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Artist Advice Column: Creating A Smart Merchandising Strategy Pt. 2

See how you can make the most of pop-ups, pricing, bundling and more.
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Converse and GOLF le FLEUR jumpsuit back

Earlier this month we started to discuss how to best get your merchandising strategy off the ground as an artist about what you should make, targeting your fans and how to work in special releases. Now it is time to explore things a little further about how you can maximize your merchandise, sell the most merch and even consider partnerships.

1. Make Sure Quality Is High:

This seems obvious, but if you are trying to make some cheap t-shirts with planned obsolescence of less than a year where the color fades, the fabric comes apart and the product rips easily to sell more, that will backfire. Word will spread of your crappy material and you won’t sell much to start. This will mean you have to raise prices some, but find that happy medium between good quality and good prices. Shirts, hats, socks and sweatshirts will be put to the test in the harshest of conditions at festivals and concerts. Special edition merch buyers will want to their purchases to last for a long time to commemorate a special moment, so don’t skimp on the quality.

2. Don’t have Ridiculous Prices:

Just as you don’t want to be super cheap and skimp on quality, don’t overcharge your fans. They will notice when you are charging $70 for a simple white logo t-shirt, or $50 for a snapback. Some super fans may buy the product, but you will lose casual fans that may be scared by the sticker shock. Just as you wouldn’t want to pay too much for an artist’s merchandise, don’t do that to your fans. This goes for special releases as well. They may be limited edition, so consider pricing for the limited amount you are making, but don’t try and artificially inflate the prices at the initial drop. However, be aware of price breaks where you are able to break even and then start making money.

3. Scarcity Can Be Good Thing:

Just as we were talking about wanting to be fair with pricing and quality, scarcity is also your friend. It drives demand and excitement around a product, especially if it is a special product around a new album or tour. This can trickle down to other pieces of merchandise as part of their own package deal. Limited run products will have to be special, but also allow you to do more creative with your offerings. It can be a test for more merchandise in the future and potential patterns for how your fans view you. Don’t be afraid to bring back limited merchandise it is very popular after the dust settles a bit.

4. Bundle Packages & Sales:

Strategically bundling and executing sales can drive sales to your existing customers and potentially bring in new customers. Bundles can clear out some excess inventory if you package some new, popular items with some items that maybe a bit older and less immediately relevant. Hip-hop artists are increasing chart position by bundling albums at cheap prices with merchandise or ticket sales. Some see this as gaming the system, but it is a way to move your product and get your brand out there into the world.

Sales are another useful way to get fans to buy merchandise. Don’t be like some big box stores who seem to have sales six months a year so customers will only wait on sales to purchase anything. Keep them sporadically around big holidays like Black Friday / Cyber Monday, Christmas and maybe one or two other times during the year.

5. Find Merchandise Sellers:

There is the incredibly important step of actually selling your merchandise. It can’t all be sold at concerts, but has to be done online. Setting up a store to sell your merchandise is vital to being able to making money and moving your product to fans. Each site is a little different in their approach. They look different, charge different fees either in a blanket up front cost per order or per item and some help you with marketing to get your items out to the world.

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A few options include Shopify, which allows e-commerce through social media and Amazon, in addition to their website. Merchtable is a popular option among artists and allows you to create your own website through them, as they handle production, shipping and fulfillment. Big Cartel is another large digital marketplace that has cheap monthly plans, which have shipping tracking, bulk editing, Google analytics and more. Merchbar is the official partner of Spotify and many of the biggest labels as a place to sell merchandise from those partners.

Amazon and Facebook are obviously big places where people buy and sell product, but may you want to have more control through your own website or a seller where you also have more control over your data.

To limit fees, make sure you do a few things. Don’t give your producer too many crazy colors and designs if you don’t have to. Keeping things simple can be good if you want to limit costs. Also don’t place your order last minute. This will cause headaches and may force mistakes.

6. Storage & Shipping:

An online merchandiser will likely handle storage. You will be able to keep track of inventory of all product and know how much is left to sell and if you want to order more or if you ordered too much of a certain good. If you are really DIY, then you may be handling storage yourself, so be ready with lots of space because shirts, hats and everything else will take up a lot of space. It will be a good idea to have some inventory on hand just to have to occasionally give to friends, fellow musicians, family and to replace any that you run through.

Shipping is another issue you will need to work out with your seller. Staying in your country or continent will likely be the cheapest and easiest to pull off, but shipping internationally will give you access to more customers and grow your brand around the world.

7. Brand Collaborations

If you as a musician become popular enough and you decide to dive into fashion with enough vigor, there may be some brands that want to partner with you on collaborations. Tyler, The Creator and Converse, in addition to his own brand Golf, Kanye and Adidas, Pharrell & G-Star Raw and his own Billionaire Boys Club, JT & Jordan and Rihanna and Puma are just a few of the existing collaborations on the market. There are a lot of clothing brands on the market from streetwear to high fashion, fast fashion and everything in between. 

Your options for potential partnerships will likely be limited by how big of an artist you are, but if there is something you really want to pitch to Levi’s for a limited run jacket, like what Justice did with them, then try it. You may be surprised what the outcome is and even if they say no, that could lead to an opportunity down the line or something with another company if they decide to pass you along somewhere else.

8. Pop Up Shops:

These have been all the rage lately among artists. They provide an opportunity to create a unique experience for fans to be exposed to your music, artist brand and merchandise in a way that isn’t just a website or merchandise tent at a festival or show. Pop-ups are usually done in big cities like Los Angeles, Paris, New York or London, where the artist is, where they are doing a big announcement or have a strong connection to. These can be expensive after renting out the space and the rebranding it, but it can be worth it, if done right.

Pop Ups have to be special. Pick a theme for the pop-up with what type of merchandise you want to sell. The space has to be built out so it matches your merchandise. If this is built around a new album or some other new project you want to reveal, make sure everything from the promo online, to the signage, the fonts, the colors and the in-store music matches the message you are trying to convey. You should be there at the pop up to mingle with fans and sign purchased merchandise to get more people in the door.

9. Sell Merchandise At Shows & Show Up To Merch Booths:

If you are touring, make sure you bring your merchandise, which includes your physical music, and have it for sale in a booth. Fans at your shows are more likely to buy your products, so giving them the convenience of buying it right there is crucial. Cut out middlemen and be there to potentially interact with fans and sign some merchandise to create an experience will never forget with a special commemorative item. 

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