Do you sell stuff at your gigs?
After experiencing a slump in sales over the last few years, I’ve recently changed my “pitch” a bit and added a few more items to the table, and things are looking . . .
I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing, and I’d love to learn some new tricks from you as well. (“Comments” section is below.)
The Immutable Truths of Merch Sales
Let’s face it. For most of us live performers, the following things will always be true:
- we can’t live on merchandise sales alone, but they really help
- we hate selling things
- our website won’t do much of the selling for us
- most purchases will happen at live performances
- we hate selling things (did I mention that one already?)
No matter how good your online store is, the vast majority of your sales are going to happen “in person” immediately following your shows (or on the set break).
So here are some ideas for selling more at your gigs.
Selling More Merchandise At Gigs
#1. Change the timing of your pitch
You certainly don’t want to come off as too “salesy,” so you’re going to want to limit the number of times you mention your items for sale.
That makes the placement of that announcement within your set really important.
Do it too soon and people forget. Do it too often and you burn them out.
I like to concentrate on delivering a great show that’s 100% sales-free and really focused on engaging the audience, and then slip in the pitch right before the last song – almost as an afterthought.
Why there? Well, you want it to be fresh in people’s minds immediately before they can act on it.
(You’re also probably ending your show on a compelling note, which helps drive up desire too.)
REAL WORLD – I’ve also started incorporating a mention of the items for sale in the introduction that will be read by the venue host as they welcome the audience and introduce the show. (“Dave Ruch is ABC, has done XYZ, and his latest recording, entitled 123, will be available for sale right after the show along with a selection of blah blah blah and other items.”)
#2. Change HOW you make your pitch
It’s time to make your announcement.
Do you find yourself looking down at your shoes as you’re telling people about your CD or other items for sale?
Do you assume that nobody’s going to be interested?
Do you say “um” a lot and laugh nervously?
Your tone and body language come through loud and clear, and can make people far less (or more) excited about the idea of leaving with something of yours in exchange for their money.
Here are some ideas for delivering a compelling pitch:
- Exude genuine enthusiasm for the items you’re mentioning (practicing in the mirror wouldn’t be overdoing it)
- Tell interesting or funny stories about the item – people connect with stories
- Hold each item and briefly describe it (you’ll stimulate sales from people who might not have bothered to step over to your table)
#3. Change the table location
Believe it or not, this can have a dramatic effect on the number of people that will even approach the table to have a look around.
(Think back to the last time you were at a tradeshow or convention in the vendors area. Did you march right up to each table to engage with the sales person, or did you hover around the perimeter hoping not to get a sales pitch?)
REAL WORLD – At a recent gig, I put the table way off to the side of the room so people didn’t have to approach the stage (and me) after the show. As I made my pitch, I simply pointed to the table, and then when the concert ended, I stopped well short of the table to talk with an audience member. As I did that, people started rushing to the table, and by the time I got there, several people had decided what they wanted and were handing me money. Give them some space, and don’t make them approach you directly in order to see what’s there.
#4. Add a new product line
Not everybody is a consumer of your main product, and sometimes spouses and kids get dragged along to gigs too.
And then there are those “mega buyers” who are always going to buy multiple items.
So what about all of them?
I now carry around a carefully curated selection of books (written by others) based around my concert topics, and guess what?
Same for an intriguing little pocket instrument (jaw harp) that I play in my shows and people are always curious about.
REAL WORLD – Do you talk about specific places or time periods during your show, or write material around a certain topic? Do you have themed shows that you do? Any props related to your show that people might want to take home? I have arranged for a 40% wholesaler discount from each book publisher and retailer I deal with, simply by ordering 10 or more copies for resale. I also pay no sales tax on those items because I will be reselling them.
#5. Take plastic
Although I still don’t!
I’ve been telling myself for years that as soon as more of my audience starts asking about taking credit cards, I’ll get a card reader from Square or one of the other vendors.
But so far, it hasn’t happened. Because my demographic for public concerts tends to be older adults, they seem to always carry cash AND checkbooks.
I’ve also extended credit to people who’ve really wanted something but didn’t have the cash (or checkbook) on hand. They leave with the items and my mailing address, and I always get their check in the mail within days.
REAL WORLD – Get a card reader that plugs into your smartphone. It’s simple to set up, and the charge is generally less than 3% for each transaction. You’ll probably need it more than I do.
#6. Offer to sign!
I know. Me too.
It can feel really presumptuous sometimes to offer to sign things, especially if we’ve just done what felt like something less than our very best show.
“Who does he think he is?”
After all, it’s not like we’re household names.
Except, you know what? People really like to have their things signed. So offer it.
REAL WORLD – Sometimes I’ll forget to make the offer from the stage with my pitch, but I’ll do it in real time as people are purchasing things – and if people seem nonplussed by the idea, there’s no harm there. But other times (like the other day), I forgot completely to offer it, and one after another, people started asking me to do it.
#7. Doing two or more sets?
If you’re doing multiple sets and you have the flexibility, keep your first set to well under an hour to maximize sales.
Or if you’re booked for a 90-120 minute gig, try to negotiate a set break in there.
By giving people 60-90 minutes of your best stuff without taking a break, you may be saturating them and killing sales, no matter how good you are.
REAL WORLD – A compelling 45-minute set will almost always result in better sales than a longer set.
#8. (Bonus!) Commit To It
I think this was the biggest factor for me with my slump – I’d gotten lazy and careless about it.
Just deciding to be proactive about consistently making a strong pitch and experimenting with table placement, language, etc, I’m now bringing home more money from my gigs.
(And putting a nice dent in those boxes of CDs in my attic…)
You can do it too.
About The Blog
Since leaving a white-collar marketing job in 1992, Dave Ruch has been educating and entertaining full-time in schools, historical societies and museums, folk music and concert venues, libraries, and online via distance learning programs.
Along the way, he’s learned a great deal about supporting a family of four as a musician.
The Educate and Entertain blog provides articles, tips, encouragements, and how-to’s for regional performers (in any region) interested in making a great full-time living in the arts.
David, I am so appreciative of your efforts in sharing your hard earned knowledge. I have been a performer for a long time and many of your suggestions I have put into practice but it’s always helpful to have my strategies confirmed and to learn of a few I may have missed. Thank you my frien!
Yours in music.
So glad to hear that Gerard.
Thanks, Dave! I’ve incorporated most of the ideas you mentioned above, but there are certainly some I want to try!! Thanks for a very well-written and practical article!
Dave, I failed to mention that I have used the Square card reader for about seven years now, and LOVE it! So do my customers, and most are already familiar with it. I’d say about 25% of my sales are via credit or debit card, so a significant chunk. Recently, I started using Square’s new chip reader/ tap reader, which is much more secure. Often, when I’m in a hurry, I still just use the original “swiper” and it works just fine (whether they have a chip card or not). I have recommended the Square reader to several friends, and am hereby recommending it to you and your readers.
Glad to hear it Becky, thanks!
I always enjoy reading your articles. As a performer all my life (I went pro at age 15; don’t ask how long ago that was!) I still learn something new from them.
I’d like to add a few things to your very good article that has made a difference in my merch sales.
1. DEFINITELY take credit cards!! I know I don’t travel with much cash and pay for most things with my card because I get reward points. I have found that folks might buy multiple items instead of just one if they can charge it. Let’s face it; most merch sales are impulse buys, and you want to make it as easy as you can for them to buy as much as they want, right away! Most will not use an order form nor go to your website later to order.
2. Placement of merch table – I like to place it where I can see it–DUH! Oftentimes bookers will want to put it in a lobby or hall outside the concert room, but I insist on it being IN the room to keep an eye on it plus make it easier for me to get to it quickly after the show. Sometimes that’s not possible but I always try. I also like to place it near the entrance/exit door, so the audience HAS to go by it to leave! It remains fresh in their minds then and I get to thank them all for coming, even if they don’t buy a thing.
Think about it; if the exit is in the back of the room and the table is near the stage in the front, as they are leaving their backs are to you and your stuff. Not good.
3. I experimented with small giveaways to draw people to the table but I found it actually hurt my sales. People love a souvenir from a show, and if they can get something small for free, why should they fork over $$ unless they REALLY want a whole album? People also tend to buy a $.99 download of a single song they liked instead of a whole CD, or worse yet, stream it.
By the same token, have items that are less expensive, esp. for family shows. Parents like it when they can buy their kids an inexpensive item to make them happy, and yet not break the bank. But beware; there’s a fine line to cross here between hurting your higher priced sales and selling lots of low-priced stuff. You can also offer those lower-priced items for free with the purchase of any album. I’ve found that works GREAT!
4. On that note (Ha!) of downloads vs. whole albums, I also make up multiple lists of the songs on each CD and either display prominently if there’s room or place at each end of the table. This way they don’t have to keep asking me “Which album is _______ on?” They can read these lists while I’m occupied selling, and it often reminds them of other songs they liked. I put graphics of each cover beside each list so it’s easy to find, and I gang the lists on a one-sheet. Make it easy easy EASY for people to buy!!
5. If possible, don’t make them wait. If you can have help at your table it’s best, because if you get stuck chatting with a very talkative person you can’t attend to everyone else. Some will be in a hurry or get discouraged waiting and walk away.
Oh, there’s so much more to this art and science of selling merch but I’ve rambled too long already. Hope this helps folks.
Patricia – so great to have you as a reader and contributor! Thanks for sharing these great tips.
Thank YOU Dave for a wonderful and helpful site.
Really good tips, Patricia! I have my album covers with song listings all on ONE sheet, but I like your idea of putting them on separate sheets (or at least something with REALLY BIG FONT so folks can read it quickly). I think I’ll make it with my “hit songs” maybe in a stand-0ut color ink (like red), since most of the time, people buy my albums for even ONE song they heard and loved, I also agree with you about having the table right on their way out, so they HAVE to pass it to leave. Also, I ALWAYS ask for a table assistant, for the reasons you mentioned. Great ideas!! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you so much for explaining some does and don’ts. As someone on the brink of Merching, I thank you. The idea of it being an ongoing educational situation had not occured to me. Cool, and thank you again. Good luck to you, and I admit to hoping to share it…….
Glad this was helpful Randy.
Thanks for another great post. I love selling my stuff but I hate “selling” my stuff if you know what I mean. I’ve got 3 CDs out and I make sure to play songs from each one during my concerts. I may not announce that it’s my song but later at the merch table I can tell people what I played from each one (“oh, I loved that song”) and it helps with sales. I haven’t gotten into T-shirts or other items to sell but I did have guitar picks made with my website printed on them that I give away for free to encourage folks to go to my website and get on my mailing list.
Thanks for what you do. I always look forward to your posts.
All the best,
Always great to hear from you, Tom. I know *exactly* what you mean about “selling.”
Great article. This aspect has always frustrated me. My question for you and others is what other articles to sell besides the cd’s?
Thanks as always.
Hi Dave – I think it makes the most sense to sell things related to your performance. Interesting books about the music you perform, or the instruments you play, or something you talk about during your shows.
In keeping with Dave’s theme of offering items that tie in with your songs, or themes… Some of my shows are made up of largely Christian audiences. At those gigs, I offer wooden cross necklaces and bracelets with scripture on them (I buy them in bulk from a mail-order outfit). One of my albums is named “211 Degrees”, so I also offer little inflatable guitars with fire graphics on them, which I call “211 Degrees guitars”. You can get creative with your tie-ins!