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 >

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.

Roller Derby >

Powerful combination: How to mix music and philanthropy

You can make a positive impact on the world through your events. We were lucky enough at SXSW to ask three music industry insiders how emerging musicians can create change. Their insights apply not only to bands and solo artists growing their careers, but to all of us that hold or organize events. You have a stage. Here’s how to use it for good:

Size doesn’t matter.

Of your audience, that is. As long as you have one fan, you have one person you can impact. Mike Martinovich, manager for My Morning Jacket and Flight of the Concords had this to say, “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing pubs, or an arena, you can make a difference. Collect emails. Collect a donation at the door. Tweet. The earlier musicians do it, the sooner it becomes institutionalized within themselves and their fans.”

Erin Potts, Executive Director at Air Traffic Control Education Fund agreed. “Musicians have historically been important allies in social justice… music helps people feel personally connected to issues. Musicians have incredible reach. Even small, beginning artists have email or social media lists larger than most non-profits.”

Respect your authority!

As an entertainer, you hold the great ability to reach and influence others on a very personal level. Andy Bernstein of HeadCount (which promotes such established groups as Pearl Jam, Phish, Death Cab for Cutie, and Dave Matthew’s Band) explains, “Social currency is everything. Musicians have the power to bring issues to the forefront with their social currency.”

Tip: You can watch Andy tell exactly how he helps artists make an impact in this video.


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Event Tips >

10 ways to get more cash out of your fundraising events

 

 

 

 

For all the time and effort poured into your fundraising events, you’d like to raise the most cash possible. Transforming a meh fundraising event into a cash cow can be simple. Really. Here are ten of the best ideas we’ve seen for getting more out of your fundraising events.

Ten ways to get more out of your fundraising event:
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Use Media Alerts to Publicize Your Events!

Every two weeks on Wednesday we send out our Event Success Newsletter to subscribers offering unique, one-of-a-kind advice on how to host successful events. This week we’re offering our blog readers a sneak peak at tomorrow’s newsletter. Make sure you subscribe here to receive the complete newsletter and invaluable bi-monthly tips.

The event was flawless. Everything went off without a hitch. The performers were on point! The servers and bartenders performed magnificently. Everyone deemed the food divine. Every single attendee had an exceptional experience. The ones who came, anyway. You really thought you’d fill more seats. What happened?
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Event Tips >

Sell more tickets on Twitter: Five ways to turn followers into ticket buyers

You know you can use social media to sell tickets online. If only you knew how… It’s easy! Here are five simple things you can do to turn your Twitter followers into ticket buyers.

1. Say exactly what you want.
Posting information about your events on your Twitter feed is an excellent start. Increase the number of conversations by saying exactly what you want people to do. For example, instead of simply posting “Excellent blues show tonight at the Red Door!”, try “Buy your tickets now to tonight’s excellent blues show at the Red Door!”. (Of course, remember to include the link!) This makes it easy for your followers to know that you aren’t simply posting nice-to-know information, but are asking for action.
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Meet the Event Promotions Department!

Hello Event Producers,

We’d like to take a moment to introduce you to the Brown Paper Tickets Event Promotions department. As most of you know, the new Brown Paper Tickets website launched in January and as part of the launch the Event Promotions department was created.
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