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The DIY Musician: Increasing Your Band's Merch Sales, Part 2

In Part 1 of this column, I talked about specific items that can increase your profits.

In part 2, I’m giving you a whole bunch of random ideas. Share this with your bandmates or merch people. Maybe there’s a tip you can use to make more money at your gigs.

A lot of my items are handmade, by me. I spend my off-season making handmade merch for my stand. Instead of selling clichéd koozies and stickers, my stand actually features my handmade cigar box guitars, beer can harmonica mics, cool pins made from bottle caps and anything else connected to my jug band show.

There’s something cool about buying stuff that was actually made by the people on stage, and fans love the connection. Also, there’s a much bigger profit margin when you’re paying only for material costs.

Some of my items are handmade by local artists. I’ve recently added hand-painted items with my band’s logo. It’s cool to employ local artists who not only do a great job, but also appreciate the work.

Regardless of what industry writers have said, the CD is not dead. People still buy ‘em up at my shows. On another note, the merch girl from Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band once told me that they sell more vinyl than CDs!

I don’t give away my CDs as promos to the fans. I worked hard to write and produce the album. I will sell it for a profit, and they buy them up.

The only giveaways I have at my shows are very professional postcards with my picture on the front and booking/merch information on the back. Those postcards have gotten me other gigs, plus countless online sales of my merchandise. The cool thing is people ask me to autograph them. I always make sure I have Sharpies in my merch boxes.

My email-signup list is essential because one quarter of my merch sales happen online during the Christmas season. If people don’t buy at the event, they sometimes follow up online and purchase items as gifts. This is why I always have an email-list signup at the shows, and it’s why I cultivate and care for my email list on a weekly basis. I stay in contact with my fans every week, not just to tell them about shows but to also keep that top-of-mind awareness.

My items for sale don’t just have the band logo. Some things reference individual songs or things I banter about on stage. A few of our newest items are pins and stickers that say “The Blues Ain’t Kind to Skinny Legged Women.” (We love to sing about big-leg women and my affinity for the big booty.) I have a T-shirt coming soon that looks like you’re wearing a washboard just like the one used in my band.

I view my merch stand as part of the show’s entertainment. People love shopping, and most of them want to buy something when they browse the stand. My goal is to make the entire area pop for them, making it fun just to look at all the cool things for sale. The entire night should be an experience for the audience, including the merch booth.

My merch stand takes as much time to set up as the band. I use a small stage scaffold to hold up a bright backdrop, which draws people’s attention. T-shirts are hung up top with prices easily visible. It’s a lot of extra trouble, but it makes people want to buy something because it looks so inviting.

If I’m playing a festival gig, I will negotiate a 10x10 vendor’s tent space into the contract. Usually a fest who really wants my band will gladly give the space for free. Sometimes I’ll even play a gig in exchange for the tent space because I’ll make so much more money from the merch than their small performance fees. Those promoters usually ask me to come back year after year.

I pay my merch guy a commission on everything he sells. That percentage is figured into the retail price of each item. My merch guy loves what he does and gets a thrill out of upselling to increase his commission. Also note: If it’s a crappy gig and we haven’t sold much, I have a base payment I give him for working.

I saw a few of those over the winter and lost some money at times. However, it’s smart to keep him happy during the slow periods because he’s an ace during the busy months.

Got ideas of your own? Post them in the comments below!

Shane Speal is the "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C.B. Gitty Records.