Vol 1, Issue 16: Making Merchandise

Have you ever noticed that it’s the 14-year-old high school bands who are totting around the best gear at shows and are stocked up with a full selection of merchandise? Perhaps these purchases were graciously donated through the generosity of their parents, or maybe a collection of the profits they’ve earned from babysitting gigs fronted the bill. It’s one thing to have top of the line gear, what musician doesn’t want to rock out like the professionals do? But, to travel with a mini retail store of your band’s paraphernalia before your band has even developed a reasonably sized fan-base or released an album, well, that’s just foolish.

From my fun and not-so-fun manufacturing experiences, I’ve learned a couple of things about developing merchandise that I’d like to share with you.

#1) Do not, I repeat, do not order any merchandise without proof that you are getting exactly what you requested.
A few years back, I decided to order some t-shirts for my band for the first time: a relatively simple design with two colours. I ordered both male sports tees, and female baby tees, which ended up costing me a few hundred dollars (which would not have been a problem seeing as I priced it out so that profits could be made). However, upon the much-anticipated delivery of my t-shirts, I noticed a critical issue when opening the package. Despite several attempts for clarification on sizing on the women’s style, I somehow ended up with 50 child-sized tees that were UNSELLABLE! Considering that I, myself, am a petite woman, and I was not even able to get my head through the neck hole of any of these shirts, I’m sure you’re getting the picture. I pleaded with the manufacturer explaining that he had made a huge mistake with my order, but guess what? He had already been paid, and therefore, could care less about my complaint. Luckily, I was able to salvage some of the funds through creative innovation. However, we still lost a substantial amount of money on that purchase, and suffice it to say that I will never work with that manufacturer again.

So, what I learned from that experience is this: Prior to finalizing any merchandise order, ask your manufacturer to send you a sample of your desired item to ensure that it is properly sized and has your desired appearance. Photos are not accurate representations of products. If your manufacturer refuses to comply with this simple request, I suggest you take your business elsewhere.

#2) Try to stick with companies in your region.
At first glance, many of the per-item rates that U.S. manufacturers charge for merch products seem substantially cheaper than that of the Canadian companies, and in some instances, they are. However, one must realize that customs, shipping and taxes are being left out of the equation. From my experiences working with both sides of the border, I’ve learned that there are hefty tariffs placed on imported resale goods. Thus, sticking with local companies will guarantee that your band will be able to profit with its sales, instead of just breaking even.

#3) Do a test run first.
It’s hard to predict what your fans may or may not be into in terms of merchandise. Asking their opinion is one thing, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding: what are they actually willing to spend their hard earned money on? Because it’s difficult to judge this in even the best of situations, I recommend that bands never place bulk orders on new items. Even if all of your band mates agree that your new idea to get customized wristbands is fantastic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your fans will buy them. As a good starting point, I recommend getting no more than 25 - 50 copies of a new item (generally the minimum amount that can be placed in a merch order for a reasonable price). This will allow you to gauge an item’s popularity without taking a huge financial loss if it doesn’t sell.

#4) Be as specific as possible.
When placing orders with manufacturers, it’s important to provide as many details as possible to avoid errors and potential delays. For example, the difference between vinyl, litho, latex and thermal stickers may seem trivial from your point of view, but it can substantially affect how a design will look once it’s printed, as well as the longevity of a product. Being knowledgeable about different stocks (the materials on which items are printed) is therefore extremely important to ensure that your order precisely matches your idea.

#5) For all of you black fans.
This is a tricky one. Although black is a very popular colour used amongst band designs, trying to find manufacturers that will print colour on black backgrounds is more difficult than one would anticipate. As an added bonus (note the sarcasm here), all products with black backgrounds are always more expensive to print than products with white/transparent backgrounds. No one likes sacrificing their design scheme because of cost issues, therefore being aware of this fact while developing a logo/concept for your band is essential. To help minimize what I refer to lovingly as the “black factor,” sticking to companies that regularly deal with band merchandise as opposed to generic screen printers is recommended, as they will be more sympathetic to your situation.

Manufacturing merchandise is a big step for any band, and something I do not recommend until you are in both a financial and professional situation to do so. Also, remember to always provide manufacturers with two weeks to a month's leeway time in the event that there are complications with your order. Bands tend to overwhelm manufacturers in the springtime to prepare for summer touring, so getting in before the crowd will ensure you don’t find yourself on the road with nothing to sell.

Some great (and reasonably priced) merch manufacturers that I regularly work with and strongly recommend are:


Last Man Standing Clothing Supply

JDBuilt Signs

Forest City Image Centre

About the Author:

Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.

Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.

Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase.

Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.For more information on Rose Cora Perry and her band's accomplishments, please visit http://www.anti-hero.ca/ or http://www.rosecoraperry.com/