Coachella (where Square will be the exclusive point of sale for all vendors) kicks off this weekend, marking the beginning of festival season. And for touring musicians, it’s a great time to begin touting your merchandise so fans can wear their love for you at your shows.
But if you’re a band on the cusp, what’s the best way to do that? We chatted with Alex Stultz, founder of Red Star Merchandise — whose client roster includes artists like Dave Matthews Band, Pitbull, and Mumford and Sons, as well as Bonnaroo and Outside Lands — to get the lowdown on hawking your wares.
Square: Can you walk us through Red Star’s services?
Stultz: We handle the development and production of merchandise for bands and music festivals. We work with clients to develop a concept, put that concept into production, and get it out to their tour or to the festival. Then we have teams of folks who handle onsite activations and deal directly with the sales and the merchandise. We’ve been selling with Square at events since 2011.
What trends have you noticed recently in the industry?
Camouflage. T-shirt manufacturers are putting camo accents on everything — and they’re selling like crazy. Rock posters have also risen in popularity over the last decade. People love unique pieces of art created specifically for a show. The fact that it’s printed in limited numbers also means it’s scarce, which adds to it. We’re knocking rock posters out almost on a nightly basis for bands like The Decemberists and The Head and the Heart.
What’s the most unique piece of merchandise you guys have done?
Last year for Bonnaroo, the promoters came to us and wanted unique packaging to deliver their tickets. That’s actually a growing trend in the festival business — delivering tickets in the coolest way possible. Bonnaroo was working with a retro vibe, so we wanted to make something to fit that. We came up with the concept of creating old-school metal lunchboxes. We thought that would get at the playfulness and craziness of Bonnaroo. We made over 90,000 of them. They were a ton of fun and were very well received.
How would you advise a band that’s just starting out to approach merchandising?
With a small budget, focus on the staples. Most people want shirts, hoodies, and maybe a tote bag. But at the same time you want to understand what your audience is about. The answers are always right there in front of you — you just have to open your eyes and see. When you’re onstage, who are you looking at? What are the types of things these people would like? Always try to make that connection.
Is crowdsourcing designs a good option?
Definitely. We’ve produced merchandise through a bunch of design contests. It’s a great free way to get amazing art. Asking your fans to help out makes them feel more connected to what you’re doing. They feel empowered by that. And you can trade their art for a free ticket or a meet and greet.
What about marketing advice?
One of my favorite tips is simple — include some useful information any time you’re promoting your goods. So if you want to promote a sale, maybe also give fans a little bit of information about your upcoming tour. We find that a lot of bands get caught up in not wanting to seem like they’re a commercial outfit. It’s a fine line to walk — but you should get out there with your product. Post a pic of a T-shirt to your Facebook page, letting your fans know it’s new. It’s amazing the clickthroughs you get. And if you can get them into your online store, you can usually convert them.
Which social media platform do you think is the most effective for music merchandise?
Facebook has proven to be the most effective. YouTube has also just come up with a way to embed product links into videos. So if you’re watching a Pitbull video, you could put in a little icon of a shirt, which people could click through to buy. It’ll be interesting to see how that works.
Have you see any merchandising trends trickle down from the Beyoncés and Taylor Swifts of the world?
Merchandise lines are getting much better about paying attention to current fashion trends. I mentioned the camo trend earlier — and the offerings for stylish women’s apparel have grown exponentially. You want to offer something that people aren’t just going to wear once and cast aside after the thrill of that show has worn off.
How has Square helped you run Red Star Merchandise more efficiently?
We use Square to process credit card sales on site at our shows and music festivals. Before Square, we were sort of slaves to standard credit card machines. Sometimes it took hours after shows to just get all the receipts in order. And if someone called to contest something, you’d have to look through boxes and boxes of receipts. With Square, we save a ton of time and are able to finalize settlements faster.
What sort of results have you seen since adopting Square?
Credit card transactions used to make up about 35 percent of our sales. Now that number has jumped to about 60 percent. In venues like the Staples Center, it’s even crazier, probably around 80 percent.
Do you use Square Inventory?
The music merchandising industry is a little antiquated in the way we do things. Generally you count your inventory at the beginning and end of the day, and what’s not there, you presume you sold. The last few months we’ve done a lot more work with Square Point of Sale. Inventory is a great tool that helps us understand how things are selling in the middle of an event. It’s great to get an accurate read on things. We used to just eyeball it. Now we know exactly what we need to order more of and when.