Posts in Musicians
Merch Smarter – Unraveling 5 Common Mistakes Artists Make With Their Merch Business 

There are two ways that musicians have always made money. One is by performing and the other is by selling merchandise (“merch”).  With the continued decline in music sales (except vinyl), and the increasing popularity of music consumption through streaming platforms like Spotify, artists are yet again forced to lean more heavily on other income sources in order to make a living doing what they love.  Touring and live shows continue to be a primary revenue stream for artists, and most artists sell 85% or more of their merch directly at live shows at the merch table.[1]With that, merch can be a lucrative source of income to artists if they play it right.  While many artists know that selling merch is a good way to keep the hypothetical lights on in their business of being an artist, we’re still seeing some common mistakes being made out there across all levels. Let’s zone in on 5 of these and see if we might make more sense of this merch madness. 

1.    Not having a merch business 

See above!  In order to win at the merch game, you need to be in it.  Artists are under the misconception that there is a high cost barrier to entry for having a merch business, but the reality is that you can, and should, start small.  There are multiple merch vendors out there who have low minimums with good price points and cater to the independent artist.  Start small, see what works and build it out from there.  Keep designs simple to start– this will help keep costs low.  A one location, one color item for a first run will suffice to get you started.  Yes, you will have to do the leg-work of ordering, choosing styles and sizing, and actually selling the merch, but the reward is that you get to keep 100% of the profit.  If you buy 50 shirts for $250 ($5 each) and sell them for $15, you’ve made $10 per shirt. Multiply that by your 50 shirts and your profit is $500.  Yep – an additional $500 in your pocket to fuel the van, feed your belly, buy more beer, or reinvestto buy more merch and grow your business.  Your fans WANT to buy things from you to help support you, so give them the opportunity to do so.  Merch is not just a way to make cash, but it’s also a great marketing tool.  Let your fans be your brand ambassadors and spread your music message by wearing your latest merch.  

 

2.    Not accepting debit/credit cards for payment

Crazy, but true, many artists still do not accept debit/credit cards.  I was recently on the merch line at the show of a successful veteran artist who shall remain nameless.  The people in front of me asked the merch person if they took cards, the merch person said “no” and the people walked off of the line.  Maybe they went to ATM machine to get cash and come back, but I’m guessing that sale was lost.  Today’s world is all about convenience, and unless that fan REALLY REALLY wants that merch item enough to go find cash and get back on line, that pivotal moment is gone. Not accepting the form of payment that a fan is most likely to have in their wallet – i.e. plastic, will result in sales lost. In today’s day and age with the multiple payment services out there that will give you a swiper for free, there is really no excuse for leaving this kind of money on the table, unless you just don’t need it. I often hear complaints about the transaction fees for cards, but let’s do the math.  At an average transaction fee of 2.75%, the benefit of being able to make the sale, outweighs this small cost.  Don’t lost a 20 dollar sale to save 60 cents.        

 

3.    Not keeping track of what is being sold

Okay so now you have merch to sell, you’re taking cards for payment and your merch business is starting to rock.  How are you keeping track of what you’re selling?  Are you using a tally sheet?  Excel spreadsheet?  Not keeping track at all?  Do you know if you’re making a profit?  How many shirts did you give away at your last show? What inventory did you sell? What inventory is left after a tour or show?  If you’re not keeping track of what you’re selling, it will be near impossible to understand what’s going on in your merch business.  If you don’t know what’s going on in your merch business, it will be hard to make future decisions to ensure that it is working for you in the best possible way.  

 

4.     Not knowing when inventory is low and it’s time to re-order

That moment when 5 of your biggest fans rush to the merch table and all want a size small and all you have left are larges.  Depending on the fan, this may or may not result in lost sales, but wouldn’t guaranteed sales be better? Timing is everything, and time is money, so the better handle you have on what inventory you are out of, along with allowing enough lead time to re-order so you’re not paying more for expedited shipping, the better position you will be in to capture that fan in the moment and make as much profit as you can on that sale. Fan engagement is a key driver of an artist’s business today, so you want to be able to capitalize on that to every extent possible.

 

 

5.     Not taking note of fan behavior at venuesand showsshows/venues

No, I don’t mean taking note that fans try to jump on stage when you play a show at Mercury Lounge in NYC, but when you play at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, they beckon you to crowd surf. While there might be value to knowing this, I’m talking about taking note of what your fans are buying at what shows – styles, sizes, and quantities. What sells big in the Southeast, may be different from your bestsellers in the Northeast, both in styles and sizes. Maybe you kill it in Merch at venues in primary cities, but when you travel to less mainstream destinations not so much.  Or maybe it’s vice versa.  There is not an exact science to this, but chances are that if you start keeping track of these things, and listen to what the data is telling you, the next time you have shows in these places, you will be better prepared.  You can also measure venues against one another to figure out why you had a killer merch night at one, but not another.  Maybe your price point was too high and next time you can try lowering it a bit, or maybe the location of the merch booth didn’t have the right visibility, so next time you work a little harder to make it known that you’re selling merch.  Paying attention to these metrics will also help minimize waste. If you know what people are NOT buying, you will not re-order those items and sizes on the next go around. 

 

Now I know you’re thinking this all sounds like a whole lotta work.How am I supposed to do this while traveling, writing, recording and doing whatever else artists do? Enter Merch Cat, our one-stop app and web solution that was created for artists like you to help you have a better merch business. You can sell your merch, keep track of inventory and get real time analytics, all from your iOS device at the artist friendly price of $7.99/month or $84.99/year.


[1]Hypebot.com “Modernizing The Merchandise Madness”

Using Merch To Engage Your Fans

Fan engagement and direct-to-fan are hot topics these days because it's finally come to light that fans are the real gatekeepers in the music business. And by now we should also know that merchandise is one of the surefire ways that artists can make solid money today. Like most other revenue streams for artists, being successful at your merch biz is highly dependent on your fans. The good news is that in addition to being a cash generator, your merch can actually be used as a fan engagement tool. When you're using your merch to engage your fans, they’ll feel connected to you.  When they feel connected and as if they are part of your journey, they will be likely to buy more. So how exactly can you use merch to engage your fans? Here are five ways:


1) Offer Limited Edition and Exclusive Merch Items   Nothing gets a fan going like fear of missing out (FOMO). It’s the good ole law of supply and demand. Limited supply = greater demand, and when it comes to exclusives, your fans will likely act on the fear of never being able to obtain that item again.  A Nielsen 2013 study revealed that fans would spend $2.6B more a year if they had opportunities to buy exclusives and behind the scenes content. We can only guess that the dollar amount has grown over the past few years. This is pretty easy to do. If you’re touring or have a web store, kick off a new season with items that will only be available for a couple of months or the length of your tour. If you’re on tour, create items specific to that tour or album you’re promoting or if you want to get more personal, design a merch item that’s indicative of something that’s going on in the band’s world or represents someone in the band. 


2) Specials At The Merch Table At Your Shows    The best time to get your fans to buy is when you have them in person and they’re running on the adrenaline of a “concert high”, this is why 80% or more of merch sales occur at live shows. Offer deals like buy one get one half off, discounts to the first 10 fans (or whatever number makes sense for you) to the merch table, and special bundles at your show. Deals offered ONLY at the merch table will get your fans coming over for fear of missing out, and is the perfect time for you or your merch person to have a chat with them if possible. Either way, your fan who’s basking in the glow of your awesome show and the deal they are getting, may just see something else they must buy while you have them there. 


3) Ask what items they'd like to see on your next merch run   Since your fans are the number one consumer of your merch, doesn’t it make sense to ask them what they’d like to see on your next merch run? You may think they’d want a beanie, but maybe only a small number of fans actually wear beanies, and the majority would rather sport a trucker hat. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe your female fans are dying for a ladies T or tank, and maybe they’d help you think of things you never would’ve thought of putting out there. Inviting your fans to contribute to ideas will keep them engaged, and also up your chances of selling the merch they suggest. Where should you do this? Wherever you can reach your audience, but we’d recommend email blast and social media. 


4)Invite Them To Submit Designs Or Help You Choose One   Along the same lines of asking fans what items they’d like to see, another good way to engage them with merch is asking them to actually help you select the art – either by submitting something or by choosing from some designs you put out there. Either way, this is a win/win because you’re inviting your fans to be part of your process, and you’ll likely be creating an item that they’ve already approved of, so you’re increasing your chance of sales. 

 
5)Contests, Call to Action and Crowdfunding   Most of us already do this without realizing it, but creating calls to action and contests with merch as the reward is a great way to use merch as a fan engagement tool. The best example of this is via a crowdfunding campaign on a platform like Kickstarter or PledgeMusic where merch is used or sold as incentive for fundraising or as part of a pre-order campaign. Not up for that? Simply askfansto post a picture with your merch using a special hashtag, and reward the person with the most likes with a meet & greet at your next show. Ask fans to share their latest merch on socials and in their network with a special code or link for other to buy it, and if a purchaseresults because of that share, reward them with more merch, a special item, or a ticket to your next show. Empower your fans with the tools and incentive to be your brand ambassador and they will! 

 

At Merch Cat, we believe that artists need better ways to capitalize on their merch business, specifically at the live show. This is why we started by building the Merch Cat platform to help you get the fundamentals down. We also recognized that artists need better ways to capture their fans in the moment at the live show, which is why we created Merch Cat FAN. Merch Cat FAN is connected to the Merch Cat app for central real-time inventory and sales tracking. It will allow fans to purchase your merch 1) in app at shows to pick up at the merch table or send home, OR 2) anytime, anywhere at your discretion. It will also easily capture fan data. Check it out at https://www.merchcatfan.com.

 

If you’re not already using Merch Cat to sell and manage merch at your shows, we invite you to get acquainted for 7 days on us before we launch our FAN app. Visit https://web.merchcat.com and use the promo code MCAT07.  Offer valid for new users only and expires on 12/31/18.