12 Steps for Selling Merch Like a Pro at Your Shows

David Bawiec, Spire Contributor | December 5, 2018

Your Guide to Selling Merch After Shows

Are you ready to start selling merchandise at your shows? Here's the roundup of all the best tips to help jumpstart your merch selling game.

1. Provide Options

Before you can start selling merchandise, you need to get the merchandise first. It’s important to brainstorm what you are going to sell at your shows. With hundreds of options to choose from, ranging from mugs to T-shirts, pins, pens, bookmarks, coasters, golf balls, shot glasses, towels, and even puzzles, it's essential to figure out what you should be bringing to the show with you. As much as a personalized duvet with your band's logo may be an awesome item to sell on your website, bringing it with you to the show may be more hassle than it's worth it.

Consider this: what would catch the attention of your fans the most?

As a rule of thumb, small items like stickers, buttons, posters, and guitar picks are usually excellent starters. They're particularly great sellers with those fans who want to buy something but don’t want to spend much money. People also love mugs, cell phone cases, and tote bags, as these items can be used every day. You may be surprised to discover this, but wearables like shirts, hoodies, and hats are always the most successful sellers. Again, a great piece of clothing can be worn over and over again for years. Finally and most importantly: don't forget about your music! CDs, download cards, and vinyl are great products to have on your stand.

The more options you can provide your fans, the better. As always, use common sense. Too many options will leave people confused. Too few will leave them unhappy. Find the perfect balance that gives people enough choices that everyone can find something they want, from the on-a-budget-buyers to the big-buck-spenders.

2. Know your fan base

To make smart decisions about what merchandise you want to sell, you have to know your fan base—particularly if you're on a limited budget and want to curb your merchandise options to only a few items at the start. If your fan base primarily consists of teenage girls, you should probably follow in Charlie Puth's footsteps and sell bracelets and tote bags at your shows. On the other hand, if your fan base is composed mostly of men between 30–40 years old, these products probably wouldn't be the right choice for them. Lighters with the name of your band could be a successful merch item instead.

Merch table options

3. Announce your merchandise

You could have the best merch in the world, but what will that do you if nobody knows about it? Once you have made all the creative decisions as to the merchandise you want to sell, it’s really important to announce it in as many places as possible. Post it on your website, on every social media channel, and possibly even include it in the liner notes for your album releases.

What about the shows? Yes! Announce from the stage that you're selling merchandise! This seems obvious, but a lot of artists actually forget to announce that they've got merch for sale. Many people don’t buy anything simply because they didn't know your band had any to begin with. So don't forget to announce at every performance that you've got a merch table with some awesome swag.

4. Have your own folding table

Not all venues will have a table or a designated space available for you to sell your merchandise at, which is why it's essential for you to have your own table. Even if the place you're performing at actually will be providing you a table, you never know if it will be big enough for your entire set up. To avoid problems, just plan to bring your own as backup.

5. Make your merch stand accessible and visible

Other than announcing it, you should always make sure that your merch stand is easily visible to your fans and they have easy access to it. This is particularly important for those latecomers who missed your announcement. The easier it is to access, the higher chance people will not only find it but walk up to purchase something.

Visibility is just as important. You can put your merch stand right in front of the stage, but if the venue is dark, nobody will see that you've got merch there. So do whatever it takes to make sure people see your merch stand very clearly. Add the necessary lights to make it visible. As a general rule of thumb here, think "Ooh, shiny!" You want to attract people to come up and check out what you've got to sell.

6. Make the deals clear and offer combos

The prices of each item should be clearly marked, that way you can spend less time explaining the basics and more time interacting with your fans in more meaningful ways. Offering deals and combos is an amazing way to effectively increase your sales. Offers like:

Buy 2, Get 1 Free

1 CD $15, 2 CD's $20

T-Shirt & CD $40 $30

People love an awesome bargain, so offer them at your merch table. Your fans will be willing to purchase more items if it means they get to save some money cause they're buying them as a combo.

7. Fixed Price or PWYW?

Since we're talking about sales, let's talk about the tricky one: how much should you sell your music for? Many people see your music as being a product like any other, which is why they sell it for a fixed price, like a T-shirt or a cap. And that totally makes sense. The great news is that after a show if people loved your performance, they’re more likely to make an impulse buy, which is why you can get away with selling your music for more than you would elsewhere. Having said that, what should you do if you've lowered the album cost to $10 and your album sales are still doing poorly? Try the PWYW technique.

PWYW, which stands for “pay what you want,” essentially puts the fan in the driver's seat and lets them decide how much they want to pay you for the music. Although it seems like a radical idea, I know plenty of great independent artists who tremendously increased their sales by switching to the PWYW model. Sure, some people may pay you less, but most of them will end up paying you more than you expected for the album. Whether it's guilt, pride, being star-struck, I don't know—I'm no psychologist—but it seems to work very effectively, so give it a whirl and see what happens!

pay what you want merch

8. Have somebody who will be responsible for the sales

As the artist, you have a lot of things to take care of, the most important of which is actually playing an awesome show! So you shouldn't be the one worrying about selling your merch. This is why, if possible, you should have somebody else who will be working the merch stand and taking care of all the sales for you. That way you can focus on what you do best: being the excellent artist that you are and delivering a spectacular performance. Plus, this means that your merch stand will be open for business throughout the entire show.

9. Take different payment options

Since fewer people carry cash these days, it’s important to accept as many modern payment options as possible. Although Venmo and Paypal have become the gold standard for personal money transactions, they're not a very efficient way of getting paid when it comes to handling sales at your show.

Thankfully, there are numerous companies on the market that offer mobile card readers, including Square and Clover. The small devices that plug into your phone will allow you to accept credit card payments with a simple swipe in no time. If you want to add more methods, the mid-range models will also accept chip cards and include NFC capabilities, meaning that people will be able to pay by tapping their phones and using Apple Pay or Google Pay to pay you wirelessly. If you really want to deck out your merch stand, you can get a fancy POS (point of sale) system, which also includes a ton of fancy features and a built-in printer for handing out receipts.

Whichever option you go for, make sure that your stand is clearly marked so people instantly know that you accept credit card payments, along with a list of which ones you're set up to accept (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, and more).

10. Stay organized

This may seem like a no-brainer, but you have no idea how many people don't have their merch stands organized.  First of all, you want people to be able to clearly see everything you have to offer. But equally important is for you (or whoever is manning the merch stand) to know exactly where things are. I've seen people waste five minutes trying to find the right T-shirt size, in the process losing other potential customers because of that. So have your inventory and boxes clearly marked so you can easily find what you're looking for in 10 seconds or less.

11. Be present at your merch stand as much as possible

Everybody loves getting to see and talk to somebody they admire. If someone is going to buy your product(s), it's because they like you. So go and make that moment even more special for them and be there. It's a great opportunity to try to upsell some additional items as well as to make some connections too.

12. Build your email list

The moment a fan makes a purchase is the best moment to ask them for their e-mail (and any other info you want to collect). Many apps for the different mobile credit card readers also include the option to help you collect this information in an easy way. Use the moment to grow your mailing list. And if you're a more pen-and-paper type of person, have an email signup sheet available on your merch table. Another great way to encourage people to sign up for your email list is to offer them free stickers or guitar picks. It's a very low-cost item for you in exchange for the contact information that you want to collect.

Conclusion

Selling your own branded merchandise is a very exciting thing. And, if all goes well, it can be a pretty darn lucrative task as well. So get your merch on, and start making some extra money at your shows! Use the above tips to make sure the whole process goes smoothly and that you're earnings are the best they can be. What will you be selling at your next performance?