How to Sell Merch Without Paying Upfront

Fellow bands,

I’m not much for bullshitting, so I’ll cut right to the chase. The purpose of this post is two-fold: 1. To help fellow bands set up online merch stores that function on an on-demand basis rather than a pay-upfront-sell-later plan; and 2. To help make some extra money for the Grampfunder when you use our affiliate links.

So, it’s a win-win.

In our personal experience, we’ve come across a few obstacles in the merch game, obstacles which I wish someone well acquainted with selling merch had made me aware of a long time ago and had presented me with alternatives/solutions. So, that’s why I’m writing this post, to give you some helpful insight so that you can hopefully avoid some of the mistakes we’ve made in the past.

Paying upfront is a major obstacle for bands, considering most of us DIY folk are broke. We’ve all heard the saying, “You gotta spend money to make money.” But what if you don’t have any significant money to start with? Let’s say you do have the money to lay out upfront. Now you have to consider a few things: How many shirts (for example) will you order? What sizes will you need? What color shirts? And considering that the cost increases with each color included in your graphic, how many colors will be in your final design?

Even then, you still may run into the unfortunate situation of running out of a particular size, color, or design that a customer/fan has requested. Accurately gauging what quantity and quality of merch will sell best is a difficult task. A lot of bands (like us on some merch runs, for example) end up with a bunch of excess merch in our closets due to this faulty strategy of paying upfront and hoping to turn a profit…eventually.

All of these issues of budget, quantity and quality of merch, and planning can be solved through setting up an online merch store. Now that our merch store has been set up, we no longer have surplus merch piling up in our rooms. People can just visit our site, order whatever product they like in whatever size and color they prefer that is available, and then Printful prints and ships the merch out to your customers. So, basically all you have to do is set up your store, design your merch, and promote, and then Printful does the rest for you.

We set up our store through Big Cartel, which is very user friendly for artists, but you can use Shopify, Etsy, Ebay, etc–see Printful’s list of e-commerce platforms. Big Cartel allows you to have up to 5 products on your online shop. They’ll ask you to upgrade your plan if you want to add more products. We did the free option for a while, but we just recently upgraded to the $10/month plan, because we figured people would be more inclined to buy something if there were many options of varying prices to choose from, rather than a limited selection of just 5 items. But whatever route you choose to go with is up to you.

Once you’ve set up a Printful account and an account on whichever e-commerce site you choose, go to “Stores” in the dashboard on Printful, and under a message that reads “To create a new store, choose your method,” you’ll see a box that says “Choose your store’s platform.” Click “Choose platform,” and once you find your e-commerce option, click “Connect.” I was confused at first, because I thought I could sell directly through Printful, but it’s key that you integrate your Printful store with your e-commerce site.

I chose not to buy our Grampfather.com domain through Big Cartel, as I thought that their functionality was pretty limited, so I went with WordPress. By going with this path, we now have all our music, merch, links, lyrics–everything!–in one place. I designed the theme of Grampfather.bigcartel.com similarly to that of Grampfather.com, so that it wouldn’t be too jarring for visitors when they transfer to the merch site from our main site once they’ve clicked on an image or text with a hyperlink to the desired product.

You might want to consider going about it in a similar manner…or not. Just thought I’d share my experience in the hopes that it’d shed some light on avenues that you maybe weren’t aware of. The purpose of this post is not to dissuade you from going with the paying-upfront route. If you have the money, it actually might be better to go this route, because you can configure a larger profit margin than if you were to sell through Printful, as the company takes a significant chunk of money from your orders. I mean, they basically do everything for you, so it’s understandable, but yeah, definitely not ideal. Also, it’s great to have physical merch on you to sell at shows (whenever those come back), instead of just in the Cloud, awaiting to be summoned out of the ether. Oh! and make sure you add shipping prices to your products, so that your customers pay for shipping and not you–it’s happened to me before where I was charged for shipping and ended up with less money in my account than before the transaction, which, yes, defeats the purpose of the whole endeavor, so be sure to check Printful’s shipping rates and incorporate them into your products before you launch them.

Each plan of action has its shortcomings, so my advice is: Do both!

It can’t hurt to have your merch out there, available to anyone in the world basically, rather than limited to only those in your physical radius or touring trajectory. Even if your profit margin may be small, the facts remain that 1. You’re making money for really not doing much; 2. You’re widening your audience and correlatively increasing your chances of making sales; and 3. Your name is getting out there.

If you have any questions as you’re going through the process, feel free to hit us up at Grampfatherband@gmail.com.

Cheers!

Gramps

Oh yeah, and here are those affiliate links:

Printful

WordPress

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