Consumers who choose to shop at small businesses often take genuine pride in it. Patronizing a small business is (more times than not) a deliberate choice to avoid a big corporate name or support those businesses that give the community individuality, flavor, and spice. Small businesses ought to be proud of their community and vice versa; a great way to show that pride is through branded company merchandise. While making company merchandise is now easier and cheaper than ever, small businesses that are committed to quality and detail-oriented service are the least likely to slap a jpeg on a white tee shirt and call it a day. There are several ways to source, style, and sell high-quality branded merchandise sure to impress your most loyal customers.
Styling Your Merchandise
While your company likely already has a logo or at least a design for your letterheads, merchandise is a great time to explore new or more intricate designs to associate with your business. There is an inherent value to using the same imagery between your merchandise and the actual signs and logos visible at your business but unless your logo is already stylish enough for a shirt, you will likely benefit from partnering with a graphic designer.
There are a near-infinite number of online graphic designers that work freelance and by contract. There are so many freelancers out there that a few clicks can drown you in an ocean of seemingly qualified designers; consider narrowing your search to designers with past experience in textiles and tee shirt designs, or maybe even designs in your industry. That may shrink the option ocean into a more manageable option lake. Start your search at reputable freelancer marketplaces like fiverr or freelancer.com and expand from there.
Once you’ve found a designer that seems to meet your needs, have an introduction over the phone, Zoom, or if feasible, at your actual place of business. The objective of your early meetings should both be to decide if they are the right fit for you as well as give them all the necessary background to create a design which captures the essence of your business. Be certain to tell the designer specifically what types of merchandise you want to make e.g. textiles, ceramics, and/or papers, as that will inform their final product.
Depending on the terms of your contract with a freelancer or by whichever means you have secured a design for your merchandise, the next step is getting that design on a shirt or a mug!
Sourcing Your Materials
While all-in-one tee shirt companies have been on the digital market for several years, these options are equally notorious for making quick, bulk, and often lower-quality products. Company branded merchandise for small businesses is a great means for small businesses themselves to patronize more small businesses in their communities. Consider partnering with a local printer or silk-screening company to manufacture your merchandise. If you want to sell sewn baseball caps or more intricately stitched merchandise, however, your local options may be more limited. The same can be said about ceramic companies, as most multi-kiln factories manufacture in India and China.
High-Quality Online Sourcing Options
Shopify: While Shopify largely operates as a print-on-demand company, its design tools and quick turnaround for bulk orders makes them a great option for either selling merchandise in-store or online.
Teespring: Teespring is uniquely upfront about the quality of the textiles used to make your custom shirts. Teespring allows users to individually choose between basic Hanes tees and far more premium sources like Next Level tees.
Custom Ink: Custom Ink is an old favorite (and old reliable) choice for custom tees shirts. Their online custom shirt builder tool is user-friendly even to non-designers and their pricing models allow for lucrative discounts when buying in bulk.
Be certain to order a mock-up of each product before making a full order. While mock-ups will likely be complimentary when working with a local partner, you may have to go out of your way to pay for a mock-up or sample if you choose to work with an online company.
Selling Your Merchandise
Your company merchandise should meet customers where they shop: if you are a primarily brick and mortar shop, selling the merchandise alongside your products is a no brainer. There are, however, some benefits to selling your merchandise wholly online. If you end up drafting your merchandise on a large online platform like Shopify or Teespring, you can take advantage of the platforms’ print-on-demand business model; this means that instead of buying merchandise in bulk and potentially over or under evaluating demand, these platforms will print only as many shirts, mugs, etc. as are requested by your customers. Be mindful, however, that print-on-demand services often take considerably longer to ship to customers compared to already printed, bulk-bought shirts. Since customers will have to order their merchandise online, your small business would likely need to already have a strong online customer base to use print-on-demand successfully. Between these two methods are more than a few compromises but the choice between either model will likely be simple for small businesses in the moment
If you choose to sell your merchandise on-hand at your business, consider setting up a test run. Instead of ordering 100 to 1,000 shirts, perhaps order 25 or 125 respectively. While customers will likely be enthusiastic about merchandise when asked hypothetically, whether they will buy the merchandise in the moment is an entirely separate variable.
Merchandise to Match Your Business
The last thing your company merchandise should look like is a cash grab. Delicately sourcing your textiles and using a design you are proud of are simply a must; the people who are most likely to buy and wear your merchandise are equally the customers and clients who patronize your business the most. Merchandise is a great way to create another potential revenue stream, while giving your customers an easy way to show their connection with a brand they love. Added bonus – anytime a customer wears/uses your branded merchandise, it’s free advertising for you!