you buy three dozen t-shirts from sizes S-3X at $7.50 per t shirt (average bulk t shirt rate) that looks like this:


    $7.50 x $36 x $6 = $1620.00


    Now you can sell these t-shirts for $15 to $30 per t-shirt but this might not happen the first night at the VFW. Consequentially, it’s smart to have a merchandise budget that is independent of your normal operating expenses. In my coordination of merchandise for my band, I try to pigeonhole proceeds from nightly sales to cover not only outstanding merchandise invoices but to cover future purchases before funds go into general band revenue for royalty consideration. In your band, it might require some discipline to avoid using CD sales to cover the band bar tab but in the long run, merchandise sales can sustain themselves.


    1. Design is paramount


    You might love your girlfriend’s killer stick man and stick dog sketches but will 100’s of your fans want to wear a t-shirt with her design? It’s worth going with professional artwork and layout when you are investing hard earned band monies into products that will represent you every time a fan dons your gay apparel. Most screen printers and merch fulfillment companies have in house designers that can create camera ready designs that will pop on t shirts and other product. There might be a nominal fee but your fans will thank you in the long run by wearing your stuff proudly.


    1. Variety is the spice of sales


    The endearing adage in merch world is you have to have it to sell it. I’ve found that having a good variety and several choices increases the odds that you’ll sell something and even up-sale to multiple pieces. It’s also important to have a range of price points for sale. Not everyone has the liquid funds after dropping cash for tickets and beer to buy a band leather tour jacket. But, they might drop 5 dollars for a signed band picture or a koozie. It’s smart to have the variety in your lineup that will satisfy a variety of potential customers.


    1. Choose the right merchandise fulfillment company


    I can’t emphasize how important this is to the process. We use a company called Future Shirts for our t-shirts, hoodies, and various novelties from key chains to pictures. My representative at Future, Jourdan Coker is just as essential as I am in our merchandising because she applies her expertise in her field to help us fulfill our orders. Here are some of the considerations that go into something as simple as a t-shirt order:


    1. design and artwork
    2. manufacturer of line
    3. size availability
    4. type of fabric
    5. color
    6. inks for screen printing
    7. logistics of manufacture and turn around
    8. merchandise trends for other customers
    9. seasonal trends
    10. ordering and purchase
    11. tracking and coordination


    When you have a good working relationship with a fulfillment company, they partner with you in the process and really invest in you as a client. It’s also important to investigate the reputation of a company you are considering working with. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true. Legitimate fulfillment companies might not be cheap but they deliver what you pay for. Again, you can’t sell it if doesn’t get fulfilled and shipped to your house.


    Selling Your Product


    Performance venue sales – of all possible sales points, venue sales in association with your performances is the most optimum. Hopefully, your performance has given fans something to motivate their interest – now it’s time to mop it up and exploit.


    *** Your merchandise set up and sales are part of your performance! Treat it with the same deliberate planning and preparation that you put into your shows. For a live band in a regional or local situation, you have the potential to easily double your revenue on any given evening. Likewise, any piece of merchandise that you send home in the hands of a fan is promotional.


    Here are some methods and considerations that will enhance performance sales and give you maximum bang for your buck.


    -          Create an attractive display – often display is an afterthought – you merely throw some CD’s into a pile on a crappy dark table. You’ve got to create something visual that draws fans to your table like a moth to the flame. Go to Kinko’s or your local printer and create a banner with your band name that you can hang behind your table. Use a couple of old speaker stands to raise it up higher and use a couple of clip on utility lights to illuminate the banner. Create a grid that is easily transportable to set up and tear down to hang up t-shirts and CD display models. Use sale proceeds to constantly improve your display. The effort translates to increased traffic. Like a “field of dreams”, build it and they will come. They have to come to the table to buy merchandise. Make sure that your table is located in a strategic spot where traffic is higher. Finally, make sure that you plan ahead for adequate table and AC for any lights. My band has a collection of utility tubs as well as a rolling hard case for the nightly set up. Having something with wheels makes it easier to stage. For your information, here’s a suggested inventory list of what you might need to have in your tub:


    1. 50 ft power chord
    2. power strip with multiple outlets
    3. black table cloth (dress up a crummy table or even cover your merchandise after setting up)
    4. packing tape – the swiss knife of display assembly
    5. carpet utility knife to open boxes, etc
    6. bungees – great for hanging banners, signs, or even holding stuff together on a rolling cart over bumps
    7. utility lights – light up the banner, light up the autograph area after the show, be able to see how to pack it up
    8. laminated price list for all merchandise – easily put together at any kinkos or copy place
    9. price tags for all displays
    10. sharpies – have them in colors that suit your product (ie: black t-shirt needs a gray sharpie)
    11. optional – your own fold up table and a chair for the seller
    12. settlement sheets for count in and count out
    13. calculator if you don’t have one on your phone


    -          Have a designated seller with proper preparation and essential tools – I know that we think sex sells and it seems like a great idea to have the drummer’s hot girl friend in a thread bare t-shirt and cut offs as your merch seller. If she has limited math skills and the personality of a slice of white bread, you are not doing yourself a favor. The optimum merch seller is part carnival barker and part auctioneer. He or she has to be able to engage customers all the while keeping count and taking inventory. Be picky! There’s nothing worse than losing sales or even worse losing money because you have someone at the helm who is incompetent. Here are some specific considerations:


    1. make sure the seller is familiar with all stock and pricing. Make it easy for them to just sell. I recommend counting in and counting out to keep from having to keep an item-to-item sales tally.
    2. ESSENTIAL: have a bank with adequate change. There’s nothing worse than having the line back up because you have to find some one with two fives to make change.   Hit the bank the day after your gig and prepare the bank in a designated money bag. A toiletry bag makes a great combination money bag and sharpie container.
    3. make sure that the seller knows your sizes and where each product is located. Nothing worse than having to dig around for a 3x only to realize that you don’t have it in that t-shirt.
    4. make sure that you have adequate staffing for the event. If you are playing your Aunt Harriet’s luncheon, one seller will suffice. If you are playing a street festival with 20 K in attendance, plan on having some back up just in case. Don’t lose a sale because you have just one swamped seller.


    -                Expand your potential sales by having a credit card option. There are a variety of options available that turn your smart phones or tablets into functional credit card terminals. Gone are the days when you needed a phone line and an expensive band provided terminal to swipe a credit card. My band uses Square Up. I have a 4G tablet that is designated for merchandise sales and a little dongle that plugs into the 1/8 audio output slot. Square Up charges 2.75% per swipe and deposits the funds into designated banking account within a couple of business days. You can create templates for each piece of product that make tallying up as simple as pressing the icon for that merch piece. As well, it will tally your sales for the end of the night calculations. There is no long term contract or monthly fee and the swipe dongle is included in the creation of an account. Our credit card sales always add 30 to 40% more gross sales on any night. When people are used to buying a .75 cent coffee with their debit card, don’t miss an impulse buy for your stuff.


    -                Promote your merchandise from the stage – I don’t advocate trying to pitch the merch table between every song like a PBS telethon. However, make a pitch early by using the old “if you like this song, it’s on my greatest hits and near misses CD at our merch table over there”. This connects the music they’re hearing to the merch table. Even if they don’t like the music, remind them that there’s a crap ton of CD’s sitting in your mom’s basement that you are trying to unload. Then pitch the merch one more time before the last song. Trying promoting the fact that you are going to sign autographs and babies right after the show. ***see the next suggestion***


    -                Always plan on going out to the merch table right after the show is completed.  Do this especially if you follow the previous suggestion that you announce it before the last song… Seriously, if anyone likes what you do or at least thinks your lead guitarist is a hottie, draw them to your merchandise area. Again, more traffic means more sales.


    Web Sales and Aggregators


    In a previous published article called “Let’s Make A Deal Pt. 3 – Be Your Own Distributor” I touched on the previously mentioned stuff but went into serious detail about web sales, aggregators and fulfillment companies. Rather than try to cleverly disguise the fact that I am plagiarizing myself, the above hotlink will get you to this content and outline some serious opportunities to sell your merchandise online and even have a 3rd party fulfill your orders. It’s a great service that takes the head ache out of having a web presence.


    In conclusion, I caution any artist or band considering whether or not to dive into merchandise sales. Obviously, it requires deliberate investment and planning. There is bookkeeping, accounting, inventory, storage, restocking, design, delivery and the most daunting task of fortune telling what is going to sell and what will not. I have a closet full of tubs with odd sized t-shirts that never sold, old photographs and various CD’s that we no longer sell. On the flip side, our merchandise sales generate a great deal of revenue for the band on a nightly basis. I am willing to coordinate it and in my opinion, the benefits out weigh the costs. Hopefully after processing this information, you will have enough information to make an educated choice about your own merchandise sales. As always, sell wisely my friends.


    Here are some repeated links for services listed above if you are not familiar with the blue highlighting that indicates a hot link (not judging)…


    Future shirts – www.futureshirts.com


    Square up – https://squareup.com


    Let’s Make A Deal – http://www.harmonycentral.com/articles/lets-make-a-deal-part-3---be-your-own-distributor


    Chris Marion is an American musician best known as a member of Little River Band and for his contribution to the gospel and country music industries. Although graduating college with a B.A. in Psychology, he is a classically trained pianist and has worked in the music industry professionally for over 35 years. As a resident of Nashville, he is involved in the recording industry working in the genres of Gospel, Country and Rock.  Since 2004, he has toured globally with the classic rock act Little River Band as a keyboardist and vocalist.  For more useless trivia and minutiae concerning Chris or to contact him directly, feel free to visit his personal website www.chrismarionmusic.com.

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