Written by Megan Doyle

Beyond your basic finisher t-shirt, a full merchandise program can benefit your event by creating more loyalty within your event community, extending your marketing reach and providing a little extra revenue. Your participants are proud to be associated with your event and your organization. Give them a chance to wear your flag. Know that it’s an investment, on your part and your event community, and there are a few tricks we can share so you’re not stuck with boxes of merchandise sitting in storage.

  • Review the same factors you incorporate into marketing apply to your merchandise: your event demographics, from gender and age to loyalty and time commitment.
  • Play to your audience. Just like a band needs to play their hits, when designing merchandise, pick items your audience will actually wear. Keep the same tone as the rest of your event brand and marketing but also provide an item you can only get at the show (event).
  • Keep it simple. You don’t want to be a department store. Just choose four or five items to sell until you know what works and what doesn’t. However, consider having both women’s and men’s style shirts and think beyond the unisex shirt with your brand’s logo.
  • No one wants to read a paragraph on a shirt! Create designs that don’t have to be explained.
  • Don’t use the “best” design for the finisher shirt that you give away for free. Save the shirt everyone wants for the one that is for purchase.
  • White, black, navy, gray and red are the most popular merchandise colors. Use these as your base. Even if your branding is orange put it on a black shirt (not the other way around).
  • At the event, having each item for sale available for the customer to touch, feel, and try-on. People love the opportunity to know exactly what they’re getting! In fact, make sure you display easy-to-see pricing from afar so no one is surprised!
  • Take inventory when you place the order. Take inventory when you receive the order from shipping. Take inventory when you set up at the event. Take inventory at the end of the event. Notice a pattern? Merchandise seems to be magical like socks in a dryer. Don’t let your revenue be the same.

Trial and error has given us plenty of lessons learned for this Merchandise 101. While we’ve covered best practices, we want to make sure you’re fiscally responsible from the get-go. Here are a few of the important points to consider from our friends in Accounting:

  • Know your tax laws.  Every state and municipality has different requirements and rules. Know the location of where you will be selling and research accordingly.  It is quite embarrassing having a customer tell you “There’s no tax on clothing here!”
  • Track sales as you go and don’t just rely on your point of sale device. That will help you answer the question, “Do you have an extra small?” before you go diving into the boxes.
  • Speaking of… pick the right point of sale device.  There are several mobile credit card processing companies with different processing fees.  Err on the side of ease of use because hopefully you have a line of people who want to pay and go.
  • Reconcile your cash and credit on site, after the event. Really, even if it’s midnight.

A merchandise program is not for the faint of heart. No joke it’s resource intensive and involves a small amount of risk. You can mitigate the risk by following a lot of these tips. But don’t go into a program thinking you’re going to rely on it for a major portion of your revenue. Merchandise is a supplemental program that, when executed well, will make your participants happy, provide your event with word-of-shirt and give you a little more change.

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