Remember not so long ago when CD's and cheap T-shirts were basically the main merch items at concerts? These items now seem to be going the way of the dinosaur because of digital download availability and due to the fact that many music fans and concert goers are becoming more green and wise to fairtrade. Cheap custom T-Shirts are made in sweatshops by extremely low paid workers while at the same time plastic CD's with their plastic packaging and production chemicals eventually pollute the environment in one way or another. Now that we have a much larger digital market than a physical one we need to adapt our taste in physical merch in order to stay relevant even if the profit margin doesn't immediately seem as lucrative. Get out of the box and create your own brand of merch because what once used to be the status quo just isn't cool anymore.
Quality and Style
I'm not saying T-Shirts aren't cool anymore and I will use them here as one example of a merch product that can be transformed into a new and better item. Quality all depends on how they are made, by whom and with which materials. There is a flood of new companies that you can find online that are custom making bio, recycled and fairtrade merchandise and often they will offer the entire spectrum of quantity when it comes to how much you want to order. For instance twenty shirts to hundreds of them. The point is that it needs to be a high-quality product and you don't necessarily need to order very many. You can custom order according to what is necessary for your tour, record release and you should state the availability of these items on your website. When it's better quality with a lower availability, it has a higher value and you can sell it for more money.
Style is a key ingredient when it comes to getting out of the box with any type of product. It's all about design, color, texture and how it fits with your overall brand image. Your merch should in some way reflect the overall mood and atmosphere of your music. For instance I worked at a Damien Rice concert and at his merch table were eggshell white bio cotton fairtrade slim fit T-shirts with a simple skinny drawing of a ladder stretching from the waist to the neck and it fit to his brand image perfectly. He was selling them for 30 Euros.
I'm not going to list every single possible product you could have at your merch stand, but here are a few that I hope will inspire you towards coming up with your own. Remember that materials, quality and style will make your merch stand out amongst the crowd.
- Indie-Cards- Instead of selling CD's you can sell beautifully designed Indie-Cards made of high-quality thick recycled paper, printed with environmentally friendly ink, with your trademark logo and a digital download link to your music.
- Guitar Picks- obviously with your face on them.
- Stickers and Buttons- they are everywhere you go, but can you make your own unique design?
- Matchbooks- just like the custom ones you find in hotels but with your logo on them.
- Shotglass or Pintglass- maybe you can get sponsered by a whiskey or beer brand.
- Bumper-Stickers- I don't particularly love cars but it is the place where most people listen to music
- Canvas Totes- I recommend finding a company that makes them with long handles rather than short ones.
- T-Shirts-Socks-Beanies- any clothing item that your brand image sticks out on is a good one, when it come to T-Shirts I recommend ordering many more small and medium size than large.
- Custom Zippo Lighters- Expensive but they last forever, look, sound, and smell like Rock'n'Roll and they aren't plastic.
- Herb-Grinder- with your logo on it, need I say more?
- Jewelry- this is a good item if you have a particularly branded logo design that can function in 3D material form, you can make earrings, bracelets, necklaces and rings.
- Bandanas and Hats- they never go out of style.
- Hoodies- expensive but cool.
- Posters- you can also include a digital download link with these.
- Vinyl Records and Cassette Tapes- Though there’s still plastic involved, these products are still way more fun than CD's and you can always package them with custom made materials.
- Wooden LP Record Box- you can design and build your own hand-made wooden LP box with a handle and your logo on it. For this you have to be crafty but you can use it to make a package deal in which you get a record, poster, download code, t-shirt and any other item you can think of that will fit in the box and leave you with a descent profit.
- Artwork- personal items like drawings, photos, texts, postcards, polaroids of you with fans
Investment and Profit
The bottom line is that you need to make more money than you invest. For example if you spend 200 euro on 20 T-shirts and you sell them for 25 euro each than you will make a 300 euro profit. You can than invest another 200 euro of that money on another 20 shirts while putting 100 euro in your pocket. And repeat. One key is to try to predict how much product you will sell according to the events you are selling them at and the amount of fans that will be there interested in buying your product. You don't want to have boxes of product sitting in your basement becoming irrelevant after finishing up a tour.
Effective Merchandise Table
Nobody will buy your merch if they can't find it. It's got to be easy to access, organized, well-lit and inviting. It's best to have someone working your merch stand during the entire show because often people come and go during the concert. It's effective to have your brand logo on a banner above your merch stand and even more attractive is a projector that is lighting up your merch stand with images and videos of your project. Handy items to have at your merch stand are a money box with a lock, some change, pens, black markers and duct tape.
Always price your merchandise in a way that is easy to count, such as instead of 12 euro make it 15, or instead of 8 euro make it 10. If you have a large crowd wanting merch at the end of your concert than you need to move fast in order to sell as much as possible. When it comes to working quickly with cash it is much easier with digits that you can multiply and divide by 5 and 10. Remember to keep your stand well organized and you won't run into any trouble. I always have a guest list book on the side with a pen in it for people to write their impression or opinion of the concert and it can also serve as a mailing list if people choose to leave their email.
As I stated in the beginning, get out of the box and create your own brand of merch because what was once the status quo just isn't cool anymore. Being a musician who plays concerts and sells merch to survive is a year by year accumulative effort and you should be able to adapt with the times, or even lead the way. You want your fans to appreciate you in the long run and the kind of merch you sell reflects your brands values.
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