It is quite easy to scour the internet while doing a bit of research and recommend a line of action for anything you seek to pursue. I’m not saying that theoretical insight is unimportant. Far from it. There is weight and helpful resource in such anecdotes. But most times true aid and wisdom is to be found in the lessons you draw from actually doing things practically. Either by doing the doing yourself or by watching others do it. This way, the knowledge you share with others have a more personal touch. The recipient, whether a member of your family, close friend or a random person on the internet is able to relate with your personal sentiments.
There are a number of people that have ventured into selling merchandise. The ones that I think have done it successfully are ‘Hardcore Help Foundation’. I bought a ‘Thy Art is Murder’ T-shirt from them at the official launch of RASHs debut album. They sell everything from t-shirts to beanies, hoodies, stickers and wristbands. I’ve watched their whole set up and I think there are lessons to be drawn from what they are trying to do.
I also had a short run selling ‘Lust of A Dying Breed’ merchandise and I gained invaluable lessons from there. So here goes nothing:
- DO EVERYTHING IN BULK
“the best way to compete successfully is by reducing production costs.”
This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way.
Buying in bulk reduces the cost of production. The initial investment will be costlier but this is the only way you can sell your merchandise and make a profit without ever dipping into your own pocket to restock. When the costs of production are cheap this means you are able to make your merchandise cheap and affordable to everyone.
A business is like a living person and once you inject the initial capital you shouldn’t have to go back to your pocket for supplies or emergencies.
- CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME
Your first customers will be the people you know personally. You will sell to your dad who doesn’t understand why he paid for your law degree if you’ve decided that your strengths lie in salesmanship. “Ungesema tukufungulie duka wewe”. You will sell to the good ladies in your Mum’s chama. Heck you will even buy some of the merch yourself haha.
On a serious note though, make use of the contacts that are readily available to you. My first customers were my aunts and uncles, my siblings and close friends. They will help you get the word out and buy your product more than once. But just because you are selling to acquaintances and loved ones doesn’t mean you should do them any favors or give them freebies. Make it clear that you are in a business and then they will also take what you are doing serious.
You may also have to adapt to a new way of interacting with people. Be nice to everyone because you are establishing a long term relationship. Treat them with respect and they will always come back. You may also have to lick ass to get your product out there but .Nevertheless, you will have to discern from people who are just out to waste your time and aren’t really interested in making a purchase.
- HAVE A GOAL (PROFIT/CHARITY)
Keeping in mind that this is a business first beyond anything else will help you make the right decisions. There is no point of putting your hard earned money into a business venture if you’re not going to turn a profit or if it isn’t for a charitable cause. Your goal, whether it is profit or charity will keep you focused even when you start questioning whether it was a good idea to do this in the beginning. Also if your turning a profit your dad won’t care that you wasted five years of law school to become a ‘mtu wa reja reja’.
So this means obviously no freebies to kina Bizzaro and crew. Don’t give discounts and don’t give shit out for credit! If you remember nothing else remember this rule.
- YOU DON’T HAVE TO SELL EVERYTHING AT ONCE
I always felt this anxiety and constant need to have to sell everything quickly. Sure I needed to realise the investment I had made. The band also needed the money to get us to and from studio. But aside from these two things the real reason I wanted to sell off my stock quickly was a psychological one. I felt that my business skills and investment choice would be validated if the turnover was much faster. Making the decision to invest the little cash I had saved up wasn’t easy. Poor investment choices Id made in previous years also made me more cautious in pursuing this. I felt selling these t-shirts quickly would mean that there was actual demand for them and my business instincts were on the nose.
But the real lesson with merchandise and sales in general is that unless you are dealing in perishables like fruit and veggies, you don’t need to sell everything at a go. You will sell slow but, eventually you will recoup your investment.
- BRING THE POND TO THE COW
Social media has made it easier for people to interact and even exchange commodities. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are good avenues to get the word out.
And I know we have said that your immediate social relations will be a very big asset. However, your family will probably never wear a t-shirt with the face of a ghoul or screaming banshee on it. The real market that you are trying to impact are the people who actually appreciate the culture. And this flock out of experience will not be marshalled from social media. You have to take your product to the dark dungeons and musty caverns where they brood.
Trisha, Rico and David Mburu will pop up at every gig where metalheads are bound to be found. They set up a merch table at most every event I’ve been to. Eddygrim’s Rock Shows @ClubSevens *cringe*. Rash official album launch @AllianceFrancaise, DJ Tumz weekly rock shows and even at Noizefest.
It is an exhausting exercise but there is no shortcut to it. This is how to do it.
- IMAGE IS EVERYTHING
Like most business ventures, selling merchandise will also require some adeptness at putting up impressions. If you’ve watched the recently talked about TV series ‘startup’ featuring modern day Makmende ‘Edy Gathegi’ then you will remember the lessons he gave his business partners on running a business. That for people to care about your product you have to give them the impression that you are already up and running. You may be running on a low budget but you have to give the impression that anyone who’s anyone is into your merchandise. Make it look like the hype train is quickly filling up and is almost leaving. Why? Because this is the only language that customers understand. They want you to give them the illusion. Subconsciously they want to be manipulated. They might not know it but that is how they are wired.
Therefore, make sure you take lots of photos especially of the cool kids and of pretty chicks too. People like pictures of girls. Get whoever you can as long as they are nice to look at and have a massive following on Facebook and Instagram. Especially the ones that wear chokers. Guys dig those ones especially
- DIVERSIFY YOUR PORTFOLIO
When Lust of A Dying Breed rolled out their merchandise we only had tshirts. The only difference is that we had them in different sizes.
In time customers began asking for variations in the color of the logo. Some asked for different types of clothing items like hoodies, sweat pants and even beenies. Because of the resources we had at the time we couldn’t cater for all these customer needs.
I learned from this that in order to run a successful merchandising campaign you have to have a diverse array of products. Companies like Proctor & Gamble in what was called the ‘product orientation strategy’ put out many products with slight differences in order to compete. This is because customers have different tastes and you will appeal more to them by ‘innovating’ your products.
- IT WILL BE A WALK IN THE PARK
You are either naïve or face deep in anime if you think that’s how the world works. You’ll probably lose your stash. You will get unsatisfied customers. You will have to pursue people for your money, Rihanna style. And there’ll be a thousand and one Einsteins whole tell you that you aren’t doing it right or it’s not worth it. Also clubs won’t just allow you to get in with a bag full of shit ati you’re selling merchandise, you could be peddling drugs or trying to sneak in some midget or carrying an alien pathogen (these are actual scenarios I went over with a bouncer at Club Sevens, lol.)
But seriously, nothing on the face of the earth is easy. You have to keep a strong face and wade through all the dirt. You must persevere.
This list is by no means exhaustive. There are countless other things that you will obviously come across but these are the ones I could come up with without making this read tedious.
PS: DO NOT COMPROMISE ON QUALITY
Daniel Otieno Kobimbo