Things to Remember When Selling Merch This Summer

Hello and welcome to the final artist advice column of the week. We have been planning to run this article for a while, but with Warped Tour kicking off this weekend it seemed no time could or would be more perfect than this afternoon. Whether you have a full tour planned this summer or a single show, we believe the information below will improve the likelihood of fan retention while also increasing merch sales. If you have any questions about the content of the blog, or if you would like more information regarding the distributional services offered by Haulix, please email and share your thoughts. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

We are less than two weeks from the official start of summer, but thanks to the crazy weather of 2014 most of the United States has only recently begun to feel the heat of the impending season. The vast majority of our population has spent the better part of the last eight months indoors, keeping themselves company with the glow of their laptop or smartphone screen. If you’re in a band, you probably also spent this time mastering your online marketing skills. If so, bravo! This post is for you.

In the time since summer last gave way to fall you have gained hundreds of digital followers across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr, not to mention having finally found a way to network with the people who run some of your favorite music blogs. People are tweeting about you and posting photos of the merch they ordered from your online store, which you love and gladly reply to because you’re not a heartless artist expecting money from strangers (and it requires next to zero effort on your part). You probably even have a summer tour in the works, or at least a handful of dates with a festival appearance or two. You may even be on Warped Tour. If so, again, bravo! You are well on your way to turning your digital buzz into real world success, but in order to do that you will need to shed the safety net of digital engagement and learn to interact with customers, as well as potential customers, in a real world setting. Be it slinging merch at an upcoming show, or working the line outside a major festival, there are several things to keep in mind if you want to maximize the impact of your time and marketing efforts.

1. Prepare in advance. Be quick and efficient whenever possible

It’s relatively easy to plan for on site marketing and merch sales, but being prepare to act on those plans is another story entirely. Before you ever step foot in a venue or on festival grounds you need to make sure you have everything you need organized in a way that makes accessing it quick and easy. If you’re selling merch, make sure to count stock, organize and arrange you product prior to arriving on site. If you’re working lines or festival grounds with music, make sure your iPod has battery life, additional chargers, and at least two sets of headphones. If you need signs, make them the day before. Time spent setting up or dealing with unorganized merch is time lost with music fans. 

2. Remember no ones like a hard sell

When you’re an up and coming artist depending on merch sales to get to the next town, let alone eat, it can be very tempting to try and push your merchandise on music fans. RESIST! You may have the best music in the world that no one has heard, but it’s never going to go anywhere if people feel like they’re being sold something the moment you begin speaking with them. If you come across as friendly, helpful, and knowledgable you will have a far better likelihood of gaining (and retaining) consumer interest. Share with people why you do what you do, and what it is about your music and message that sets you apart. Leverage your authenticity to make yourself more appealing to customers, but be careful to not push too far and come across as cocky or overly confident. People need to know you believe in yourself, but no one wants to support someone who likens themselves to a god.

3. Think of every interaction as a new opportunity to network

It’s great when people buy things and ask for more information about your music, but even if they walk away from their initial encounter with you and your art empty handed they can still aide your longterm marketing efforts. You never know who they may know, and being a generally likable person will go a long way towards leaving a good impression. Also, person-to-person interactions are a great way to learn about your fan base, as well as the regional scene as whole. Do people support unsigned bands in this area? Are there a lot of venues you could play at on future tours, or is this more of a one basement town? These things matter, and the best way to get accurate insight on the climate of any music scene is from the people who help it thrive day in and day out. 

4. Try and get feedback, even if it’s not what you want to hear

This bit was written more to those sharing their music with first time listeners than those selling merch, but it can and should be applied to both. Wherever you go, make it a point to listen to people as much, if not more than you speak to them. If you’re sharing your music, ask them what they do and don’t like about it. Ask them who they think you sound like and whether or not they could see themselves catching your live show at some point in the future. Take the wins with the losses, and always do your best to be polite. There may be people who treat you like crap or speak ill of your art, but it is of the utmost importance that you find the power within yourself to rise above and treat that the same way you would a regular fan. Music, like everything creative, is subjective, and they are not wrong or bad simply because they do not like the art you create. By accepting that fact and taking the time to hear their complaints, you open yourself up to the possibility of seeing, hearing, or otherwise understanding your own creation in a whole new light.

5. Smile and be polite

Following the point made above, kindness is next to godliness in this world, and the quickest way to win over the heart of a consumer inundated with advertising is through being a generally decent human being. This probably goes without saying, but people are for more willing to engage with people who seem friendly and inviting than those who look pissed at the world or out to make a buck. There was a time when businesses could succeed through deception, trickery, and wordplay, but in the modern age you need to forge a relationship with consumers they can trust and that is best accomplished through kindness.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.