A musician’s guide to selling merch

Learn how to create a reliable revenue stream by selling merch with this basic guide.

by JORDAN GATES of Indie Gigging

Merchandise sales make up a significant chunk of revenue for many artists. Concert goers are willing to spend money on all kinds of apparel and novelties as keepsakes to support their favorite artists. Simply put, if you’re a touring artist and you’re not selling merch, you should be! And if you are already selling merch, these tips and tricks will help you stay organized and sell more!


Choose The Right POS System

In order to sell products you’ll first need a way to create transactions and collect payments. There are several point of sale (POS) systems on the the market that exist for this purpose. Companies like Square, AtVenu, Shopify, PayPal, and Merch Cat all have solid POS software that can be used to sell merch. These companies also offer a variety of adapters, terminals, or registers that will allow you to swipe credit cards and process other forms of payment. 

Each system has it’s own unique features. Square is one of the most widely used POS systems for small businesses in general, whereas AtVenu is a commonly used system specifically designed for live events. Both are great options. Your POS vendor should have software and hardware that is easy to use, reliable, and affordable. Choose the one that works best for you!

Once you have selected a good POS system, make sure you take time to understand how to navigate and use it before your first show. Input all of your items and inventory into the system ahead of time for smoother transactions. Know how to ring up different items, how to exchange or refund items, and how to accept different forms of payment. Your POS system should also allow you to easily access reports and transaction history so you can track your sales from each show. Preparation is the key to making your life easier and having lots of happy customers.

Count Your Inventory

Good record keeping is super important when selling merch. It can make the difference between staying cool under pressure or descending into utter chaos. Not only will it make you more professional, but it will help your bottom line by ensuring your sales data is accurate and that you bring the right amount of merch to each gig. 

It is a best practice to count all of your inventory before and after each show. Although it can be tedious, this is the most foolproof way to know exactly how much merch was sold throughout the sh0w. Each individual item should be counted and recorded. For example, knowing that you started out with 10 large T-Shirts and having 4 of them remaining at the end of the night means that you must have sold and/or given away 6 of them. It’s a simple process, but it works! 

Your inventory count is your source of truth to know how much merch you’re left with and how much was sold. Even if you enter something incorrectly into your POS software or the system malfunctions, you can still fall back on your inventory count. Additionally, it will help you determine how much merch to bring to the next show. If you have an item that consistently sells out, you’ll know to bring more inventory to future shows and vice versa for poor performing items. 

Organize Your Merch

Organize all of your items to allow for easy access. You don’t want to be “that guy” who’s fumbling around and digging through piles of clothes to find that one XXL T-shirt. Instead create a system that allows you to quickly and easily grab the correct item that the customer is requesting. Everyone has their own process, so use a method that works best for you and allows for maximum efficiency. 

Smaller items or items with only one size like CDs, Hats, Koozies, etc. are you usually pretty easy to keep track of. Items like these can just be stacked neatly together or grouped in a box. Clothing items like T-shirts, hoodies, and tank tops with different sizes can get unruly fast if not organized properly. Here’s a simple process used by many sellers for these types of items:

  1. Grab some boxes or bins that your merch items were stored in. 
    • If you’re using cardboard boxes, you can fold all of the top flaps inward to make it more neat and stable. 
  2. Designate one box for each style or item type.
  3. Separate the items by size and fold them over each side of the box.
    • If you have multiple items, make sure the order of your sizes around each box is consistent and easy to remember.

Price Your Items Appropriately

Pricing can be a tricky thing when selling merch. Research how other similar artists are pricing their merch items to use as a benchmark. You can tweak the price of your items over time through trial and error once you get a feel for what people are willing to pay. At a bare minimum, you should consider your costs to produce and store the items and mark them up with enough margin to make a profit. 

Another tip is to price your items in increments of $5. So instead of pricing a T-shirt at $27, either round it down to $25 or up to $30. This will make it much easier to provide change for cash sales. You won’t need to carry a lot of singles, and you won’t need to do a bunch of math to calculate the change amount. Also, don’t be afraid to price items on the high side. Loyal fans will be willing to spend money for cool merch from their favorite artist. 

Accept Different Forms Of Payment 

The majority of your sales will likely be made by card. Your POS system should make it very easy to accept this form of payment. Although you will have to pay a small fee on credit card transactions, it is still the most convenient payment option for most customers. In additional to cards, there are number of other forms of payment you can accept if it suits you. Customers might want to pay with cash, Venmo, Apple Pay, crypto currency, etc… at the end of the day a sale is a sale! Make it as easy as possible for them to surrender their money to you. 

There are a couple of best practices for handling cash payments specifically. First, make sure you have a secure place to store and organize the cash like a register or cash box. You also need to make sure you have change for cash sales. Start out with several bills of various denominations so that you can provide change to people who pay in cash. 

Anticipate Things That Might Go Wrong

Once the doors open and crowds start pouring in, you better hope that your system is up and running and everything is in place. There’s always a chance that something can fail though. In a worst case scenario, you could miss out on valuable sales and be stuck with a long line of frustrated customers. Careful planning and preparation can minimize your risk of catastrophic failures. 

Here are some common issues you may encounter and how to address them:

  • Problem: Technology runs out of battery power during an event. 
    • Solution: Always proactively charge your tablet or other battery powered technology before an event. Bring a backup charger or power bank as well just in case. 
  • Problem: Your internet connection is lost in the middle of an event. 
    • Solution: Make sure you are connected to a reliable WiFi network before you start selling. Bring your own WiFi hotspot or switch to offline mode on your POS system as a backup plan. 
  • Problem: Credit card swiping terminal stops working. 
    • Solution: Try to restart and/or reconnect the terminal. If all else fails, you can enter card information manually or encourage customers to pay with cash. 

Creative problem solving can sometimes be part of the job of a merch seller. Just as the show must go on from the stage, the same is true for the merch table. Being able to recover from technical difficulties or minor issues is what being a professional is all about.

Display Merch Prominently

Where you sell is just as important (if not more so) as what you sell. Most music venues will have a designated area for selling merch. If they don’t, then make sure you scope out a prominent and well lit area to sell. Ideally, it should be in a spot that everyone has to walk past as they enter or exit the venue.

Your merch display should be organized and eye-catching. If possible, hang up shirts and other items neatly on a rack so customers can look at the different designs. For shirts that have both front and back designs, each side should be displayed and clearly labeled. Proper signage should also be displayed to advertise your merch and indicate the price of each item. 

Be Prepared To Talk To People

When selling merch, you will be interacting with lots of different people throughout the event – nice people, rude people, men, women, drunk, sober and everything in between. Your job as a seller is to give a great customer experience to all of them. Maintain a professional demeanor for every interaction you have. Try to stay off of your phone as much as possible and stay engaged with your customers. Be friendly and inviting, but not too pushy, so people will want to come up and chat. 

It’s also a good idea to anticipate some common questions people will have and be prepared with answers. Someone will inevitably come up to you and ask something like “where is the bathroom?” or “when does the band start playing?”. Even though it’s not necessarily your job to know everything about the venue or the show schedule, having some basic information will make you look more knowledgeable and keep your patrons happy. 

Take Notes

Take note of important things that happened throughout the show for your records. Maybe an item was exchanged, damaged, or comped (given away for free) throughout the course of the evening. There are a variety of special cases like this that you may want to keep track of. You’re unlikely to remember these small details by the end of the night after processing dozens or sometimes hundreds of transactions. Write things down in your show notes as they come up so you can reference them later on if needed. 

Download The Indie Gigging Merch Sheet

Now comes the shameless plug to download the merch selling sheet from Indie Gigging. This essential tool really is a great way to track your merch sales and follow the best practices mentioned in this post. The simple yet functional design of the spreadsheet allows you to keep organized and detailed records of merch inventory, sales, notes and more. You won’t want to sell merch with it!

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Post Author: Adam Jacob

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