I’m going to start this out by telling you a true story I experienced recently that will set the tone for this article. I was out at a show to hear a band that a friend had recommended I see. They were absolutely stunning - great sound, fabulous stage presence and really put on a well rehearsed show.
After I heard them I wanted to see what kind of merch they had - surely a band that had put on a show like that would have some cool merch. I located their merch table and was summarily disappointed, for several reasons. As I walked up to the table, I saw what can only be described as a meager offering - a couple of CD’s that were old releases. They didn’t have any of their latest release, nor any T-shirts, stickers or, well, anything else. To top it off, when I did decide to grab one of the CD’s and wanted to pay with a credit card, they said they only take cash. While the venue had an ATM machine, it was out of order - and the nearest one was several blocks away.
I, surely, was not the only fan ready and willing to pony up some cash for goods and, because the band was unprepared, they lost out on sales. You don’t want to be *that* band.
Accepting Credit Cards
In this day and age, accepting credit cards at your events is really a no-brainer and much easier than you might expect. Do you have an iPhone, iPad or Android device? If so you’re well on your way. I’m going to detail what it takes to get signed up with two recommended services that bands that I work with are using successfully - there are others out there and I may write about them in a further article, but these two should serve you well.
Paypal is likely a service you’re already familiar with, but did you know you can get a free card reader and start accepting credit cards, debit cards, checks and direct payments from a customers Paypal account. It even allows you to accept cash, so you can track and account for those types of sales.
Signing up for Paypal is easy - simply go to the Paypal Here information page at https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/credit-card-reader, enter your email address and click the ‘Get Paypal Here’ button.
If you already have a Paypal account it will then ask you to sign in and download the Paypal Here app, from which you can order a free card reader. If you don’t already have a Paypal account, you’ll be asked to choose between and Individual and Business account.
Hopefully you’ve set up a business for your band, typically through your local or state business registration process - in which case you would choose the Business account option, otherwise choose Individual. There is no difference in the fees for Paypal Here for either account type. After signing up, download the app, order your reader and you’re ready to roll.
Square is another easy to use, low fee option for accepting credit cards. It offers a free reader and, like Paypal Here, allows you to accept almost all major credit cards, keep track of cash payments and even gives you a free online store to sell your merchandise, including rewards options for your online store customers for doing things like visiting your store and making purchases.
You can signup for Square at https://squareup.com/
Both Square and Paypal Here are optimized for the iPad - using one offers you a host of features you don’t get on iPhone or Android devices. The best feature is the ability to set up items (your merchandise) in the app so selling items is as easy as touching the item to add it to the customer cart. Both Square and Paypal Here can add custom images for each item - as shown in this screenshot of the Square iPad app from one of the artists that I work with.
Now that you’re ready to accept credit cards and other payments at your shows, you’re probably saying ‘That’s great, but I have little or no budget for merchandise’. Many artists find themselves in this position, so I’m going to show you a few options for selling merch with little to no investment.
On-demand printing services have come a long way in the past few years and, in my experience, Spreadshirt offers some of the best quality products at the most reasonable prices. Signup is quick and easy and they have a plethora of product options from T-Shirts to iPhone cases to hats and many, many more.
First, sign up for a Spreadshirt shop here:
After signup, start creating products - using your band logo is obvious, but consider other interesting designs that your fans may like. Remember - while having your band name on every piece of merch is cool, when it comes to making money, great designs will sell just as well, if not better in some cases. If you’re not a designer, consider asking friends who are to do a design for a percentage of the merch sales or even sponsoring a fan design contest.
You don’t have to spend a ton of money to load up on merchandise at your shows - I’ve worked with several bands that will order a few T-Shirts or other merch items for display at their shows and then take orders which they can ship out later. Spreadshirt makes this quite easy - from your account you can drop ship an order to anyone, though you may find it easier and more personable to order all the items sold at a show, have them all shipped to you, then package them with a personal note and maybe some freebies like postcards, stickers and such to delight your fans when they receive their order.
Your cost for a basic T-Shirt from Spreadshirt is about $10 (though prices can vary widely depending on the T-Shirt brand and quality) and I can safely say that even the basic shirt has excellent print quality - I could hardly tell the difference between it and a silk-screened shirt. If you can put up $100 and order 10 shirts for a show, sell them for $15-$20 each, you can walk away with another $50-$100 in your pocket. If you can’t afford to order shirts up front, consider having a poster printed with examples of your merch and take orders at the show with an additional incentive of including some freebies, such as stickers or postcards, in the order to account for the fan having to wait to have their merch order shipped to them.
There are many other options for on-demand printing, which I may detail in another article.
Another area where bands often fall short is proper signage for their merch table and one so easily remedied. Rather than having your merch person answering questions about how much each item costs, what you have for sale and showing examples for each item, they should be able to focus on the selling.
Walgreens, Costco and several other local stores in the US offer inexpensive photo printing services, including posters - which you can order online and have shipped to you if you don’t have a store nearby. It’s relatively easy to create a design with a list of all your merch items and their prices and have it printed on a poster - slap it into a cheap frame and hang it at your merch table. Do the same with merch designs - you can take screenshots of your designs from Spreadshirt to use for your poster design.
2 examples of merch signage.
|TIP! Sign up for a Walgreens Reward card and get significant discounts on many purchases. Additionally, if you sign up for email news, you’ll be in the loop on specials they have for photo printing. I always have designs ready and, when they have a sale, I’ll place my order. You can get upwards of 40% off poster prints - a 24x36 poster will end up costing about $17. |
While this article only barely scratches the surface of what you can do to make more money selling merchandise, hopefully it has given you enough to work with so you don’t lose out on sales any longer. With minimal time and money investment you can start profiting more and using that profit to ramp up your band merchandising efforts.