Street Team Marketing: Here to Stay or Fading Away?

StreetTeam-PostersGrowing up in independent music, I heard the word “street team” thrown around quite a bit. Fans signed up for a band or label’s street team and got a package of stickers, buttons, maybe some t-shirts and posters and informed friends and others about said musical entity. Street team members got into shows or VIP events for free and were continually sent free merchandise, and all they had to do is tell people about records and upcoming shows.

With the social media era however, street teams have mostly faded out … or so I thought.

My friend (we’ll call her Jane) recently brought street teams back to my attention. She was a part of the street team for What the Festival (WTF) earlier this year.

This intrigued me, as I haven’t thought about street teams for awhile. So I talked to a few people to try and find out whether or not street teams are relevant in 2016. Are festivals still using street teams? What about indie bands and labels?

A quick search revealed that Summer Camp Festival, Summer Set Festival, The Untz Festival and Bonnaroo (among others) have active street teams. Extending to the punk scene, Gainesville’s The Fest has a street team.

Colleges, businesses, trade shows and nonprofits also utilize street teams, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on the music industry.

The Details
I thought that, since I already had the EDM-insider from Jane, I would reach out to Sarasvati from The Fest and see how they use street teams. After all, I’ve always wanted to go, so if there was some sort of free ride in, I wanted to know about it.

“We send posters and postcards for street teamers to put up around their area. That’s the only job we ask them to do,” replied Sarasvati upon me asking her what a street team member did. “There is no compensation.” I asked how many members their team had and where they were located. Sarasvati’s answer surprised me. “We don’t actively look for members … we had less than 10 people email us asking to participate this year. They were from all over the country.” Hmm… is this a sign that street teams are dying out?

I compared that to what Jane told me about WTF. “Basically, [I promoted WTF] through social media, and I did posters last year too,” she explained. “I had a ticket link and when people used my ticket link, I got points toward a free ticket and prizes. Some of the social media posts also got you points toward your ticket.”

WTF seemed to have a more effective street team and intriguing incentives. I asked Jane if the people who bought tickets from her would have bought them regardless. To my surprise, she said yes. “All of my friends went, so it was just convenient that I had the ticket link to get points. It’s more about who you know, and we happened to have a big group of us going to WTF, so they just helped me out by using my link.”

The Verdict
It seems that with large, well-known festivals, traditional street teams may be unnecessary, as people who attend those festivals would do so regardless. That said, street teams work well if the end goal is to get a crowd energized and build excitement, not necessarily to sell tickets. For example, Daft Punk did a creative online and traditional street team campaign to promote an album launch.

Get Street Team writes, “The key to street team marketing success, whether executed online, offline or both is recruiting fans who are truly passionate about your brand.”

Other Options

Email lists
Subscription lists are not spam … or at least, they don’t have to be if done correctly. Essentially, if you can get people to sign up for your email list, you can let them know about your next event. If they care about your brand, they’ll probably be interested in what you’re doing, and if they’ve signed up for your list, you have their permission to tell them about it.

Booth Marketing
Consider booth marketing at a festival within the same genre to spread the word. Avoid the same season as your event, so that you’re not in competition. Give out cool swag and ask attendees to sign up for your mailing list or follow you on social media. Personally connecting with potential attendees and answering questions on the spot can extend your reach and help gain new fans.

Keep in mind that my opinions come from an outsider’s perspective. How do you use your street team? How effective is it? Comment below or let me know your thoughts on Twitter @Robolitious.

Event Tips >

Dear Derby, the Honeymoon is Over. Now What?

Fan-Retention-RollerDerbyMarketing(Part one of a two-part series on fan retention).

For nearly ten years, derby enjoyed amazing crowds with little marketing. We were a viable entertainment option. So why, in the last few years, have so many leagues cut back on travel, lost money or their venue? They are not catering to the fan. Rat City’s crowd funding to save their practice facility should have been the wake-up call of all wake-up calls. Keep in mind that this is the same league that set the national attendance record a few years ago.

No more mainstream TV shows or movies about derby. The honeymoon period is over.

Business Acumen is Crucial
Lately, my role announcing is not nearly as important as being a business resource to leagues. My BA in Business Management followed by years running department stores, helps me see wasted money and missed opportunities. I managed budgets, marketing and personnel issues for stores that generated millions of dollars annually and was accountable when sales went up or down.

Trust me, when I say that general proper business practices lack at all levels of roller derby.

By the Skater for the Fan
Once you sell tickets, you are a business. Don’t worry about losing control; your league is yours.

It’s time to look at fans as customers. There are many decisions to be made in order to make a profit. Profit increases by generating more income (grow your fan-base, sell more merchandise, increase fundraising) or lowering expenses.

So, if your league is struggling, what will it be? “By the skater, for the fan?” I hope so. Unless you don’t mind playing for fun behind closed doors (nothing wrong with that), adapt your production, strategize your ticket sales and give fans a night to remember.

Fan Retention
Even if you pull in a fair number of fans, why do so many not return? There is a disconnect between what you offer and what fans hope for. I can give you solid ideas on how to increase the crowds coming through the door, but if they’re only coming once, your pool of new fans continually gets smaller.

Wondering what your fan retention is? To get a good visual, use your phone and take a panorama of the crowd at the beginning of your event, then after halftime and again at the night’s conclusion. You’ll see about how many stay for the whole game.

Speed of the Game
First off, it’s not WFTDA’s fault for the speed of the game and the way it’s being played. They made revisions to try to better define the game and it only takes one to find loopholes that many follow. Yes, the slower, stop-and-go-style of game confuses fans.

My job, as an announcer is to succinctly explain what is happening. It’s impossible, in a few sentences, to relay pack destruction, reformation and why they stop. People are confused; they don’t understand how a game on wheels can be slow.

You decide if this ends or not. If you are unsanctioned, play the game you want to. If you are sanctioned, use it when it makes sense. If you hate it, let your WFTDA BOD know.

Make the Night Memorable
Don’t kill production value; make it better. The evening needs to entertain from start to finish. A few ideas:

• Engaging openings for teams and videos for the screens or jumbotrons
• Keep skaters accessible to fans – autograph tables on the way in and way out
• Make each half-time short but memorable with acts or contests

Nobody wants teams to experience financial issues or constant worry that every bout has to be “the one.” Give fans what they want, make it consistent, sell more tickets and get fans to return.

Stay tuned for my next post in the series on fan retention. I’ll explore specific, creative ways you can keep ’em coming back.

How is your league retaining fans in derby’s post-Honeymoon stage? Comment below with your tips and experiences. 

Roller Derby >

Is It Time to Hire a Publicist?

Hiring-PublicistEveryone has a friend who “made it.” Maybe it’s your band’s former drummer, who’s in a new band that’s taking off. Or your MFA classmate whose novel sits in the recommended section of every indie bookstore you frequent. Or the person in your improv class who’s already selling out shows.

Sure, your friend is talented, hardworking and deserving. They also have a tenacious publicist … and you don’t. So you start to wonder if you should hire one too.

Publicists do more than write press releases—they frame your story just the right way. They develop relationships with journalists and know who will cover your project. A good publicist handles hard-hitting questions or crisis management if something goes wrong. And then there’s the most laborious part–crafting pitch after pitch after pitch.

When you reach a certain point with your events, band, book or any venture, hiring a publicist may make sense. Remember there’s only so much a publicist can do—your project should be ready to promote. If you lack concrete goals or a strong following, handle your own PR for a bit and see what happens. If the buzz becomes too much to manage on your own, it may be time to consider outside help.

Signs It’s Time

  • You don’t have time to correspond with media or you have a day job that does not allow you to do outside work.
  • You put on more events than you alone can handle.
  • Your event includes controversial or political material and you think you may be fielding tough questions by the media.
  • You’ve dealt with negative media in the past.
  • You’ve hit a roadblock or a lot of dead ends managing your own publicity.

Pros of Hiring a PR Pro

  • They are trained to reach out to media using the best tactics and practices.
  • They have existing relationships with media members.
  • Since they’re focused on publicity, they’ll be able to promptly reply to media inquiries and take a giant chunk of responsibilities off your endless to-do list.
  • If you have a mid-to-high-profile guests, performer, etc. for your event, a publicist will know the strategies to get them an interview.

How to Find a Publicist

If you organize long-running or frequent events, consider a PR agency, but be wary—agencies are costly. Before you start setting up meetings, have a solid budget and expectations in place. Know how the agency measures success and who they’ve worked with before.

In the entertainment industry, freelance publicists are easy to find. Check out LinkedIn or Facebook PR groups or contact a local university—you might be able to find an entry level publicist who’s willing to work at a flexible rate.

Brown Paper Tickets offers free promotion advice and resources. Email our promo team at promo[at]brownpapertickets[dot]com. They won’t manage your publicity, but they have a wealth of information on how to do it yourself.

Did you hire a publicist? How did you know it was time? Comment below.

Event Tips >

4 Steps to Finding the Right Ticket Price

Ticket PricesFinding the right ticket price is tough, especially if you’re just starting out. Too high feels like a rip-off; too low feels like the event is undervalued. So what is the magic number?

With a little research and number crunching, you can find the “sweet spot” where audiences feel like they are getting a value and you walk away with a little cash in your pocket. Take these four steps to determine what to charge:

1. Figure Out Your Budget

Factor in costs: what you would ideally like to pay your acts, room fees (room rental, sound, lights, etc.) and promotional costs. Don’t forget to budget in payment for yourself. Depending on the draw, keep 20-25% of your profit.

Organizing a show is hard work and takes weeks of preparation. Often the work is done in your free time, outside of your day job. If you aren’t paid for your efforts, you will burn out quick. That said, if you have a poor turnout, cuts should come out of your take first. The artists did their jobs; your job was to bring people in the door. If you fail to do that, your pay should reflect it.

Once you have your total costs, calculate expected draw. If you have already put on some shows, this is easy. Look at past tickets sales and figure out the average attendance. Low-ball that number. In other words, base your costs on how much you would bring in with an “okay” turnout (half the capacity of the venue or even less). That way, on an off-night, you are prepared and if it is a great night, you are stoked.

2. Trim Costs

Before you set anything in stone, negotiate to cut your overhead costs. Is the venue’s sound person charging too much? See if you can hire one for less. How much is the venue charging for promotional costs and what does that include? Consider handling your promotion—many venues won’t do much more than include you in their listings. That said, there are venues that will distribute posters and actively promote your event, so do not assume that they are ripping you off.

Talk to the performers. Find out the least amount of money they need to do the show. Then offer a guarantee or a percentage of the door. Be honest. Don’t exaggerate your expected draw or promise more than you can deliver. Always keep any guarantees on the low end until you know you are going to have a successful night. Sometimes I will say, “I can offer you x amount but if we have a good night, I will get you more.” I have found that if you are honest and upfront, most performers will be willing to work with you. There will be some performers who won’t and that is OK–cut them for someone who will.

3. Do Research

Pick up your local alt-weekly and find out what similar shows charge in your area.

Look at the popularity of your acts. Have they received a fair amount of press? Do they have a large Facebook and/or Twitter following? Are they good at promoting? Also, check out their website and see what their shows typically cost.

What if you have a night full of acts with no regular draw? Still, no reason to undervalue your event. You just need to figure out a way to get people through the door. This is your job as an event organizer and producer. When you undervalue your event, it’s hard for audiences to see value in it. Make your events special and people will show up.

4. Set Your Door Price

Once you have all the numbers in place and know exactly how much the show is going to cost, set your cover. Of course, if you are hosting a bigger gathering like a festival or theater event, you can also include multiple price points such as VIP tickets, weekend passes or group discounts.

In the 80’s and 90’s punk rock world, fans considered any show over $5 a rip-off. Unfortunately, almost 30 years later, many producers (and audiences) still stick to that credo. Nobody makes money off a $5 cover in 2016 and it is not worth anyone’s time to perform for that amount. I think $10 should be the minimum ticket price for any event featuring live performance. Anything below that and you will barely cover your costs and walk away with nothing in your pocket.

No matter what you charge, if you are not putting effort into curating your acts and developing a solid promotional plan, folks aren’t going to show. It is rare that the cost of a ticket deters audiences from seeing a show they really want to see. They might complain but if they want to see it, they’ll pay for it, as long as it is within reason.

Your job is to make your event worth the price of admission, to put that extra effort into your productions, so audiences keep coming back.

How did you determine your ticket price sweet spot? Ring in with your advice in the comments.

Event Tips >

How to Build Brand Trust with Your Event Lineup

Photo-EventsLineUp

Love all different kinds of music? That’s great and all, but if you’re a festival organizer just starting out, you might want to refrain from including a diverse array of music in your lineup.

Here’s why.

Many nascent festival organizers think booking a wide variety of genres in their lineup will pull in an eclectic crowd and possibly sell more tickets. That’s a common mistake. Audiences want to know what to expect and be surrounded by folks with similar tastes.

Careful curation of acts keeps your brand consistent.

This isn’t to say that an event with a varied selection of acts can’t be successful, but generally, those festivals and events have already established themselves as a reliable brand. An event like Bonnaroo can get away with a range and feature hip-hop, indie rock and metal acts, but they’ve spent years building their brand. When they were starting out, their curation was dialed into jam bands and folk rock.

Pickathon in Happy Valley, Oregon is a strong example of a carefully curated event that established a reliable brand before branching out. Founded in the late 90s, Pickathon started as a party in the woods for like-minded music lovers.

While Pickathon was fairly laid-back in its early years, careful consideration was given to the acts that played the festival. Generally, they were acoustic, folk-inspired bands with “alternative” leanings—a genre that didn’t have many exposure outlets at the time.

Attract a Devoted Audience

By choosing gifted acts within a specific genre, they attracted a devoted audience that stayed faithful to the festival. Fans began to trust that the event organizers would deliver a quality lineup every year.

As the years progressed, this trust allowed Pickathon to become more adventurous with their booking while still drawing crowds. Once their identity was established, they didn’t have to rely as much on the bands or a specific genre to pull people; the people came because they trusted the festival to deliver quality acts year after year.

Now the festival features many bands that fall outside of the “acoustic” genre though it is still based heavily on acoustic-based acts. Audiences are turned on to incredible up-and-coming artists year after year. In fact, organizers estimate that 80 to 90 percent of Pickathon’s lineup consists of bands the audience is unfamiliar with.

It’s a testament to the quality of the lineup selection that audiences trust them to deliver their next new favorite band.

Find Your Identity  

BPT_Music_Festival _Graphic-01Careful, considered curation allows event organizers to dial-in their branding and discover their audience. While it may be tempting to be wildly diverse right out of the gate, your event will take longer to find an identity.

If you lack identity, it is hard for fans to identify your brand.

Be consistent in the beginning. Build trust. Once they trust your brand, expand your roster. Include acts that may fall outside your focal genre. Just make sure there’s something that will appeal to the audience you have built. They trust you to deliver, so don’t let them down.

Building that trust should be your number one goal as an event organizer. Once you have that, the sky is the limit.

Event Tips >

15 Secrets to Successful Ticket Giveaways

Ticket Giveaway Clog PhotoThough it’s tempting to hoard your Brown Paper Tickets (they’re so pretty), we recommend giving some away for free to promote your event.

Ticket giveaways build excitement, attract new fans, create meaningful and memorable interactions.

Ready to Wonka your next event? Here we go.

1. Be selective. You don’t want tickets floating around everywhere because it will devalue your event.

2. But don’t be stingy. When it comes to tickets, always give away a pair. As Harry Nilsson wrote, “one is the loneliest number.” One ticket dooms your prize winner to a night of awkwardly standing against the wall and pretend texting.

3. A caveat: it may be OK to give reporters just one free ticket or pass, so they can interview performers and write about your event. Journalists and experienced bloggers are used to attending events solo, especially if they are interviewing performers. A plus one is sweet, but not necessary.

4. Start with specific, reachable goals. Do you want to attract more followers on social media? Or is your goal to boost awareness of the event? Specific goals will dictate what channels you should use to promote your ticket giveaway. Use numbers so you can measure the outcome.

5. Keep the rules clear and the sign-up form simple. We’re all grossly busy. Too busy, most of the time, to enter contests with long, complex form fields.  If you’re creating a contest entry form, stick to the essentials: name, email address and phone number.

6. Consider a “comment” contest. Ask followers to comment on your blog or Facebook page. When it’s time to pick a winner, you’ll have an organized list of entries that you can easily contact. As a bonus, this type of contest will boost your social media presence.

7. If it’s your first giveaway, start with a basic lottery. Choose one person randomly from a list of entries to receive the tickets. Easy as pie. Can’t pick a winner? Random Picker will do it for you.

8. Review contest rules carefully. For example, Facebook won’t allow you to use the “thumbs up” like button as a way to vote or enter contests. You also must clearly state that Facebook is not sponsoring your giveaway. Instagram and Twitter also have promotion rules. Pay attention. If you’re doing a large-scale giveaway, consider consulting an attorney.

9. Tailor to size. If you have a fan base of 300, it might be best to just ask your following to comment on your blog post or status update. First comment, best comment or random comment wins.

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10. Be creative. If your following is well into the thousands, you can get away with a more challenging, interactive giveaway. It will take some time and planning, but is well-worth the effort when executed properly. Giveaway tickets with trivia questions about the performers. Strong local presence? Take photos around your city and ask fans to comment with where they think you are.

11. Consider timing. You don’t want to create a giveaway too far in advance, because it’s tough to build excitement and plan for an event that’s happening many months away. Likewise, a week’s notice may not be enough to draw the amount of participants you desire.

12. Giveaway free tickets on the day-of. This is your last chance to get more folks in the door and you’ll nab those few who were on the fence about attending.

13. Have a classic, names-in-a-fishbowl drawing at your event and give away tickets to your next show. Not only can you collect email addresses for your newsletter list (clearly state they’re opting in), you’re advertising your next show.

14. Create a targeted list of local media outlets and invite journalists to enjoy free tickets in hopes that they will write about your show. Remember, even with free tickets, there are never guarantees that a reporter will cover your event and many publications forbid their journalists from taking comps. Never demand coverage.

15. Don’t ignore influencers—social media heavy hitters on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Say there’s an Instagram influencer who goes around capturing the special beauty of amber ales with her camera phone. (Believe us, such people exist). If this hypothetical shutter bug has loads of genuine followers and posts rich, thoughtful updates, offer free tickets to your brew launch party.

Have you tried a ticket giveaway? What were the results?

Event Tips >

13 Sizzling Event Trends for 2016

2016 Event Trends Cheers to the New Year. When the confetti settles, you’ve swallowed the last sip of champagne and the tux or little black dress is off to the dry cleaners, it’s time to look forward.

We don’t make claims to be clairvoyant, but with swiftly changing technology, geek culture going mainstream and two Pantone colors, 2016 is going to be a pivotal year in events.

Let’s get to our top 13 trends:

1. The Social Scape is Changing

Social media is here to stay, but the traditional status update about dogs and brunch may be put out of its misery.

More and more users are adopting messenger apps, such as WhatsApp or iMessage because they offer private communication and of course, the ability to send hilarious gifs.

According to the Pew Research Center, “half (49%) of smartphone owners ages 18 to 29 use messaging apps, while 41% use apps that automatically delete sent messages.”

There’s no getting around it. Organizers have to make social part of their events. Which brings us to:

2. “Your Audience has an Audience”

Snapchat is on the rise. No longer just for the vanishing selfie, the service offers live event feeds and is even hiring reporters to cover the 2016 election.

At the 2015 Seattle Interactive Conference, David Shing, venerated digital prophet relayed that brands should consider the experience of their audience’s audience—fans at home in their pjs watching their friends’ videos of a distant festival.

Bleak, weird, incredibly cool? We’ll let you make up your own mind about that.

Just don’t worry, because…

3. Happiness is Live Events 

It’s not just your live-event-lovin’ imagination. Research shows that shared experiences make people happier than things and that millenials are definitely into not-owning things, aka “nownership.” (They’re also into portmanteaus.)

What does this mean? Well, good news for you, because the event industry is booming. But it may also mean more competition as brands try to reach consumers through experiences.

Speaking of…

4. The Whole Experience

Remember the olden days, in 2012 when you would go out to dinner and then to a show? Or you would go to a show and then go out for drinks? Or you would go to dinner and then just go home?

That’s O-V-E-R. (O.K., slight hyperbole.) Food events are incorporating more performance elements and performances are including more food elements. And many of these dinner theater events are taking place in intimate venues, like a person’s home.

Event attendees want new sights, tastes and experiences. Bringing us to…

5. The Pop-Up Explosion

We reported on pop-up restaurants in last year’s trend list, but in 2016, pop-up will take all forms, from pop-up dinners, to flea markets to workshops, concerts and even the occasional dance off.

You’ve may have already noticed the pop-up phenomenon this past holiday season. Many creatives can’t front the hefty rents of a full-time store, so they’re showing their stuff at pop-up holiday craft fairs and bazaars.

These small-time markets definitely draw as the higher appreciation for handmade still stands.

Just don’t expect a lot of heavy drinking at them because…

BPT_NewYear_sq6. Mocktail Madness

Mmm. Welcome the rise of the mocktail: drinks that have all the ice-clinking, lemon-garnished delight of a cocktail with none of the spirits. Or regrets.

Studies like this one indicate drinking—especially among young people—may be in decline. Mocktails cater to the late-twenty or thirty-somethings looking to go out and socialize without getting sloppy.

The 2016 mocktails just might be pink and blue. Bringing in…

7. The 2016 Color(s) of the Year

You’ll see a lot of pink and blue this coming year (excuse us… Rose Quartz and Serenity). And not just at baby showers.

For the first time ever, color expert Pantone selected a duo palette for the “color of the year.” Like every year, the color (er… colors) will influence event décor.

But probably not at…

8. Geeky Events

mario-1 copy-bpt

Retro video games emerged from wood-paneled basements awhile back. But in 2016, they’ll move on up again from the barcade to the big time arenas. eSports viewership continues to rise dramatically with the first eSports arena opening in Santa Ana in October.

Live video game music is already a thing and there will be more shows in 2016. Musicians shred on instruments while an expert player battles the big bosses in real time level after level.

Intense.

Speaking of battles, we’re stoked about this prediction—in 2016, the U.S. will catch on to giant robot battles, already big in Japan. Hot tip. Start working on your giant robots now.

9. Art Shows Become Immersive 

2016 will make average gallery goers part of the show. No more standing around, sipping wine, pontificating about a piece. It’s all about interactive, motion-based artwork that changes rapidly and is controlled by the observer.

That’s kind-of cool, isn’t it? So are…

10. Chef-Driven Dinners

Perhaps fatigued with walk-around tasting events, foodies are requesting a more intimate experience. Our food event specialists report a rise in chef-driven tasting menus in both restaurants and as an event format. Event Marketer reports that patrons want to know everything about their food and trying to learn from chefs and servers.

And also, in Instagram Age, every dish must be picture perfect. But you might not be allowed to snap that photo because…

11. Phone Bans

We’ve all been there. Your favorite live performer blocked by a sea of tablet and phone screens and you just watch them on the tiny screen in front of you. Like you could be doing at home.

To ban or not to ban is a hot-button topic for event organizers. On one hand, social media promotes your performers and events. On the other, event attendees aren’t immersed in the whole experience as they’re counting likes and updating statuses. If you’re going to ban mobile use, take the high road and focus on the positive with your message.

“Please refrain from using your phone as we want you to be immersed in the experience.”

Speaking of the high road…

12. More Cannabis Gatherings

In 2014 and 15 in the wake of legalization in some states, marijuana shed its stoner image and went all upscale. Interest in herb will grow in 2016 with more marijuana events that cater to a crowd that wants to learn. Expect more cannabis events that emphasize healing (like cannabis and yoga), as well as workshops and food pairings.

Bringing us to our favorite trend:

13. Educational Events

School is cool again in 2016–there’s an uptick in workshops, symposiums and learning retreats. It’s no surprise, as DIY and handcrafting is hot, hot, hot. Our food and farm outreach specialist reports more forestry, farming and water conservation classes than in previous years.

What do you think 2016 will bring? Comment below or add your favorite event trend.

 

Event Tips >

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.

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What’s in a Name? (Hint: Everything)

Your derby league’s look and feel affects the success of your marketing and your community relationship. A smart, calculated and yes, creative selection of your logo, league name, team name(s) and tagline is vital.

Derby Branding 101 

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If you are not familiar with branding, think of it as a consistent look and voice that represents your league. When it comes to derby, branding gives merchandise, boutfits and marketing a unified style.

I’m a flat-out sports fan. I can identify professional teams at a glance. And it’s no accident–a group of experts choose logos, colors, team font (yes, even the typeface stands out) and taglines that fans can spot in an instant. Good branding is a must for any business and sports teams are businesses.

Lovin’ it or hatin’ it, McDonald’s is a branding machine. The signature red and yellow, arches, jingle and tagline make their ads and restaurants recognizable in a few seconds. You want to capture a consistent visual and written style that strives for a McDonald’s-level of familiarity to your community.

Let’s start with the first steps—a logo and a name. I’ll touch on all elements of branding in future posts.

Choose Logo Colors Carefully

Roller Derby Apparel Your logo is a major part of your branding effort. It is the fastest way people will identify your league and an image that’s unmistakably you. It also should make the connection with roller derby very easy.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I owned Flyin’ Squirrel, a derby novelty t-shirt company. I approached a Mad Rollin’ Doll’s fan to create the logo for the company. He was known nationwide for his style. He delivered my vision and my logo kicked butt. This was my calling card, my stamp. It affected how we designed the website and every piece of marketing collateral.

My logo was a tremendous success visually, but it created a few problems price wise.

The success: I was able to sell merchandise that simply had the logo on it, a goal of mine when searching for a logo design.

The problems: the logo was a bit complex, which created some small hurdles. But the biggest issue was that it comprised six colors.

If it looks cool, who cares?

Your bank account cares. Every color in your t-shirt, banners and program printing can cost additional money, depending on technology used. This is a definite when you print clothing. League merchandise, clothing in particular can be a major profit center for your league. Printing costs account for the majority of money invested in merchandise.

My merchandise company’s brand centered around one image (as it should), but my brand identifier was a profit assassin. I sponsored leagues, an actual b-team, and was printing t-shirts with my squirrel. The b-team sponsorship included both home and away boutfits. Making the team’s uniforms was expensive enough without the logo and really expensive with it. The team’s logo was so cool that fans bought loads of the shirts. But my profit was a fraction what I made on other shirts.

So what, you were still making money.

Wrong attitude. You’re a business. Weather, unexpected costs/economic downturns, time and pocket money needed from league members affect the league’s ability to survive. Spend wisely, as if it was your own cash. And remember, the non-profit model does not mean you shouldn’t make a profit.

My branding developed from that logo. The expense of traditional printing of images on clothing grows with every color. Six colors meant I could only print logo clothing occasionally. Even when I received price breaks for ordering a higher quantity, the profit was half or less than other shirts I made.

It may not just be clothing that’s affected by your colorful logo. Color copies, stickers, posters (if screen-printed) will potentially be more expensive.

The Deal with Die Cutting

Though certainly the lesser evil than the color, the logo’s shape also came with a price. If your logo has sharp features, it may not look right inside a circle or rectangle. Die cutting is a process where the vendor cuts the sticker or patch to the outline of the image.

Though I compromised to use a less expensive tagline, I chose to die cut the patches. They were great to sell and I had them pressed onto winter hats and shirts, but I had to order 500 to 1,000 of them to keep the cost down to a reasonable per-piece price. The cost was high, an amount most leagues couldn’t afford to spend, especially ones just starting out.

What’s in a Name?

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What’s not in a name? The logo may be the visual trigger, but early on, the name means more.

I’ll admit it. Coming from a business background, I don’t understand creating a league or team name that has a double meaning, is inappropriate, or represents something negative in the community’s history. There are plenty of these out there. Taglines can be as helpful or damaging as the name itself. Madison’s “Hurt in a skirt” is an example of a fun, appropriate use of words.

New derby used to be more edgy, racy and rebellious, but those comedic names created marketing barriers. Most leagues today describe themselves as family friendly. It’s increasingly important that names avoid innuendos and aren’t disrespectful. I love that roller derby welcomes open-minded, free thinkers. However, our sense of humor and irony get the best of us on occasion.

If your community finds your brand offensive or off-putting, your marketing and publicity opportunities will be limited. I won’t name names (see what I did there), but there are some teams that will never appear in local publications and newspapers. Their brand is too controversial or vile to publish. Think about it: how does the local newspaper report on the league if the league’s name cannot be used? They’ll likely skip the story.

Pick-up teams, regional teams that come together to play exhibition games or closed-door leagues can go outside the bounds with their branding. But if you’re playing in front of a crowd, being covered by media or receiving acknowledgement for charity or community work, craft your brand for the mainstream.

Prepare Your League for the Long Haul

If there is one piece of advice to take away from this entire blog series, it’s that you should take the time you need to prepare your image and build a foundation that will support your league for generations to come. The sacrifice? Playing the game publicly may happen later than members would prefer.

Remember, you can play whenever you are ready; just don’t open the doors publicly until your business is prepared. Marketing and public relations will hit the ground running the moment the league is announced.

If playing to the mainstream is what you desire, make sure your brand won’t hurt profitability in pure cost or the cost of negative public opinion. Back tracking to fix your brand image is a long process. It can take years to win back community love after a branding snafu, so craft your image carefully from the beginning.

What are your biggest derby branding challenges? Don’t be shy–comment below.

Roller Derby >

8 Derby Business Pitfalls to Avoid

Roller Derby Merchandise TableOpening a roller derby business is an exciting, adventurous and potentially dangerous idea. How would I know? I acted on it in 2007 with Flyin’ Squirrel, a novelty t-shirt company. Flyin’ Squirrel closed in 2010 after one of the worst economic crashes in U.S. history.

Exciting and adventurous? Yes. Confidence boosting? Absolutely. I still have the equipment, the know-how and am smarter because of Flyin’ Squirrel. However, unlike playing derby, running a business isn’t something you can jump into with only excitement as your fuel.

The economy improved and so has the success rate of small businesses in the U.S. Fifteen to twenty years ago, only 5-to-10% of small businesses lasted five years. In 2012, approximately 50% of small businesses made it that long. It could be attributed to the popularity of online shopping and various distribution options available for online businesses. A store can sell online with much lower overhead. A creative marketing campaign can have a tremendous impact through social media.

I’ve selected five pitfalls most applicable to derby business from Patricia Schaefer’s article: “The Seven Pitfalls of Business Failure and How to Avoid Them,” which nicely summarizes known start-up issues. I added a few tips from my experience.

1. Starting a Business for the Wrong Reasons
Wrong reasons include: making big money, having more time for yourself and your family or being your own boss.

Unless your product is truly unique, highly technological, has a high profit margin and dollar amount or can be marketed beyond roller derby, don’t expect riches to rain upon you.

A reasonable living or part-time income is more realistic. Furthermore, running your own business is more work than most realize. Design, development, production, order management, fulfillment, accounting, marketing and even employee management is what you’ll face. Don’t go it alone.

Derby-Fashion2. Poor Management
Poor management is often listed in reports as a leading cause of small business failure. It’s also one of the top reasons people leave their jobs. If you’re not a “people person,” hire someone who is. Sales, customer retention and employee relations depend on it. Good managers know how to reinvent stagnant business, create a positive image of the company and keep competent employees.

3. Insufficient Capital
Remember, it’s not just the cost of getting started; it’s the ability to fund everything for at least a few years. Most businesses aren’t profitable immediately and you need to plan for that. You cannot mix funds for the business with money you need to maintain for living expenses. It’s one thing to close your company and another to jeopardize your everyday life.

4. Location, Location, Location
Depending on the type of business and its structure, location can have a heavy hand in your success. Oftentimes, skate sales are required to connect to a brick and mortar store before they can be distributed online. That said, you shouldn’t open traditional retail shop just so you can start selling online.

Location factors:
• Customer location
• Accessibility
• Location of competitors
• Building’s condition
• Area incentive programs for start-up businesses
• The history and community receptiveness to a new business

5. Lack of Planning
Roller derby requires a lot of planning. Though leagues vary on their planning abilities, it’s far from a new concept. Planning is the core of a successful business or league.

Business plan components: 
• Goals, mission, vision
• Number of people (employees) to make it work
• Identification of potential problems and their solutions
• Financial analysis
• Competitive analysis
• Marketing and promotional campaigns
• Budget and growth management
• Design of marketing and promotional campaigns

I personally experienced these last 3 pitfalls with my derby business. They are not referenced in Schaefer’s article.

6. Trying to be More Than You Can
I suffered from too-many-good-ideas-at-once syndrome. Not only did I want to sell merchandise online, I wanted to help others sell unique items, post stories about my many trips across the U.S., and try to push forward charities related to derby leagues.

I spent too much time developing material that grew outdated quickly. I should have focused on my business plan to design and sell reasonably priced t-shirts. Instead, I buried myself in projects.

Roller Derby Appearel 7. Not Hiring a Website Manager
(This applies if your website is your main channel of sales and promotion.)

I knew just enough about web sites and coding to be dangerous. The more I learned, the flashier I tried to make the site. Too much time (again) with little payoff. A nice, clean site with easy navigation and payment tools is all you need. Having someone to update prices and prices, or give it a fresh look every year or so takes a big part of the work off your hands.

8. Selling Merch at Far-Away Events
Of course, this totally depends on what type of products you sell. It might work for you if your product is not high-margin or you’re able to take orders and don’t have to provide the product on site.

Most are not moneymakers. If you decide to sell merchandise at an event you have to fly to, consider costs involved:
• Table(s) for your booth
• Shipping merchandise to and from the event
• Flight, hotel and food

In the U.S., with the exception of the top three or four most-attended events, you will likely lose money or break even at best. That might be perfectly fine, if the contacts you make and product exposure pay dividends later on. Let’s do the math: $500 for one table, plus a $650 flight, $90 a night (4 nights) and $200 in shipping would be $1710. That doesn’t even include food. And this is a low estimate, as table fees have probably climbed.

It might be better to attend events close to home with your merchandise. If you can drive and return home at night, the cost equation changes dramatically.

New Derby Project

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I wanted to take a moment and recognize an important derby project. Neil Gunner, a derby photographer in the Toronto area released a book of derby photos and stories. Preview the book, Into Battle: The Roller Derby Experience in Photos and Interviews.

I’m honored to be in the book, but that’s not why I mention it. I love Toronto Roller Derby and so I offered Neil help with marketing advice. In particular, my ticket blitzing strategy, where coordinated blasts on social media multiply ticket sales.

In Neil’s words: “Bob’s plan for ensuring that multiple people share the same post on the same day across social media was directly responsible for increasing awareness far beyond what I would have been able to accomplish otherwise. Needless to say, it was a pleasure to be able to include Bob in the book. The book itself owes its success in large part to Bob as well. The marketing ideas Bob has shared with me, developed as part of his role as a Doer, have proved invaluable in spreading the word and generating both interest and sales.”

Eh, sometimes I know what I’m talking about.

 

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