One of the biggest moneymakers for any band is merch – band shirts, stickers, and drink coozies are something 99 percent of bands offer their fans. If you don't have any of these, you run the risk of looking under prepared to both your listeners and the venue.
But what happens if you have a whole bunch of cool products and your merch table is still looking lonely and desolate? What if nobody buys anything and only a few people even look? Here are seven ideas to help you avoid those scenarios and move some merch.
1. Add a visual hook that draws people in
I played with one band who had an old, 1940s radio at their table. It's something that people don't see every day and many came to check it out. Even better, it dovetailed perfectly with the image of the band.
While people gawked at it, the person running the merch table (usually a member of the band or team member) made small talk which made them stay longer. The longer they stayed, the more they browsed the merch selection. They walked away with stickers or, at the very least, signed up for the band's mailing list, etc.
The takeaway here is if a fan sees something cool and interesting, it will attract them, whether it's a quirky item like that radio, an old-school game system, a banner, or striking display. Find something that fits with your image as an artist, is relatively easily transportable, and might draw a crowd.
2. Update your branding
It's one thing to have a banner with your website on it, but if it's the same one you've had for the last five years, it might be time for a change. Bands can change their vibe over time, and your merch should follow suit.
I know quite a few artists that refresh their website design with every album release (usually every one-to-two years). This is smart – it tells people that changes are happening and maybe they should take a closer look.
Between website and album design, few artists think about giving the actual merch table a refresh. That includes shirts and stickers by the way – have a blowout sale on the old stuff, and get some fresh swag with the new aesthetic.
This also requires some thinking – who are your fans? Who are you as an artist? Are you a loud, brash punk band? Then maybe your merch table needs to reflect that. Go crazy! Are you more mellow and refined? You can still be eye catching but retain a classy feel.
3. Score a prime location at the venue
If you're smart, you've asked the venue for a designated spot to sell your wares. Maybe you even took it one step further and put it in your rider agreement. Good! But realize that the people running the venue don't necessarily know where the best place to put your table is – in fact, it's probably pretty low on their priority list.
Scope out the place yourself and ask to move it if you feel it's necessary. In my experience, venues usually put the band's table all the way in the back. For obvious reasons, this isn't ideal. Think high visibility and high-traffic areas – you want people having to pass your table multiple times en route to wherever they're going. Right by the stage is an ideal spot. Near an entrance or exit is also good, as is by the bar. If you feel you're doing everything right and still not getting any traction, poor location may very well be the reason.
4. Create an online merch store
This one doesn't directly relate to your merch table, per se, but it's also a crucial part of your merch strategy.
Hopefully, you have a great website (and if you don't, you really should). But do you have a store where fans can buy your merch? A lot of young bands overlook this, but it's important for a couple of reasons. For starters, if a fan really wants one of your band shirts but you don't have it in stock at that particular show, you can direct them to the website for an easy sale.
There's also a possibility of someone hearing your stuff who's never been to a show. Maybe they want to support your art and make a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit your website. If you don't have a merch store, you just missed out on that sale – and a potential fan.
5. Find the right person to man the table
This may sound strange, but I've seen lots of unmanned merch tables in my time. It's understandable – the band might not be able to afford to pay someone, and the band has a lot of setup to do, so they keep an eye on their merch from a distance.
But an unattended merch table can throw cold water on someone who's thinking of buying stuff. They may not go out of their way to ask for help, and they may not come back later when someone is around. At least one person should be at your table at all times. They should be wearing your band shirt or other merch, be friendly, and sound excited about the band. This is not always easy to find, but it's always possible that a fan or family member could volunteer (or be recruited in return for free gear).
6. Be present
If you're not hanging out at your merch table, you're missing a huge opportunity. Of course, you'll need to go out and meet fans, get drinks, etc. But if you make your merch table the place to be, people will naturally crowd around.
Make a point to hang there before and after your set. Offer the first person to the table a signed setlist, or the first 10 people a signed 8x10 glossy photo. These things cost you very, very little (in some cases, nothing), but that act generates interest and drives traffic right where you want it to go.
7. Have a wide variety of prices
You should be selling more than just $20 T-shirts – you should have stickers and pins for a dollar and everything in between. This gives everyone an opportunity to purchase something, whether they only have pocket change or have a lot of cash to burn. And don't forget to have sales. Everybody wants a deal – there are people out there who will buy almost anything as long as they feel they're getting a discount.
Ask yourself what would excite your fanbase to see on your table. What would excite you and other members of the band? What items would seem cool to talk about onstage? Don't be afraid to go a little further out there than you think is necessary. It can help you stand out!