So I’ve written a lot about how you want to have exclusive items at your merch stand in order to generate buzz. By the same token we’ve talked about how you want to have a wide variety of options for your superfans to really be able to capitalize. I think though that with many of my merch articles I didn’t really address beginner bands. Groups who haven’t quite figured out what they want yet and who aren’t trying to plunk down a thousand dollars on merchandise quite yet. So I wanted to spend some time looking at what the core merch items you should be getting are and how to gently expand. What you can do with a lot of these is come up with a purchasing plan such that you never spend too much merch at once but instead slowly grow your reserves in order to build a better future. If you focus on a gradual build then things will start paying for themselves and you don’t have to be that guy coming up and trying to twist your band members arms for $300 at a time.
So of course the basis of any merch stand is the standard CD and T shirt. These should be sold separately as well as in a combo pack. They should be professionally presented and put together because they form the basis of your income, much more so than even guarantees. Some bands have even moved past the CD and just sell download cards. I think we might not be quite there yet but it’s certainly getting close. Now, you want to have as many CD’s on sale as possible (Kunaki.com is my favorite spot to grab ’em!) and you also want to try and have at least two shirt designs. Remember with shirt designs that text only or logo designs rarely do well. You want to have your logo and some sort of image. You also want to try and get any design to three colors or less to save money. If you have a good printer they can even do color blending to help maximize the potential visual impact. To start off with a hundred CD’s and 50 shirts, 25 of two different designs is usually a good launching point and should only run you $400 or so, which when split across four or five band members isn’t bad at all!
The next thing you want to do once you get your basic merch items taken care of is to find your $5 items. These are the ones that have super high turnover and which you’ll be able to more easily convince people to buy. In fact there is an argument that you should invest in $5 items first simply because the ROI and turnover is so goddamn high. I think this is definitely valid, especially if you’re at a point where, for example, you have no physical product to sell yet but playing live. $5 items that make a lot of sense to invest in would be patches, coozies, lighters and posters. These all fit with different sorts of bands, but I just kind of want to get you brainstorming. The point is – people like cheap items, and especially with regards to coozies and lighters, cheap items with utility. If you can capitalize on the fact that you’re playing dive bars then you’re going to be able to generate some very real income.
Then we get to the category that I refer too as ‘luxury items’. These are things that bigger bands seem to have no problem selling and which small groups try to emulate, often with limited success. Look at it this way – if you’re getting a good deal on, for example, sweatshirts, you’re paying $17 a piece which means you’re not selling them for less than $25. Well, if no one has ever paid more than $10 to see you on a bill with three other local bands nor spent more than $15 at your merch table then why would you even fucking bother? No one is going to buy sweatshirts. Sure it’s cool to wear your own bands sweatshirt around, but is that really worth a several hundred dollar investment? You need to be aware of what your market can hold and what is going to give you at least some positive return on investment. If you’re still at the early stages of your career then there is no need to be trying to sell items that cost $25 or more – unless you have something truly special.
I think that the best way to start to grow your merch selection into all of these categories is to create a list of items in terms of priority and then figure out how much each item is going to cost you. Once you have these numbers you and your band can determine a schedule of how you want to acquire these items. Like I said, in my eyes it’s more about spreading out the costs, especially if you’re not facing any tight tour timelines or anything. So if you get a chance to spread the costs out over a few months then you can find yourself with a much stronger merch selection at a fraction of the up front cost. This makes things less stressful for everyone and also means that your initial investments will hopefully already be paying off by the time you order the final pieces of merch on your list. It’s all about looking at things over the long term rather than screwing yourself over because you couldn’t wait to optimize your situation.
So yeah – back to the usual schpiel I guess – merchandise is the core of any band in 2017 and if yours sucks then you will suck. If you’re trying to make money then try and figure out what the best arrangement is for you – it’s hard to give hard and fast rulesbecause they can change so much per genre. At the end of the day I always just try and figure out how I can get my bands the best return on investment and then go from there. You need to be aware of what works in your scene and not just buy shit because you think it’s cool. Once you get to that point and start to grow your options fans are going to come calling and your career will slowly start to get the financial backing it needs in order to really take off.
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