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2009-10-051Where in the world am I today?: Papeete, Tahiti on my way back to Vancouver

I can’t believe I haven’t brought this item up sooner… Here I am well into the 10th month of writing posts for this blog and I the subject of promotional t-shirts hasn’t come up… I must have figured that I’d already talked about it as it’s one of the main pieces of ‘swag’ that I keep in my arsinal. Years ago I used to treat t-shirts more as ‘merch’ as an item that I’d sell after shows and I’d make a point of carrying around boxes of shirts on the off chance that I could convince people to buy some at the end of my shows…

T-shirts are a fantastic way to get your name/logo/brand out into the world no doubt about it, but although there are some great pluses, there are some unfortunate realities that are also present with this particular promotional item.

First the pluses… I have vivid memories of performing at the Edmonton Fringe Festival in the early 90s and selling (to my mind) incredible numbers of t-shirts at the end of my shows. Inevitably, whenever I would arrive at one of my outdoor stage spots at the Fringe there would be one or two spectators in the crowd wearing Checkerboard Guy t-shirts which was a remarkable stroke to one’s ego! That people –

  1. Like the show enough to buy a shirt was cool and
  2. Liked it enough to come back and see it again and made a point of wearing the shirt to show their support was even cooler!

I think this was one of the closest experiences I had to feeling like a ‘rock star’ with real bona fide FANS… Very cool. This was a pretty EGO-DRIVE pursuit however and when I realized this, I actually started to look at some of the unfortunate realities that go along with t-shirt sales.

  1. Sizing – How do you deal with the fact that people want different sizes of t-shirts everything from t-shirts that fit their three-year old to XXL (or bigger) shirts for the SUPER FANS? Back in the day when I did shirts a lot I’d often opt to get just XL shirts and say that it was a one-size fits all scenario, but this was never really a satisfactory solution.
  2. Inventory – How do you decide how many shirts to have printed? Unless you’re constantly on tour and have fairly consistent indicators as to how many shirts you’ll be selling, determining the number of shirts, and thus the amount of capital that will be locked into unsold shirts can be tricky.
  3. Shipping – Like it or not, t-shirts need to be brought with you to sell and they tend to be reasonably bulky and heavey. Given the amount of traveling that I do and the number of times I fly to gigs, bringing extra ‘stuff’ with me is often something I’m not all that keen on considering.
  4. Return on Investment – By the time you’ve bought the shirts, had them printed, shipped them to the gig and possibly paid someone to sit at a table and sell them for you after your shows, the unfortunate reality is that the return on your investment isn’t as good with a t-shirt as it is with just about any other merchandise item, well unless you sell the shirts for a ridiculous mark-up, but I never felt good about doing this, so in the end, the sale of t-shirts as merchandise always ended up being more of a ‘just over break-even’ sort of scenario for me and as a result I’ve sort of shelved the idea of using shirts as a source of revenue.

Shirts as promotional items on the other hand, that’s a completely different scenario. If I’m trying to make a good impression on a client that I’d like to work for then a t-shirt and perhaps a baseball cap thrown in along with my promotional kit and video helps sweeten the pot. If I’m doing a gig or have done a gig and someone went out of their way to help ensure that the show went as smoothly as possible, then sending along a t-shirt afterwards  is an easy and memorable way to say thanks! I use baseball caps a lot as thank you gifts for the technical staff that supports my shows when I work on cruise ships. These days I seem to be returning to the same ships a fair bit, so I’ll sometimes bring t-shirts along as well just in case I run into people who already have hats.

Giving my ‘crew’ a shirt or a hat before one of my shows is my way of acknowledging the fact that although it’s their job to make me look and sound good, I do appreciate their efforts on my behalf. I also love the look of the crew all wearing cbg swag as it creates a cool sense that we’re all part of ‘team cbg’ which is hopefully fun for everyone.

‘You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar’ as the saying goes, and using a custom printed t-shirt as your honey can help you land the gig in the first place and also ensure that your shows look and sound as good as possible when you step out on stage.

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