Oh man, who checked the "generic grocery bag wrapping" option on the order form?
Alright, we get it. Bands don't always have a lot of money to spend on swag, right? Merch is a great way to increase your potential earnings, but if you do it wrong, you might just end up bleeding dough (and that sounds vaguely religious).
What you need is a band fund that no one touches unless it's for band related expenses. That would be really smart. Oh, and that doesn't mean you should charge your bar tab and Denny's bill to the band account. Fried food and booze comes out of your own pocket, dude.
So get out the piggybank and start putting away those pennies you earn from your digital downloads and gigs, because that's the money you should re-invest in your band's marketing (like your merch, for example). Music costs money, right? Oh wait. File sharing. Never mind.
Music costs you money. That's why you need to take the dimes you find on the street and ask for your nickel back (see what I did there?) because you're going to need it to support your music career.
All kidding aside, music careers really do cost money. Here's how to line your table with awesome merch without going totally broke.
Pay Attention To Order Quantities
Make sure to communicate with your supplier about quantities of orders. It's always possible that you've accidentally checked the "1,000" box when you actually meant to tick the "100" box on the order forms (you might have checked the "goat" box by accident too; that could be interesting). Always double check.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, if you buy more than you need, you will have to pay more. Sure, there will probably be bulk discounts, and you might end up needing more of those items at some point, but you could also end up with too many poor-selling goods that wind up sitting in your garage. We'll cover that in more detail a little later, but the point here is that order quantities are going to factor into your expenses. Don't go overboard.
Pay Attention To Size And Fit
This is another good reason to check out know your audience. When it comes to clothing and apparel, it's not one size fits all. I should know. I tried that once. I ended up having to listen to Bill Murray talk about golf for two and a half hours. No - wait - that may have been a separate incident. I get mixed up sometimes.
Anyway, shirts in particular can be a little picky. You can't just blindly order 50 XXXL shirts and expect to sell them all right away (unless your audience is made up of sumo wrestlers, of course).
For example, if you know that a good chunk of your audience is made up of women (they do consist of 50% of planet earth's total population I hear), you're probably going to need quite a few S and M sizes (you might look into getting a few women's shirts too; they're a little different than men's). Not to flatter anyone, but in general women are a little smaller than men. I take that back; this is not a very flattering subject to talk about at all.
Whatever the case, size and fit should factor into the type of merch you order. Apparel items won't sell as well if you make your decisions haphazardly (as fun as that is). Keep a good variety of sizes on hand.
Pay Attention To How Well A Particular Product Sells
If you buy 1,000 keychains and you find out later that they're not really big sellers, it's a little late, isn't it? You'll probably wind up storing a whole bunch of merch in your garage that no one has any use for. Maybe you could drop it off at a local thrift store and drive off or some such. I guess you could still give them away at shows too. Maybe. It'll just take longer to recover your costs through other goods.
It's not like you need exact numbers to figure out what your top sellers are. It definitely helps if whoever is manning (or womanning) the merch booth tracks sales. That's the best way to know what's going on. Whatever people like, you'll probably need more of it later. Whatever is left, you won't have to buy as often. Save your pennies.
Adjust Your Strategy
If all else fails, you can always try out some things and see how they go over. Don't be afraid to experiment. And no, I don't mean going prog jazz on your audience when they were expecting a hair metal show. Have you not seen This Is Spinal Tap? Are you really okay with going on after the puppet show?
No. Just experiment with different merch items. There's a lot to pick from. The standards like CDs, T-shirts, buttons and stickers tend to do pretty well, but there are also some other interesting items like lighters, umbrellas, tote bags, reusable water bottles that might appeal to your fans. If you want to try something out, first order a smaller quantity and see what kind of response you get from your fans. "You're a loser" is probably not a great response. Just saying.
Are there any other factors bands should consider when ordering merchandise? Alright smarty pants, add your comment below!
Cover image by 4nitsirk