Although it's a great way for artists to boost their overall revenue, selling merch at shows can often be a challenge to do. Here we look at seven ways to switch things up and move a few more shirts at your next show.By Dave Ruch from CD Baby's DIY Musician blog
Do you sell stuff at your gigs?
After experiencing a slump in sales over the last few years, I’ve recently changed my “pitch” a bit and added a few more items to the table, and things are looking . . .
I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing, and I’d love to learn some new tricks from you as well.
[This article originally appeared HERE.]
The Immutable Truths of Merch Sales
Let’s face it. For most of us live performers, the following things will always be true:
- we can’t live on merchandise sales alone, but they really help
- we hate selling things
- our website won’t do much of the selling for us
- most purchases will happen at live performances
- we hate selling things (did I mention that one already?)
No matter how good your online store is, the vast majority of your sales are going to happen “in person” immediately following your shows (or on the set break).
So here are some ideas for selling more at your gigs.
#1. Change the timing of your pitch
You certainly don’t want to come off as too “salesy,” so you’re going to want to limit the number of times you mention your items for sale.
That makes the placement of that announcement within your set really important.
Do it too soon and people forget. Do it too often and you burn them out.
I like to concentrate on delivering a great show that’s 100% sales-free and really focused on engaging the audience, and then slip in the pitch right before the last song – almost as an afterthought.
Why there? Well, you want it to be fresh in people’s minds immediately before they can act on it.
(You’re also probably ending your show on a compelling note, which helps drive up desire too.)
REAL WORLD – I’ve also started incorporating a mention of the items for sale in the introduction that will be read by the venue host as they welcome the audience and introduce the show. (“Dave Ruch is ABC, has done XYZ, and his latest recording, entitled 123, will be available for sale right after the show along with a selection of blah blah blah and other items.”)
#2. Change HOW you make your pitch
It’s time to make your announcement.
Do you find yourself looking down at your shoes as you’re telling people about your CD or other items for sale?
Do you assume that nobody’s going to be interested?
Do you say “um” a lot and laugh nervously?
Your tone and body language come through loud and clear, and can make people far less (or more) excited about the idea of leaving with something of yours in exchange for their money.
Here are some ideas for delivering a compelling pitch:
- Exude genuine enthusiasm for the items you’re mentioning (practicing in the mirror wouldn’t be overdoing it)
- Tell interesting or funny stories about the item – people connect with stories
- Hold each item and briefly describe it (you’ll stimulate sales from people who might not have bothered to step over to your table)
#3. Change the table location
Believe it or not, this can have a dramatic effect on the number of people that will even approach the table to have a look around.
(Think back to the last time you were at a tradeshow or convention in the vendors area. Did you march right up to each table to engage with the sales person, or did you hover around the perimeter hoping not to get a sales pitch?)
REAL WORLD – At a recent gig, I put the table way off to the side of the room so people didn’t have to approach the stage (and me) after the show. As I made my pitch, I simply pointed to the table, and then when the concert ended, I stopped well short of the table to talk with an audience member. As I did that, people started rushing to the table, and by the time I got there, several people had decided what they wanted and were handing me money. Give them some space, and don’t make them approach you directly in order to see what’s there.
#4. Add a new product line
Not everybody is a consumer of your main product, and sometimes spouses and kids get dragged along to gigs too.
And then there are those “mega buyers” who are always going to buy multiple items.
So what about all of them?
I now carry around a carefully curated selection of books (written by others) based around my concert topics, and guess what?
Same for an intriguing little pocket instrument (jaw harp) that I play in my shows and people are always curious about.
REAL WORLD – Do you talk about specific places or time periods during your show, or write material around a certain topic? Do you have themed shows that you do? Any props related to your show that people might want to take home? I have arranged for a 40% wholesaler discount from each book publisher and retailer I deal with, simply by ordering 10 or more copies for resale. I also pay no sales tax on those items because I will be reselling them.
#5. Take plastic
Although I still don’t!
I’ve been telling myself for years that as soon as more of my audience starts asking about taking credit cards, I’ll get a card reader from Square or one of the other vendors.
But so far, it hasn’t happened. Because my demographic for public concerts tends to be older adults, they seem to always carry cash AND checkbooks.
I’ve also extended credit to people who’ve really wanted something but didn’t have the cash (or checkbook) on hand. They leave with the items and my mailing address, and I always get their check in the mail within days.
REAL WORLD – Get a card reader that plugs into your smartphone. It’s simple to set up, and the charge is generally less than 3% for each transaction. You’ll probably need it more than I do.
I know. Me too.
It can feel really presumptuous sometimes to offer to sign things, especially if we’ve just done what felt like something less than our very best show.
“Who does he think he is?”
After all, it’s not like we’re household names.
Except, you know what? People really like to have their things signed. So offer it.
REAL WORLD – Sometimes I’ll forget to make the offer from the stage with my pitch, but I’ll do it in real time as people are purchasing things – and if people seem nonplussed by the idea, there’s no harm there. But other times (like the other day), I forgot completely to offer it, and one after another, people started asking me to do it.
#7. Doing two or more sets?
If you’re doing multiple sets and you have the flexibility, keep your first set to well under an hour to maximize sales.
Or if you’re booked for a 90-120 minute gig, try to negotiate a set break in there.
By giving people 60-90 minutes of your best stuff without taking a break, you may be saturating them and killing sales, no matter how good you are.
REAL WORLD – A compelling 45-minute set will almost always result in better sales than a longer set.
#8. (Bonus!) Commit To It
I think this was the biggest factor for me with my slump – I’d gotten lazy and careless about it.
Just deciding to be proactive about consistently making a strong pitch and experimenting with table placement, language, etc, I’m now bringing home more money from my gigs.
(And putting a nice dent in those boxes of CDs in my attic…)
You can do it too.
Dave Ruch is a full-time musician and performer whose work has been featured on American Public Media, in Emmy Award-winning documentaries, and on stages across North America and the U.K. A Buffalo NY-based teaching artist and Public Scholar for the New York Council for the Humanities, Ruch helps audiences of all ages connect with history and culture through music. Dave’s marketing blog for performing artists is called “Educate and Entertain: A Great Living in the Arts,” and he also contributes to The Huffington Post.