In our last blog, we wrote about the most important and productive ways for an artist to make money in today's ever-changing music industry (remember, DON'T EVER GIVE UP!) If you haven't read that blog yet, consider going back to read that now. One of the biggest ways that musicians today make money is by selling merchandise. It is a great way to engage your fans, publicize your name, and make some money along the way.
This week, we talked with Professional Graphic Designer and Owner of Township T-Shirt Company (our favorite print company), Dale Biebel. Dale graciously offered up his industry insight on getting the best merchandise for your band, how to sell the most of it, and how to get it for the best price. Dale and his wife Sarah are incredible at what they do, and wanted to share their "guide to merchandise" with you. Without knowing about the graphic design and printing industries, it is easy to overpay for your merchandise or to get a less than desirable design.
Below you will find our questions for Dale followed by his answers:
The Music Barn: What are the most important items to purchase to re-sell? Are there any “must have items”? Are there any popular items that are often forgotten?
Township T-Shirt Company: Honestly, it is much more about the design that is on the merchandise and people wanting to have a connection with the brand itself as opposed to what item to buy. For example, I work with a lot of gyms. While gyms are obviously not bands, a lot of the same things apply. Gyms are good at creating a community. If you as a person, feel that you are a member of a particular community, and you are proud of that community, you want to brag about it. Some gyms do a better job than others at creating this sense of pride in their community.
It is the same thing for bands. When someone buys your t-shirt, they are doing so to brag about the fact that they are a part of your community. Does your brand have that relationship with your customers? That is how you are going to get people to buy your merchandise.
As far as actual products are concerned, the nicer the quality of the shirt, hoodie, or whatever, someone is much more likely to buy that. You are generally much better off when you go with higher quality merchandise that will be comfortable and enjoyable for your fans to wear.
The Music Barn: With so many print and design companies out there, both small "mom and pop shops" and massive online retailers, how does a band pick a reputable print company that would be the best fit for them?
Township T-Shirt Company: There are so many people out there doing business. I went to a conference for this in Atlantic City recently, and even I was surprised at the amount of people doing business in our area. The most important thing is to find a local company, whether it be us or someone else more local to you. To find someone local maybe google companies near you, or ask around to other local businesses to see who they used. Regardless, it is much better to find a local printer to you instead of going to those huge online retailers.
If you were to google right now, "Where can I get my shirt printed?", Custom Ink and the others would all pop up at the top of your search. They pay millions of dollars in advertising to show up at the very top of your search. They also spend loads of money on commercials, billboards, targeted ads, etc. In the end, that money comes from you. When you purchase from those online retailers, their markups on items are absolutely insane. The prices they will give you are not actually the prices that you should be paying for that merchandise. They do this because they can; because they are fast and convenient.
Go find a local print shop that will take the time to create a relationship with you as we do with our customers. Local print shops are oftentimes happy to guide you in the decision making process, help you get the best price, and to help you navigate the market to make conscious choices about your merchandise... and they will almost certainly be cheaper than any of the big online companies you come across.
The Music Barn: Do you have any suggestions on creating a design that a band's fanbase would want to buy?
Township T-Shirt Company: As a graphic designer, I would love to say that it is all about the logo, but it isn't. When I think of logos and band designs, I think of Kiss. All their logo is, is the word "Kiss". It isn't some extravagant logo with a whole lot of great design behind it. Yet, Kiss can sell just about anything that they put their logo on. They put their logo on a t-shirt and all of a sudden it is worth $40.
The design is important, but the relationship and sense of community that a band has with their fans is much more important. You could have the best design in the world, but if your fans don't feel connected to your brand you still won't sell any t-shirts. You just need to find a way to create a sense of community within your brand that makes people proud to wear your merchandise.
The Music Barn: How do you set the best price for your merchandise that will sell well and make you a profit? How do walk that line between too cheap and too expensive?
Township T-Shirt Company: To me, whenever I talk about pricing... you can sell something for whatever your audience is willing to pay for it. Blink-182 can sell their t-shirts for $40, whereas you or I could not. If a local band was to try to sell their shirts for $40, they wouldn't sell any because that price is unreasonable.
Pricing for your merchandise will come down to your primary goal for your merchandise. Is your goal to make money? Is your goal to just get the word out about your brand and gain name recognition? Is your goal to build a sense of community? Merchandise can do all of these things, but your mentality on what your primary goal is will play a big role in determining your pricing.
Personally, I give my shirts out for free in the hopes that someone will see another person wearing my shirt and then that person will search for us when they are looking to get their shirts printed. If your primary goal is to make money, you are obviously pricing your merchandise much differently than I do.
You ever watch Shark Tank? I was watching an episode just the other day in which someone was trying to sell a product for $169. The guy was making a killing selling his product for this price, all of the sharks loved his profit margin until he said that he had only sold 10,000 units. That is when one of the sharks said that if they were to partner with him, that he would need to cut his prices to $99... by doing that he could possibly sell 100,000 units as opposed to 10,000.
There are mental barriers to prices. People are much more likely to buy something for $99 than for $100. Anything over $100 is crossing over a barrier in the pricing. The other big price break is at $50. Mentally, it is much easier to pull the trigger on an item for $49 than an item for $55. So, for tee shirts, I would say that number is right around $20. If your shirts are priced at $25, $30 you will make your audience think twice about buying them; whereas if they are $15 that is one less mental barrier your customer needs to cross to buy the item, thus they are more likely to buy your shirt as an impulse buy.
The Music Barn: Are there any other tips you have for musicians when they are looking to purchase merchandise to sell?
Township T-Shirt Company: A lot of times when you go to Custom Ink or other companies that don't offer graphic design services, they will just slap your logo on a tee shirt and sell it to you. They will just print your design for you without really thinking about it. That is what sets us apart from other companies. With our graphic design background we really critically analyze our customer's designs, and even design for them to create the best item for them.
Again, whether you were to use us for your printing needs or some other local company to you, it doesn't matter. Just find a company that will walk you through things like the price breaks on a design, the price difference if you were to do one side as opposed to two sides or if you were to do single color as opposed to multi-color. It is also important to make sure your logo is versatile. Like we did with your logo (The Music Barn merchandise), we talked a lot about the color of the logo, the sizing of the logo so that we could use the same screen on every shirt, and just changing the color of the merchandise and the type of merchandise (hoodie vs t-shirt). It is important to create something versatile as that will save you lots of money... only local companies will take that time to work with you on creating that. If you are really trying to make money on merchandise, the printing process is incredibly important. All of those little details that change the cost of printing are things that an outsider maybe wouldn't know unless you told them. Just find a printer that will walk you through all of these decisions to save you the most money as opposed to just putting your logo on a shirt no questions asked.