As an indie, it can be tough to know where to start when it comes to creating and selling products bearing your name. Sometimes it can feel awkward and can be a side of the business that does not come easy. To help get the ball rolling, here are the “Top Five” things you need to know about merchandise.

1. Consistency – Branding That Unifies

Whether it’s a multi-billion dollar company or a local coffee shop, consistency in the overall brand and design is essential. Consistent use of logos, fonts, colors and images are the starting point for defining your brand. As an artist, most of these elements are derived from your album artwork. Creating unison among your merchandise, that points back to your current album project, will be the catalyst for recognition of your business. It’s important that you are communicating a singular message that your fans can embrace. Without it, your theme, your message and your brand becomes diluted and difficult to define. You’ll blend in with the others. This is not the result you want.

2. Quality – What It Communicates To Your Customers

I think we can all agree that the Dollar Menu at your favorite fast food restaurant is a great deal. I think we also would agree, that while it may be a great deal, we’re not doing ourselves any favors nutritionally. Most are willing to pay more for better quality food and more nutritious meals. This same principle applies to your merch. Finding the cheapest deal on shirts and selling them for the biggest profit is great for the bottom line. However, you’ve compromised your brand by ignoring the quality of the item. You’ve communicated boldly to your fans on where you place the most value. Their wallet. Finding the balance between great quality and affordability is important. You don’t need to sacrifice one for the other. Place value on the fans overall merch experience and not just your profit margin.

3. Pricing – Understanding Price Points

While quality is essential to your overall brand, protecting (not exploiting) your profit margin is equally important. Remember, you’re running a business, that in many cases is helping fund your ministry and your music. While looking for creative ways to ‘make a buck’ with your merch, many times it’s as simple as understanding price points. Finding the right balance between under-charging and over-charging your merch is key. This also correlates to supply and demand. You want to find a price that consumers view as fair and expected, while also creating demand and not having a surplus in inventory.

Traditionally, on average, cost of goods should fall between 30-40% of your revenue. In other words, for every $1,000 of sales, no more than $300-$400 should have been spent purchasing and creating the products. If you’re selling your album for $10, you should not have spent more than $3-$4 per unit to create it. If so, you have two options. Increase your per unit price, or find a way to decrease what you’re spending on creating it. Either way, be reminded that the customer, your fan, is looking for value in their purchase. Proper pricing should translate into value for your customer and your profit margin.

4. Understanding Inventory – Deficit vs. Surplus

Imagine having an album release show where 500 of your closest fans come out to support, expecting to buy a copy of your latest project, and you only have 400 available. Whether the crowd was larger than you anticipated, or you failed to keep proper inventory of your product, you have an inventory problem. And you just cost yourself not only some serious revenue, and most likely, some fans as well. The opposite scenario holds true. Since you found such a great deal on shirts, you bought 500 of them, thinking everyone at your release event would want the hot new design. You sold 100 of them. Inventory fail. You now have 400 amazing shirts, in a box, on your trailer while the invoice is due in 30 days, and you have no shows on the books for the next month.    

In most cases, independent artists are operating on shoestring budgets. Most do not have piles of cash to throw at a new merch idea. When budgets are tight, so should be your inventory. Let’s be honest, inventory can be a nightmare. Counting albums, shirts, posters, wristbands, etc. before and after a show, to know exactly what you sold, is tedious and annoying. However, it can be one of the most important aspects of merch management. The two things you want to avoid are deficit and surplus. These are basic economic terms, that if not understood, can really can cripple your merch business.

5. Storage – Protecting Your Investment

One thing that I encourage artists to spend money on is proper storage containers for their merchandise. You’ve spent your hard earned money on purchasing items that not only reflect the brand and message of your music and ministry, but in an effort to help fund the next phase, whether it be recording a new project, a new photo shoot or even new merch designs. The last thing you want to do is store your killer backdrop, new albums and posters in cardboard boxes. Spend money on quality bins and carrying cases that protect them from the elements of being on the road. Your fans do not want to buy busted albums, wrinkled posters or dirty shirts. Protect your brand. Protect your investment.

Mo Thieman – Mo is an Artist Manager with Patton House Entertainment in Nashville, TN, with experience in graphic design, branding and merchandising, for over a decade. Baseball, lemonade and BBQ are a few of his favorite things.

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