Choosing, Buying And Selling Band Merchandise

Rock band in red© 2012 Vinny Ribas

 Selling merchandise can greatly increase your income. Picking the right items, knowing where to get them, setting the right price and knowing the best ways to sell them will result in greater sales and greater profits! Here are some tips for each of these areas:

When picking out merchandise to sell: 

  • Find out what your fans really want or use. You can do this by surveying them. You can also use your own powers of observation. For example, if you never see your fans wearing baseball caps, that’s probably not a good product to try to sell to them. If they show up to your gigs in t-shirts, that might be a great seller for you. Sell them things they already spend money on.
  • Get creative. Sell them something that no other acts are selling. This could be something totally unique, like a custom made bracelet. Or it could be something that you find at the flea market!
  • Sell novelty items that symbolize your band. For example, if your band is called ‘The Leaping Lizards’, you might find rubber lizards that you can have your name imprinted on. This works especially well if they are funny (e.g. a gag gift), something to put on display (e.g. a trophy or knickknack), or something that is useful (e.g. a deck of cards).
  • Sell something that you create yourself.  For example, if you are a good photographer or if you paint well, have some of your best works made into postcards, greeting cards or a coffee table book. If your fans comment about how good your lyrics are, why not self-publish a classy book featuring them.
  • Sell something that relates to your hobbies, especially if many of your fans share the same hobbies. For example, if you and your fans play a lot of golf, you can sell branded golf balls.
  • Sell items that convey your social interests. For example, if you are an ardent and open supporter of the Humane Society, you can sell pictures or small statues of animals. You can even let your fans know that you give a portion of all sales to your chosen charity or cause.
  • Sell items that are date-related. For example, your t-shirts might say ‘XYZ 2012 Tour.’ That way your fans will need to buy the 2013 shirt the following year.
  • Sell items that can become collectibles because you are only offering a limited number of them. Your fans won’t want to be left out.
  • Sell versions of props that you use on stage. It’s a great way for fans to relive the experience later on.
  • Items with your logo on them are cool and unique, but your logo may not look good on every item. It may even take away some of the value of an item. Use your discretion.
  • Consider selling sheet music to your songs.
  • Consider seling the music-only tracks to your CDs for karaoke or for others to sing along with.

There are several key things to consider when choosing your merchandise. They include:

  • Cost – Be sure that you can sell the items and still make a profit. Don’t forget add in the cost of the products being shipped to you, the graphic design and any set-up fees.
  • Sales price – Be sure that the price you need to charge to make a profit is within the price range that your particular fan base will be willing to pay. Test the waters with small amounts, even if you break even or lose a small amount of money at first, before putting in a big order.
  • Quality – Be sure that the products are of a good enough quality that you are proud to sell them. Settling for a poor quality may result in very limited sales.
  • Minimum quantities – Be sure that you are able to order a small quantity to test whether or not your fans will buy them. Do not get suckered into buying large quantities because the price per item is lower. Test the market first and track how many of each item you sell per 100 people who you perform for. Then you gauge how many you’ll need for the next 1-2 months at a time.
  • Shipping cost to your fans – Be sure that you can cover the cost of shipping to your fans, or that you add on a few dollars for shipping and handling.
  • Sturdiness – Be sure that the products aren’t so fragile that they will break from bumpy rides, or just being packed and unpacked often. This is one reason clothing is so ideal.
  • Space – Be aware of how much space they will take up in your vehicle. If your vehicles are already packed with gear, you may want to stick with smaller items.
  • Weight – Be aware of how heavy they will be in bulk. A rock with your name painted on the side might seem like the perfect item for you to sell, but a box of rocks can make it prohibitive. This is especially important if you need to ship quantities by air.
  • Availability – If you plan on making the item your ‘staple’, make sure it will be available any time you need to reorder. Sometimes prices are lowered because the product is being discontinued.
  • Turn-around time – Be sure that you will be able get reorders in a reasonably short amount of time. You never know when you’re going to get a call for a gig in front of a larger audience than you are used to performing for.
  • ‘Autographability’ – Be sure there is room for you to sign the merchandise, and that the surface is one that can be permanently written on.

Here are some places that sell merchandise like clothing, posters, mugs etc:

There are companies that specialize in providing merchandise for artists to sell. Some of them include:

There are companies that enable you to order as little as one item at a time (print on demand), such as:

Note – the last 3 are not music-specific.

There are many companies that sell all kinds of merchandise for all businesses. Search for ‘advertising specialties’ in your area.

 When selling your merchandise, try some of these tips if they fit your style:

  • Set your merch table up close to the exit so that everyone has to pass by it to leave.
  • Be there at your merch table immediately after your show. Don’t just let one of your friends or helpers handle it. You’ll sell more if you are there to autograph items and so fans can take your picture. Don’t make your fans wait for you.
  • Suggest that your fans buy an extra item to give as a gift. Give a price break for 2 or more items. Have items pre-gift-wrapped so it’s a no-brainer for them.
  • Bundle your merch with your CDs and offer a price break.
  • If you’re selling clothing or jewelry, wear it at your merch table.
  • Personalize each item by writing your fan’s name on it. It draws your fans closer to you.
  • Offer a coupon on your website for your fans to get something free after your shows. This gets them to your show and to your merch table where you can upsell them.
  • When someone buys your CDs or merchandise, give them a free download card. That will drive them back to your website where you can collect their email address as well as upsell them.
  • Sell tickets to your next show at the same location while your fans are all excited.
  • If your merch is functional and not just ornamental, tout the benefits of owning it.
  • Offer some items that are only available at your events and not online. That keeps people from delaying their decision to buy it.

A few more good ideas:

  • Put aside enough of the money from your current sales to order your next batch of products.  Cash flow management is key to being successful at retail.
  • Ask your fans what they would like you to sell. Take pre-orders if you can.
  • If a fan says they can’t afford an item, give it to them anyway. They will tell everyone they know! You can’t pay for that kind of goodwill and positive exposure.

If you make wise decisions regarding your choice of merchandise, get it from the most appropriate sources, price it correctly for your fanbase and master a few basic sales techniques, I am confident you will ultimately make more money!

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.