Revealed: How to Have Success at the Merch Table

Revealed: How to Have Success at the Merch Table
Let's face it: there's a great divide between artists and businessmen. That's why you don't often see lawyers in bands or bands writing up record contracts. Then again, lawyers are smart and take money. They don't shovel it out by the barrel full in hopes that someone will pat them on the head for a particularly well-written paragraph of legalese (read: good review for your crappy song).

Still, there's a definite divide, and so the folks of Indie Universe are helping level the playing field by coming up with a definitive guide on how bands can maximize their merchandise sales. This, of course, presumes you've got enough shit together to have merch in the first place.

Lemmings, come hither. Here is the advice to making a success merch table:

1. Locate it in as a high traffic location as allowed by the venue and try to add adequate lighting.

2. Take credit cards, there are some great apps for iPhone and Blackberry, as well as a program from CD Baby. Not taking credit cards will mean a huge drop off in merch sales, as most people are budget conscious with cash. Here is an article from the great folks at Hypebot about some of those applications. The application is called Innerfence and with some research you can find others -€“ but taking credit cards is KEY!

3. The artist must make the 'call to action' during the show alerting the audience of the merch tables existence and that there is a sign up for your mailing list. Not having a way of taking names, email address, snail mail and/or mobile at every show should be a crime! There are some great and creative ways to do it that I will enumerate in the next merch table post.

4. Make the merch table stick out, make it pop (or as Seth Godin says, make it the Purple Cow in the room). Claire Lynch brings a unique table cloth with her and tells a story about it from the stage before one of her songs, so concert goers then want to see the very item she spoke about.

5. If security is not an issue, be present at the table after the show and let the audience know you will be there a few minutes after the show to talk and hang out. In fact a few of the artists I work for prefer doing two sets, so they can be there in between sets, talk to the audience, take requests, work stories that you hear into the second set (it makes the show unique, personal and unforgettable), etc. Make sure you inform them that you will be there during the break.

6. Sara Hickman puts the titles of all her songs on a card in front of each CD, so the fans know which ones have the songs they loved during the concert.

7. Have items at all price levels -€“ a $1 sticker that you might throw in if someone buys a bunch of stuff, has a great smile, or says something nice about you. In fact, have something you give away for free at the table -€“ maybe a business card with a code to sign on to your website and get a free download in exchange for them giving you their name and email (or mobile number) -€“ so you can start to develop a permission marketing relationship.

8. Have something for the kids (whether they are there or for the parents that are out for the night to give to them) -€“ a colouring book that you can easily Xerox and staple, for example. My kids LOVE when Daddy brings home 'presents' when he goes to a show or a conference. Little do they know I got them for free.

9. Create packages (deluxe, limited editions as well) and offer discounts.

10. Dave Allen at Pampelmoose suggests a "Name Your Own Price" deal. He finds that the artists makes more and that fans will pay above the usual asking price and feel great about doing it -€“ sure there is the occasional here is a penny for everything...don't believe me -€“ here is his article "How Bands Make More Money By Not Putting A Price On Their CDs.

11. I know, I said ten, but I loved something Sara Hickman said and I wanted it to be special: "take cash, checks and CC...but i also go on the honourr system with people who say they don't have any money. i give the cd to them and tell them i trust them to remember me and mail me a check when they can...in the 20 yearsI'vee been selling merch,I'vee only had about 3 people (out of thousands) not send the money in, and that's a guess cuz most people are GOOD and i just don't keep track of it, really. i just trust."

There's no advice here, however, on how to nail people for bootlegging your shit. Then again, you have to be a good band for that to happen: