How to Make and Sell Your Own Merchandise
T-shirts, plush toys, phone cases, backpacks. There’s no shortage of opportunities to make merchandise that makes your brand a part of people’s lives, creates a new revenue stream, and turns your fans into ambassadors.
The true value of merchandise
Merchandise is about more than just creating a new revenue stream. It can create opportunities to:
Identify your true fans and build more meaningful relationships with them through physical products
Grow your audience with free giveaways
Partner with other creators and brands for product drops
Encourage fans to create content as they share photos and videos of your merchandise with their own followers
Generate free word-of-mouth advertising as fans discuss your products with others they meet
Coming up with a merchandise strategy that works for you
Merchandise is as versatile as you want it to be. It can be a source of sustained revenue through your own merchandise store, the catalyst for a collaboration with other brands, or a free gift you offer loyal customers.
One of biggest decisions you'll make with your merchandise strategy is whether to sell under your existing brand or launch it under a sub-brand.
In some cases, it may make sense to create a spinoff brand for your merchandise, such as Yes Theory’s Seek Discomfort.
“The advantage of this approach is that it can grow an audience beyond your existing content and products,” “Sales might be slow at the start, but by building a sub-brand you're giving it a longer tail of success because it's drawing a clear line between your products and your creator brand.”
This approach opened up Seek Discomfort to pursue collaborations with brands like Bose, Lululemon, and Timbuk2 backpacks—opportunities that Zack thinks might not have been possible had the brand just been portrayed as “Yes Theory merchandise”.
Selling merchandise under your existing brand
It makes sense strategically to leverage the name he made as a writer with an ecommerce app or website where fans can find his books, t-shirts, temporary tattoos, and even a link to his own brand of wine.
You can pick and choose what you do and how you do it, so some things you might start as separate businesses under sub-brands, and some things you might sell more to the direct fan base and audience.”
Create a product that you're proud of, that you want to stand behind, and that you hopefully also want to use or wear.
How to create must buy merchandise
Creating merchandise can be as simple as putting your signature logo on a t-shirt or hat. But there’s a process you can follow to produce fresh merchandise concepts that resonate with your fans and even new audiences.
Let’s use our own brand, Appily App Builder, as an example to show you how to go from idea to prototype.
If you don’t know, Appily App Builder is a platform that powers the businesses of over a thousands of entrepreneurs, giving them all the tools they need to start and grow their own independent brand.
Appily App Builder’s brand is about independence, resilience, creativity, and, of course, getting down to business. Using that as a starting place we can begin the merchandise making process.
Design and mock up your products
While most merchandise companies offer design services, it is recommended taking on the design yourself, if you can.
“You're probably better off sourcing your own designs, because you'll understand your brand far better than someone who is just learning about your brand for the first time in the last week or two, and is going to come up with a design for you.”
You can hire a merchandise designer on Upwork or tap your network for a designer, but keep the following tips in mind:
Provide context. Tell them what kinds of products the design will be for, who your audience is, and share any brand guidelines you have.
Clearly explain what you want. Over-communicate what you’re looking for and be sure to use subsequent revisions to improve the design, providing concrete feedback every step of the way.
Create a mood board. Curate inspiration, examples, and references to help the designer know where to start.
Many print on demand companies have mockup generators you can use to create your products. Placeit also allows you to create lifestyle mockups of your designs that you can then share with your audience for feedback.
Just like asking your audience for product ideas, you can also get design feedback the same way to not only make your audience feel involved but to make sure you’re going in the right direction.
Choose a print on demand partner or find a manufacturer
Once you’ve gotten feedback on your product mockups, you can start thinking about how you’re actually going to make your merchandise.
There are two common options:
Print on demand. You can automate production, shipping, and fulfilment with a print-on-demand partner. This is low-cost, low-risk, and easier to set up and manage. The tradeoff is that your products and customisation options are limited depending on the service you choose.
Manufacture from scratch. You can find a manufacturer for the specific product you want to make, get it produced, and hold your own inventory to sell. Naturally, you’ll have more options and flexibility to create the exact product you envision, but it will be a bit more capital intensive.
Using a print-on-demand service
Most of these services are free to start on. Each one contains its own catalog of products, but you can generally find t-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants, phone cases, and the staple apparel items and accessories across the board.
For our products, we used Printful and ordered some samples to test it out. Even if you don’t want to go the print-on-demand route long-term, it’s a great way to prototype merchandise, try out a merchandise store, or power a giveaway.
Always order samples for quality assurance before you start selling. Colors might look one way on your computer screen, but show up differently in person. You can reach out to your print-on-demand service’s customer support if you're ever unsure.
Finding a manufacturer to partner with
Alternatively, you can also find a manufacturer to partner with to create your products.
Compared to print on demand, you can think further outside of the box as to how you want to design your products. You can make uniquely designed hoodies or even your own board game.
There are many companies like Fan of a Fan that make merchandise for creators and brands, and it’s a good idea to shop around before picking a partner to work with.
Here are some of the things to keep in mind before signing a contract with anyone:
Ownership of intellectual property. Who owns your brand's IP, the designs on the clothing, and anything new that gets created as a part of this partnership? You'll want to make sure that you retain the rights in case you part ways with the partner.
Compensation structure. Is it a fixed cost or is it variable based on profit revenue share? Revenue share models are the most common when working with merchandising companies and can be anywhere from 15% to 50% of your revenue.
Commitment. It suggested that you never sign anything long-term with one partner. Come up with a trial period and use that to determine if this partner attends to deadlines, produces quality products, responds to emails in a timely manner, and is all-around reliable. After this trial, you can evaluate whether to continue working with them.
Hidden costs. From beginning to end of a product launch, go through any hidden costs that may come up, from warehousing costs, picking and packing fees, shipping fees, design fees, website management fees, and customer service fees. You don't want to sign a rev share agreement and then have all these surprise costs sneak up on you.
How to sell your merchandise
Marketing merchandise is a little different than marketing a traditional product, mostly in that you’re selling to existing fans first and new customers second. That also means you have a guaranteed audience of potential customers.
Here are just some of the marketing opportunities you can consider for selling your merchandise.
Integrate your products into your content
The content you create is another natural place to plug your merchandise. Whether that means wearing your merchandise in your videos, promoting it directly in social media posts, or building it into the creative concept of your next piece of content.
If you build your merchandise store on Appily App Builder, you can sell your products more easily in your content by integrating your store wherever your audience lives. Here are some of the channels you can explore and approaches you can take:
Instagram: Tag your merchandise in your posts and stories and curate your own Instagram Shop on your profile.
YouTube: Share links to your products in your video description or cards, with a call-to-action at the end of your video itself.
TikTok: Partner with other TIkTok creators to get them to create content with your merchandise.
Buy button: If you have a separate website or blog outside of your merchandise store, you can embed your products or collections there as well.
The best way to go about connecting your merchandise to your content is up to you, you know your audience best, after all.
Word of mouth
Great merchandise is its own marketing. If a fan buys your product and wears it often, chances are people will ask them about it.
But it has to be a high-quality product. “If you're selling merchandise, that's real-estate that you now have on your fans, who are walking around and promoting your brand. “But if you create something low quality, then they're only going to wear it once or twice.”
The more someone wears your merchandise or pulls out your product to show others how amazing it is, the more exposure you get. So make merchandise worth showing off to generate more word-of-mouth.
Remarketing to your existing audience
What about spending money to promote your merchandise through ads? In other contexts, you may want to run prospecting ads—finding for new audiences to purchase your products—but with merchandise, retargeting is your friend.
Retargeting lets you promote ads to your existing audience based on specific criteria, such as whether they follow you on Instagram or have already made a purchase. Many ad platforms (Google, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat) allow you to run retargeting ads, as long as you have their advertising pixel installed or customer emails you can upload to build an audience of fans to retarget.
That's where you're going to have really high engagement and ROI,. "Whereas with prospecting, most of the time people aren't going to buy merchandise from someone they've never heard of before. So that's where the bulk of your energy from paid media spend should go.”
Needless to say, if you’ve been building your email list, that’s definitely a channel you’ll want to use to promote your merchandise.
Run a presale
Nothing builds hype for a new product quite like a presale campaign. A presale is when you give your audience the opportunity to purchase your product before it's available so they can be the first to get it when it drops.
The advantage? You can gauge demand before investing in stock and even create a sense of scarcity or urgency to encourage fans to get in early.
There are many reasons to get into the merchandise business beyond the additional revenue stream it can create. Merchandise connects your fans to your brand, gives them a chance to show off their enthusiasm for you, and makes them feel like a part of something bigger.