You Don’t Have To Be A Major Artist To Sell Shirts AnymoreBy
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Check out how technology is changing the way you buy merch.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could buy shirts and other merch as you sell them to your fans? A fan buys a shirt from you, you replace your stock one shirt at a time, or order the shirt and have it sent directly to the fan from the printer. Bing, bang, boom. No set up costs. No major overhead. Yep. That would be nice. And, of course, you still want to make a little coin (profit) when buying and selling a single shirt. Sound impossible?
Such a fairy tale would really come in handy when you’re scraping every penny to save up to record your album or buy new equipment. Right? Well, maybe it isn’t such a fairy tale. Hmm.
While you are industriously grinding it out on the road (proverbial or otherwise), pouring your heart and sweat into each show, the road doesn’t always love you back. Even if you’re not sleeping in your car, securing and playing gigs can be exhausting, with minimal payout. And let’s face it, while writing and playing may be your passion, it would be great to be making a steady income from your music sooner rather than later.
So the question at hand is this: How does the independent artist/band bring home significant bacon from their fan base? Assuming you have an ever-expanding fan base (which is another article altogether), there are approaches to your small business that will help increase your profits.
Holy sell-out, Batman! Did I just call you a small business proprietor? Yes. Yes, I did. But before you gag on such words as “business” and “profits,” let me reassure you. Any band or artist who hopes to survive and keep making music is, in fact, in the music business – unless, of course, you are a secret billionaire or are supported by your parents. If you want your music to support your lifestyle, or at the very least provide for your transportation fund, it’s a good idea to pay attention to good business practices in order to grow your – erm – band’s effectiveness.
The thing is, too many artists miss a serious money making opportunity in their merchandise department. Not so much at the merch table, but in how you buy your printed merch. “Of what doth thou speak?” you may be asking. Well, let’s talk about that.
It goes way back to the screen-printing approach. **Now, screen-printing has been a great solution for a long time, lest you think I’m hating. But technology has advanced, and it has advanced in your favor. Celebrate! And keep reading…**
Back to the screen-printing approach… In the past when you ordered T-shirts or hoodies the only viable option was screen-printing, as you may have guessed. Screen-printers had to create a screen for every color in your design and mix custom ink to print your specific colors. To make it worth everybody’s time and money, it behooved you, the client, to purchase screen-printed shirts in bulk to justify the cost of the screen and set-up costs. Also, due to the screen-printing process, single color shirts are more cost effective. Ergo, the idea of paying for a multi-colored design on top of set-up fees left many a screen-printing customer feeling uneasy, if not nauseous. Since most people can get on board with a black or gray shirt, many artists choose white ink on a gray shirt. Does any of this resonate with your experience?
As you may have already observed, there’s a problem. Buying 100 shirts before you know you have 100 buyers can be a major waste of your money. It even gets more complicated. For one, once you run out of a certain size, tough stuff. You cannot purchase a few shirts to replace those hot selling sizes without paying a huge setup charge (unless you buy another bulk order of 100 pcs). And, if the original bulk order includes a bunch of sizes that don’t sell? Well, you eat those shirts. Arghh!!
Now, here’s another issue you may not have considered. What if fans at your gig would have purchased your shirt, if had it come in a different color or style? In the past you’d have to say to those fans, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit, picky fans.” The bottom line is that your previous lack of options has hurt your bottom line (couldn’t resist).
Now, however, there’s a convenient and cost-effective answer to these issues. Enter Direct to Garment (DTG) printing. DTG printing allows you to order as few as one shirt at a time from your new, technologically enlightened printer. One shirt.
So if fan ‘A’ wants a medium shirt, you order a medium and sell her that medium. Bam! What’s that? Fan ‘B’ wants your band design on a green tank top? Well order up one green tank top in their size and sell that bad boy. Because there’s no screen, no ink mixing, and no set up charge, the cost for one or ten shirts is totally reasonable. You can sell your tees for $20-$25 and still take home $12 to $16, depending on the style and brand of shirt you want. That’s not to say you can’t order a bunch, a peck or a bushel, even. If you want 100 or 1,000+, you can get those quantities too. And, what took weeks to screen print only takes a few days with DTG.
What about the quality? Good question. Commercial DTG technology has actually come a long way. If your shirt is printed on commercial equipment (like Kornit), it will last longer than screen-printing. And you don’t have to dumb down your design to one or two colors. You want a peacock holding multi-color sparklers against the back drop of an American flag? Get crazy! DTG printing allows you to get a full-color design, all with great detail and color quality – even on various kinds of materials. To date, there are really no downsides, though I’ll keep you updated as more info comes out.
So, where can you find this fantastic-ness? Well, the market is growing, but 1Place Music Distribution (1Placemusicdistribution.com) is one such manufacturer and distributor who offers this service specifically to independent artists and bands. The nice thing about 1Place is that you can get all of your merch there – hats, hoodies, posters, bumper stickers, T-shirts, – and they will distribute it to your fans or sell to you directly for your merch table. They’ll also distribute your physical CD and digital content. Win-win-win!
You might also have a look at Nationwide Disc. They offer free custom printed T-shirts with a minimum purchase. For example, if you purchase $299 in qualifying merch, Nationwide Disc will purchase 5 T-shirts with your custom print on them for you. The shirts can be light or dark with full color printing. All you do is pay shipping. If you sell the shirts for $20 – $25 each that’s like getting a $100+ discount on your merch order. Check it out at nationwidedisc.com