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Merch Table Essentials: 15 Ways For Musicians To Increase Sales, Fans and Efficiency

As album sales are becoming a less meaningful component in the overall success of an artist or band, the live performance sector, including ticket sales and merchandise sales, is becoming increasingly important. While the live show itself must be unique in order to encourage repeat customers and ultimately drive ticket sales, the merchandise table has the opportunity to drive significant revenue and first hand, artist-fan engagement. But just having a merch table is not enough, as there are essential elements that must be accounted for in order to make the effort worth while.

Assuming that you have accounted for the typical ‘guts’, such as T-Shirts, CDs, Hats, Stickers, etc. there are essentials to any effective merch table that will do three very important thing:

- Increase your sales
- Increase your long-term engagement with new and existing fans
- Decrease wasteful overhead when investing in the merch for your next tour

Use these following merch table essentials to make sure that you are making the most of every opportunity at every show to make as much money and as many new fans as possible:

1) Mailing List: Far too often overlooked, yet one of the most crucial aspects of retaining fans, the mailing list is an absolute must on any and ever merch table. If someone is willing to invest the time and money to come over to your merch table and purchase your music, your t-shirts or even just a little sticker or button, it means they felt strongly enough about the performance to further their interest. Every merch table customer is a valuable potential fan. Do not let them get away from you.

2) Accept Credit Cards: To be frank, if you do not accept credit cards, you are not maximizing your potential to make money, and are letting potentially valuable fans walk away without your music or merch in hand. There are a few different apps out for the iPhone/ iPod Touch, iPad and Android platforms that allow you to turn your device into a credit card terminal, including the Square, ProcessAway, Merchant Swipe and iSwipe

3) High Traffic Area:  As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. Putting your merch table in a high-traffic area is crucial to sales. The increase in passersby will make your table seem more desirable. As more people check out your merch and start to make purchases, the more likely it will be that others will want to check out the scene as well.

4) Lockbox for Money:
Professionalism is crucial when dealing with a merch table. No matter how the musicians represent themselves on stage, online or in public, merchandising is purely the business side of the operation. Not only does a lockbox hold one person accountable for any lost cash and discourages outside theft, but It also makes it less apparent how little or how much cash you actually have from the event.

5) The Plug from the band: Make sure the people who are actually listening to the music and who are enjoying it, have the opportunity to at least join the mailing list if nothing else. Announce the table, its location, and that YOU, the artist, will be there and are looking forward to speaking with everyone.

6) The Main Attraction: It is understandable that artists are either exhausted or are ready for more after the show, but nothing helps merch sell faster than putting the artists behind the table. Especially after the band has plugged the merch table and its specific location, it will be a delight for fans to have the opportunity to speak with the artists, get engaged and walk away with a new album and/ or a t-shirt because of the pleasant experience.

7) A Clean Table: Just like any store (think grocery store, toy store, convenience store, clothing store), potential customers connect the appearance of unorganization and sloppiness with that of a weak business. By splitting the table into well organized sections dedicated to each type of merch or even price point, it makes it much easier on the eyes, makes sales much more likely. Also continue to think of a clothing store, make sure you have clean, well folded t-shirts that range in color, size and gender specificity.

8) Bright Colors: Not only should your merch table be located in a high-traffic area, but it should pop out as the sour thumb in the room. Venues are typically dark, so keep in mind that darker colors will be lost into the clutter of the room. Set up a back-drop, use a table cloth and create a banner, all of which should use bright, vibrant colors to catch people’s attention.

9) Prices: Setting the right prices for the available merch is crucial to successful sales. Not only should everything be fairly prices based on the industry standard (which means you MUST do your research when planning the pricing strategy), but there absolutely needs to be merch available at every price point, from $1 dollar up to $100 dollars (or more depending on what you are offering).

10) Inventory Sheet: Organization is key to a healthy business. Using an inventory sheet will help you keep track of sales and will decrease the chances of wasteful overhead for your next tour. You can start to use the historical sales to forecast growth. This is especially important if you do decide to create unique merchandise for each stop on the tour, as it allows you to see where your merch sold better or worse, so you don’t waste money creating unique merch for the wrong places.

11) Unique Collectables:  Though this is a much more expensive option to consider, creating unique collectables for each show creates an incentive for repeat purchases from repeat customers. Some fans will be so into your music that they decide to hit every show within a 100 mile radius of their hometown, so why not create incentive for them to hit the merch table at EVERY show they attend?

Ideas for some unique collectables are merit badges with a unique design reflecting each venue, laminated tour passes with specific dates printed on them, high-quality original prints of the show poster (signed by the band AND artist of the poster) and even shirts that specifically reflect the venue, date and city.

12) Bundles: Just like the unique collectables, you want to make sure that you offer unique bundles that can only be purchased from the merch table. The more creative you can get with these bundles, the more likely you will be to encourage a higher volume of sales, as well as repeat attendance to future dates of the tour.

An idea for unique bundles include a unique USB thumb-drive with hand-painted artwork that offers the entire back catalog of studio albums, plus free admission to all shows for the next year. The more unique, limited edition and exclusive you can make these bundles, the more people will be willing to seek them out, not to mention pay a premium for them.

13) Contest/ Drawing: This is a great way to ensure longer-term engagement with fans. The drawing could be for free tickets, a free limited edition bundle of music or even something above and beyond like an opportunity to go out to dinner and hang out with the band.

14) Picture Board: Remember the idea of the main attraction? (see above).  Using a picture board is an opportunity for the artist(s) to establish a stronger connection with fans, meanwhile advertising the merch in order to increase sales. Start taking pictures of the artists with fans who are either wearing or holding up newly purchased merch. Then compile a huge collection of the pictures taken and display the picture board either behind the table or to the side of the table. Make sure it is visible and most importantly, make sure to include a band member in the pictures!

15) Branch Out Beyond The Table:
Though the purpose of this list is to make the merch table itself more effective, the ultimate goal is to increase revenue and fan engagement. Grab a few friends and have them walk around the venue in a crisp new band shirt with their own mailing list sign-up sheet, some albums for sale, a few t-shirts for sale (especially the one they are wearing) and some FREE stickers or buttons. The idea here is to engage as many attendees as possible and to direct them back to the actual merch table where they can interact with the band members, buy an increased level of merch because of this new connection to the band and will walk away with a great, personal experience from the show rather than just a ‘fun time’.

Using a merch table to increase sales is always good, but if used properly it can be so much more than that. If you are going to take the time, effort and money to plan out and finance the merchandise for your tour, make sure you have taken all of these things into consideration to ensure that you maximize revenue and fan engagement at every show.

What other ideas have you used to make your merch table more effective?

Jonathan Ostrow (@miccontrol) is the co-founder of MicControl, a music blogging network based on a social networking platform.

Reader Comments (15)

Really helpful info.. and not just for musicians!

September 7 | Unregistered CommenterJonii

Always announce that folks can pick up a free download token from the merch table.

This 'kills 2 birds with one stone'

1. It drives more traffic to the table and therefore more sales of other items and,
2. The download link on the token (modified business free cards from vistaprint work great!) leads them to a sign-up page on your website.


September 7 | Unregistered CommenterAndy (Viral Gigs)

Great advice Andy, thank you for your input!

September 7 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

A great post, with lots of good info!

[you might want to fix the typo in the title tho]

September 7 | Registered CommenterMatthew Hiscock

Excellent article Jonathan, thanks for the great tips which will come in handy as we prep our own merch (getting DVDs edited and ready to go - any advice here?). Also, we sponsor a mock negotiation of merch and endorsement deals on Sep 30 here in LA. May we have permission to reprint your article (with full attribution and link to your We site of course) and distribute it at our event? Happy to provide more details if needed, thank you again.
Tess Taylor
National Association of Record Industry Professionals (NARIP)

September 8 | Unregistered CommenterTess Taylor

So glad someone that I respect from my area (Boston | mic control) is succeeding! Good article jon!

September 8 | Unregistered CommenterJosh/hw

@tess, You may absolutely reprint the article. Please get in touch with me via FB so that we can flesh out all of the details.

@Josh thanks for the support!

September 8 | Registered CommenterJonathan Ostrow

16) Have cute girls wearing your band T-shirt walking around with your email list.

17) Have a small computer letting people type in their contact info since lot of times people who have had a few too many don't see...m to write too clearly :-)

18) Have a text opt in to your email list

If you have an extra person available to physically walk around the audience during the middle of a performance asking for folks to sign up on the email list, I've found that gets me more new sign-ups than anything else. This tactic is better enforced when I meet and greet with the audience before and after the show (and during any set breaks).

I also like Erik's idea of having a laptop or netbook available to capture information right away.

Great post!

September 10 | Unregistered CommenterNick Venturella

Vinyl. Vinyl is the ultimate collector's fetish item, and 7's can be inexpensive to do in short (ltd edition) runs. Also include download tokens with these. Either 7 or 12 discs are a good way to sell music these days, and discourage pirating (or get people who already have mp3s to buy something collectable). I pretty much only by music on vinyl these days.

September 11 | Unregistered CommenterR. Ross Selavy

If the technology is available (or in the budget) pull the direct signals from the FOH engineer mixing the show. Sell direct to CD live albums. Fans love having a copy of the actual show they just attended.

September 21 | Unregistered CommenterJoe M.

@Joe Great advice! Ive been reading about this a lot lately. The technology has been around for quite awhile, but it seems like you would need a pretty significant rack of CD burners to pull this off. Either way, I appreciate the input, thank you!

September 21 | Registered CommenterJonathan Ostrow

Great post! i am a Hip hop artist and its so hard to find alternate ways of increasing revenue. however having a merch table in my genre of music is uncommon so having a table you're pretty much ahead of the rest. Id like to figure out what items could be offered at higher price levels to maximize income.

May 15 | Unregistered Commenterp8tience

11) Unique Collectables* Save your busted up drum heads and either draw up something unique on them or get some of your art work printed on them. I got about 5 heads saved up and for my local print shop when we get ready for our next tour.

Great suggestions by the way. I was happy to see we were doing over half of the things listed already.

December 6 | Unregistered CommenterTreeHouse!

So that cute singer isn't really interested in me, he just wants to get my merchandise $$$$... Darn.

May 15 | Unregistered Commenter@Sydney

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