The Essential Guide to Merchandise, Part 1: Selecting a Vendor

BPT_buttons_2_300x300Whenever someone tells me that there’s no money in merchandise, I want to scream. Merchandise programs can become your league’s greatest return on investment. Especially once your merchandise program is established.

This is the first of a three-part series on derby merchandise programs and the best use of your merch committee’s time. Although this series is specific to roller derby, the following applies to bands, performers and anyone else who might sell merchandise at their events.

There is Money in Merchandise 

Two examples that speak to the value of merchandise sales:

-Bands make their name on the road. Most will tell you it is merchandise sales, not a cut of the door sales that support their ramen-noodle habit and van.

-My son loved watching the monster truck TV series, “Monster Jam.” One episode, Dennis Anderson, owner of the iconic Grave Digger, made a prolific statement about merchandise sales. In his early years, he ran the truck until it was wrecked, “to get the most out of merchandise sales.” That’s right, he traveled the country destroying expensive trucks to boost merch sales.

Roller derby merch has the same potential.

Though there are many types of merchandise you can sell, clothing will draw your greatest sales and profit. T-shirts are critical to any merch program. They are relatively inexpensive to make and can generate a strong profit.

Your relationship with your clothing producer is a critical one that’s reliant on trust, so be choosy when it comes to your vendor.

Choose Vendors Wisely 

The three factors to be aware of when choosing a vendor are reliability, the cost goods and the quality of their work. Too often, leagues have “merch problems” from making a poor choice of vendors. Many leagues are offered great deals from startup print shops, a league-mate’s friend or even someone within the league.

What could possibly go wrong?

Reliability

You get a great deal. At first, your orders may not have time sensitivity. Especially if it’s off-season or the league is in early stages. But when you need inventory by a certain date and it doesn’t show up, it’s a big problem.

If you are out of sizes or styles, those are lost sales. How could this happen? More than likely, they’ve offered this same killer deal (undercutting the price of other printers) to a number of others. The print shop is looking to build its clientele. The general concept of creating printed t-shirts is not difficult, but bulk printing is. Problems arise when the printer takes on more work than they have staff, equipment or time. For some shops, it isn’t a full-time business; it’s a “hobby.”

How to Sniff Out an Unreliable Vendor 

  • Ask to tour their shop prior to committing your business. If they keep stalling, they don’t have a shop. They have limited equipment (potentially homemade) in a corner of a basement or garage. One or two screen presses won’t keep you stocked, especially once there are other customers.
  • If they made their own screen printers (fairly easy), the turnaround time on each piece will be a killer. If a tour of the shop shows you professional equipment for creating screens, printing bulk shirts, advanced drying equipment, heat presses, CAD cutters (printers that cut a vinyl material) and the like, you’re working with professionals.

Don’t be afraid to look into larger companies. When I had my own t-shirt company, all of my screen-printing was done by a large facility contracted by the likes of Nike and Reebok. Yes, my orders were squeezed between large corporate ones, but done with consistent quality, available as promised and often less expensive than if done in smaller shops.

Remember, league money needs to be held tight. Spend it cautiously, especially early on and know that every dollar spent needs to earn more dollars. Choosing the right shirt printer is a vital first step.

What’s a “Good” Deal?

There are two ways to maximize the contributions of your merch program—find the right selling price and keep costs low. Your goal is to make quality merch at the lowest price possible. Clothing printers will provide you with shirts and do the printing.

They buy the t-shirts at wholesale prices and mark the price up. If you’re told blank t-shirts are $4, work on driving that price down. Let me arm you with reality. A quality, men’s black tee, at wholesale price, is no more than $2.50. It’s also not uncommon for wholesalers to run specials for under $2.

My goal was to create a final product for $6 maximum and sell at $15, which is an acceptable price for fans. As my own company however, I bought shirts at wholesale and either applied the print myself or sent them to my screen printer to use. Some printers will not allow this, some will–they have to make money too. But if your single-color tees are running $8 to make, force them to bargain or walk away. You hold the cards in this decision, don’t let them pressure you into a cost that is too high.

How to Test Merchandise Quality 

Roller-Derby-T-ShirtT-shirts don’t have to be anything special, but they should be quality. Gildan is just one example, but a very popular choice for good reason. Gildan is popular because it’s a reasonable for the quality, they make a sturdy 5.1 oz. cotton tee and provide them in men’s, women’s and children sizes.

When choosing a t-shirt vendor, ask for a sample. Put your hand inside the shirt. If you can see your hand clearly through the cotton, don’t use them. It indicates poor quality. The shirt will shrink drastically and the print will chip in a short period of time.

As you will learn, start easy with safe bets on merch and slowly build as the demand rises. Begin with t-shirts only; one or two styles with a decent stock of sizes. Upcoming blog posts will explain building an inventory plan, projecting merch needs and the kinds of merchandise that are risky or not worth the return.

What do you think? Comment below with your merchandise experiences or questions.

Roller Derby >

Brown Paper Tickets Named Finalist for GeekWire Bootstrapper of the Year

GeekWireAwards-200x225Fantastic news. GeekWire, the national technology news site nominated Brown Paper Tickets for Bootstrapper of the Year.

Vote for us now or read on and find out what makes us viable bootstrappers.

3 Reasons to Vote for Us 

1. After launching the world’s first free ticketing and event registration service, Brown Paper Tickets has remained profitable and continues to hit record sales year after year. We’ve created a multi-billion dollar business niche in the ticketing industry, without a dime of venture capital.

2. Brown Paper Tickets donates 5% of its profits from every ticket sold to good causes chosen by ticket buyers, so each event we ticket has a social impact.

3. In 2014, Brown Paper Tickets started a revolution by offering event organizers the ability to collect online donations without taking service fees. Part of our not-just-for-profit business values.

William S. Jordan (@wsjordan), Brown Paper Tickets’ founder, president and CTO shared insights into why he and his business partner and CEO Steve Butcher continue to turn away VC funding.

Q: You’ve been offered VC funding many times. Why haven’t you accepted it?

Jordan: We love live events. We provide everything event organizers need to make their events more successful. Other ticketing companies aren’t providing the features and services we offer because it doesn’t maximize their profits. Investors would force us to do what was necessary to make the most profit.

We love creating technology and solutions that elevate the success of event organizers and experience of ticket buyers.

Q: Can you give some examples?

Jordan: Without having to be beholden to investors, we’ve been able to offer live 24/7 customer service.

We’ve given 5% to charity with every ticket sold, so that all the events on our site have a social impact. We’ve created deeper, more authentic relationships and saved the day for people who needed our help.

We’ve given the world’s first free access to advanced event ticketing features such as assigned seating, something that’s taken the rest of our industry 12 years. We innovated new technologies such as our Transfer-to-a-Friend™ feature that allows ticket buyers to text tickets to their friends.

Because we don’t care about making the highest profit, other companies are now being forced to offer the services and technology that we offered at the lowest prices possible, just to keep up.

We don’t nickel-and-dime event organizers or ticket buyers for mailing tickets, accepting donations online, or sending staff to help them to run their box office.

We treat event organizers as friends, sharing technology, services and assistance at the lowest service fee possible. We make choosing Brown Paper Tickets a no-brainer, and by doing so, we help the entire live events industry.

Q: What’s in it for Brown Paper Tickets?

Jordan: Bootstrapping the company has made us more nimble, efficient and sustainable and we are able to pay that forward. We have better planning and more scalability at a lower cost than the rest of the industry.

We have had to work harder, but we have more intimacy with the product and industries, making it easier to see trends, anticipate needs, avoid unnecessary costs and create solutions without approval from a board of directors.

All of this makes us great problem-solvers and gives us the ability to share better counsel and to help anyone who works with us make more money from their events. When you succeed, we succeed.

Q: Any down side to bootstrapping your company?

Jordan: Whenever there is a problem, we don’t have the luxury to throw money at it. We are forced to look at issues differently and sometimes work a lot harder than a team working at a VC-funded company, awash in cash. Also, most companies get a lot of press for partnering with big corporate money.

But bootstrapping is a mindset that also makes one more resilient and creates a fight-to-win attitude that resonates with a lot of independent event organizers. So, it’s still an asset.

BPTickets_BestPlacesQ: As the company grows, how can it remain an underdog to VC-funded competitors?

Jordan: When a scrappy start-up creates a product or service that fixes problems and exceeds the standards for performance, service and price offered by big-money corporations, it changes everything – and that start-up becomes the underdog. You’re not the one that’s supposed to win; and people love it when you do.

Underdogs are in a position of power because people are rooting for you. If you use your success to fund your next great idea, your tribe will be rooting for you because you are making interesting things happen. I want to see how far we can take it.

Brown Paper Tickets was a 2014 finalist for GeekWire’s Perk of the Year. Read all about it.

 

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The Best Derby Marketing Tool You’re (Probably) Overlooking

Derby Business Tips - AnnouncingBy now, I hope your league knows its best marketing tool: announcers.

This blog is not self-indulgent nor written to over-justify the role of announcing. It’s to dispel the myth that announcing isn’t all that important. I am going to tell you how a lack of good announcers can hurt your league, what good announcing looks like, why “borrowing” announcers isn’t the solution and one way to try out announcers.

What Happens When You Don’t Develop Announcing

A heck of a lot. Six things that could happen if your announcers are underdeveloped or do a poor job:

1. The crowd disconnects from the game. Announcers connect the game to the crowd. Don’t downplay this idea. If you do, please ask someone to kick you. Kicking yourself is totally ineffective. I’ve tried. Takes balance. Doesn’t leave a mark. ‘Nuff said.

2. Nobody knows who you are. The crowd may not know your name or it may be pronounced incorrectly, enunciated poorly, or purposefully “played on” all night. For example, imagine the horror of fans yelling, “Lyin’ Fart” instead of “Lyin’ Heart.” And heaven forbid if the league’s name is never mentioned.

3. The game remains a mystery. The crowd has no idea what’s going on.

4. Spectators will not return. If spectators leave not knowing anything about the game, league or skaters, odds are they’ll never return. Spectators are one-timers while fans come back. Sure, you get their money once, just not twice. Spectator and fan retention is at an all-time low.

5. Long-time fans leave. A change to less-developed or less-known announcers could alienate long-time fans.

6. Sponsors will not renew. Let’s just say, solely as an example, your sponsors never hear their names (I know, that never happens). Worse yet, the name was pronounced incorrectly or used as part of a “harmless” comment. (Now I’m swinging with full sarcasm.) But it’s important. You lose revenue and the goodwill of a local business.

“Bob, What IS Good Announcing?”

I’ll forever feel strongly about my time with the Mad Rollin’ Dolls, ten years go. Our co-founder understood the importance of announcing. The league absorbed Baam Baam, my highly esteemed co-announcer and me. We had roles within committees and league operations open to us, and I loved it.

Based on my routines and ideas adapted from announcers all over the world, here are three ways I define good announcers:

 1. They come prepared. It takes me 8 hours to prepare for Brewcity league night. I compile all the information into one document with everything in the evening’s timeline. Rosters, order of introduction, the charity (including what they represent), team records, standout statistics on skaters, every sponsor (with reads, not just names), names of staff, the entertainment for all three halftimes, upcoming games and appearances. I also add news regarding the travel teams, groups in attendance, anyone we should thank and even the name of our national anthem performer.

Having all this prepared and in order of flow means Doc (my co-announcer) and I rarely miss anything.

2. Good announcers not only know rules, they know the officials’ hand signals. Every announcer should know these. They can be found as rules appendix at the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Knowing the signals allows announcers to explain the infraction.

3. Great announcers explain the game. There is so much focus on explaining what skaters can’t do (fouls), it can overshadow explaining the game. Explaining the game can be done without coaching from the mic. Early on, announcers were hounded about knowing skater names, rules and penalties. I realized we were leaving out why the skaters did certain things: basic dynamics and strategy. Since then, most of the compliments I receive from fans go something like this, “I learned so much about the game.”

Announcers with great emcee skills own the crowd. By pitching what’s next, keeping excitement levels high and entertaining the crowd, people are less likely to leave early and more likely to return. Plus, they always push merchandise, another under-utilized profit center I’ll cover in an upcoming post.

 How Announcers Learn the Game

Derby Announcing
I have a saying, “You can’t announce what you’ve never seen.”

If you close practice to your announcers, how on earth do you expect them to reach their potential? It’s impossible. An announcer’s ability to learn the game relies on the league. I’ll defer, again, to the Mad Rollin’ Dolls who gave me total access to practice. In fact, coaches allowed us to step onto the track as they were teaching skating techniques, moves and strategy. I would never have known nor continue to dig into the game if not for that experience.

 “Bob, we solved the issue. We borrowed good announcers from up the road.”

Here’s where criticize my own. Most dedicated announcers work for too many leagues. They love it, find more opportunities and hone their skills. So why am I being critical? It’s OK for a while, but it hurts the growth of the overall announcing pool. They take the place of others who should be developed. Eleven years later, I bet the sport still does not have enough accomplished announcers to permanently staff half its leagues.

Borrowed announcers are not yours. An announcer’s home league takes priority. If your game conflicts with the home league, you’re stuck.

Worse, after years of travel, many burn out and stop. Remember, they don’t have a travel budget either. They love you; you show them more appreciation than their home league, who is used to their excellent self (yes, that’s a “Bill and Ted” reference), but you will wind up back at square one.

My rules? I only do events for my home league (Brewcity in Milwaukee), and will help Madison on occasion (my first league and in my backyard). Otherwise, I will only announce for a league if it’s their first-ever bout or if they have dedicated announcers to train. I will arrive early and talk about roles, bring them training materials, work with them that night and be available to mentor at any time. This way, I’ve fixed the issue, not contributed to the problem.

Finding Permanent Announcers

roller derby announcing Don’t give the job to anyone, not even dedicated league members. Every role has a different skill set. Advertise on social media, your site and even in the newspaper. Have tryouts. Be creative.

One of the more popular ways is to get the league together for a night at a sponsor bar. Bring in a DVD of a recent bout and give every applicant a set number of minutes, or jams, to call the action as they see it. It’s not about accuracy; it’s about how quickly they think on their feet. Hand them some sponsor reads to throw in between jams. You can teach them the game later; just make sure they have the skill and personality first.

Training Materials

Make sure every new announcer understands the rules. Download the WFTDA/MRDA rule set. The Association of Flat Track Derby Announcers (AFTDA) also has some helpful material, including the official Announcer’s Handbook (an invaluable resource), which can be downloaded from the front page. It provides an expected code of conduct, and the forums are a great place to learn of upcoming events, to ask questions and keep up with derby changes. They also certify announcers, a requirement to work major WFTDA events.

If questions go beyond that, simply contact me at bob [at] brownpapertickets.com

 

Bob Noxious is a Doer specializing in roller derby for Brown Paper Tickets.

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Derby Ticket Blitzing Via Social Media

derby_big_image-1Online ticket sales low, slow, non-existent? It’s the second post in our derby business tips series and this time, I’m getting social.

“Bob, we use social media all.the.time. And nothing happens.”

I don’t doubt it. But when it comes to social media, it’s not how much you use it. It’s how well you use it.

Common Issues with Leagues and Social Media

-Posting upcoming games is inconsistent.
-There isn’t a link to the ticket sales page.
-You spread the word using only the league’s social media.

Online Sales aren’t Gravy; They’re Meat and Potatoes

“Bob, who cares where ticket sales come from? Online sales are just the gravy on top compared to sales by skaters.”

You can market your event or you can market tickets to your event. Marketing a derby game is like farting into the wind and hoping someone takes notice. Fliers vanish or become unnoticeable. Money spent on late night radio and TV spots has marginal effect. Plus, these efforts don’t provide data for future marketing.

Marketing tickets is totally different. There is a focus on funneling customers right to the “cash register” (purchase page). The goal is measurable and you have data to pinpoint the strongest and weakest geographical areas for ticket sales. Using that knowledge, you can adjust marketing and social media efforts leading up to the event.

Social Media isn’t Over

Don’t put a fork in social media just yet; it’s far from over. Sure Facebook usage purportedly dropped 25%, but that is because of teens moving to Snapchat. Twitter continues to thrive.

Most leagues post to Facebook and Twitter once or twice to promote upcoming games. Fans don’t see this. And what is more compelling? League social media accounts or those of skaters and staff? Skaters and staff are more personable and viable “friends” to sell tickets.

Keep in mind that both Facebook and Twitter promote trending topics. If 50 members of your league post the same Facebook message and ticketing link on the same day, your overlapping friend circle will see the post prominently positioned in their feeds. Maybe those friends share the post to their friends. Use hashtags to target interested parties. It’s as easy as #onetwothree.

Ticket Blitzing for a Standard Game Night

roller derby blog business tips

Ticket blitzing is an organized social media campaign where the entire league and all the event participants coordinate social media efforts, with a designated point person.

One person emails the copy and ticket sales link to the entire league. The language should be creative, under 140 characters and include the tickets sales link (to accommodate Twitter), so that fans are more likely to make a purchase decision.

The coordinator should spot check to see who is participating. The fewer participants, the less effective the campaign.

Establish dates for the social media campaign ahead of time. Three pushes are about right for upcoming games.

Prepare the first big push for immediately after the last game. Get a jump on sales with early bird pricing.

Second push a week prior to your game.

Final push two days prior to the game.

“Sure, Bob. But how do I get league members to get in on this brilliant ticket blitzing campaign?”

Sell the idea to the league. A few points to help make your case:

-Ticket blitzing with social media can save time spent on less fruitful guerrilla marketing tactics.
-If it’s successful, leagues and event producers may no longer need to ask members to sell tickets.
-Blitzing fills their venues and they can buy a small lot of stock tickets for walk-up customers.

Validation

You didn’t just hear it from me. A few words from a grateful ticket blitzer:

“Event is today. Wanted to extend all the gratitude in my heart to you. Your ticket blitzing idea was brilliant. I was unable to coordinate the timing of our team within your advised method, yet tripled the amount of pre-sale online tickets within 3 days. That, by the way, is a record for us. My little 100-person event has turned into an invaluable lesson for 500-person future events.” ~ Saved in SoCal

 

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