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How to Make More Money With Branded Merchandise

Sell branded products to improve your visibility and reach, and to bring in some extra cash.

Want to make your business more visible? Want to brand yourself as an expert in your community? Want a simple way to market yourself so you can make more money? If your response is yes, then brand recognition could be your answer.

Your training style, your logo, your written material, your workshops—essentially, all things business related—are part of your business platform. They help brand you as an expert in your community, and for some of you, even as an expert in the world.

Brand Visibility

One key to branding is to make your logo recognizable. To do that, you must make it visible. What better way to do that than to have clients and students wear your logo, taking word-of-mouth advertising one step further?

“It’s about brand association,” says Grant Hill, founder and president of MyBootcamp™ in Washington, DC. “If you brand yourself as a community of cool people doing awesome things, your members will wear your logo like a badge of honor and advertise for you with your apparel, or with your sticker on their car.”

“When someone is walking around wearing my shirt in their local gym, or they hashtag our products on Instagram, these are all forms of advertising that have resulted in word-of-mouth and repeat sales,” explains Keri Lynn Ford, creator of IgniteGirls®, based in Atlanta.

Ford notes that while she hasn’t yet made a lot of money from selling her shirts, the ones she has sold have brought income in the way of increased clientele.

“I have absolutely gained business from others seeing my shirts,” she says. “In fact, I have received numerous emails and texts telling me about how often [people who bought my shirts] were stopped during their workout and asked where they got their tank top from!”

The advertising from her shirts also brings more traffic to her website, which in turn brings more sales. “For every day the traffic on my website grows, it leads to more sales,” Ford explains. “The tank tops are the most popular [product], and I make about a 55% profit [above the baseline cost] off them. These are walking advertisements for me and the website, so if it keeps people coming back to the website, there is value in that as well.”

This is especially important if you provide education on your site. The more people your site draws, the more people you can reach with your message and the more potential clients and customers you will attract. For instance, Ford also writes and sells educational e-books, the most popular one being her Grocery Store Guide.

“Whether [clients are] trying to decipher labels in the grocery store aisles, looking for a real-food detox plan, or wanting to wear a shirt that displays their love of lunges and lip gloss, the IgniteGirls brand can be part of their daily routine,” remarks Ford.

Making your brand a part of your clients’ everyday lives should be one of your goals. The more your logo is in front of them and a part of what they do, the more likely they are to turn to you when you’ve got what they need. So whether your logo is on the mugs they drink their morning joe from, the T-shirts they wear to ballgames, or the planners they use to organize their days, you are a part of their lives and they are constantly reminded of you and what you do.

“We sell apparel, water bottles and gear bags,” says Hill. “Branded products are a great way to drive brand awareness, but it’s also important you are conscious of your image.”

In other words, he advises, don’t sell junk. “If you are selling cool, fashionable, trendy or useful things, people will actually wear them with pride. I never get the cheapest of any promo product. If you do, people just throw it away.”

More Than a Logo

While you want all your products to display your logo, it isn’t the only thing you can market. What sayings are you known for? My students and clients frequently hear me say, “Pulse it!” during classes or sessions, and so that saying, too, goes on T-shirts. Many of the designs on my products have also come from class names or from something that is said off the cuff during a training session that results in “Hey! There’s another T-shirt!”

“My audience ends up telling me when I’ve said something memorable,” comments Jen Sinkler, creator of Thrive at www.jensinkler.com and author of The Thrival Guide. “They tell me they want that on a T-shirt. Basically, now that I’m tuned into apparel as a possibility, I see possibilities everywhere.”

For Sue Hitzmann, MS, creator of the MELT Method®, a form of neurofascial release, the concept of MELT and living pain-free has spurred tag lines that end up on her products. “Tag lines are also created by funny things I have said in trainings and events, especially about the use of balls in the method. The goal of any good tag line or saying is to evoke a reaction to make people curious to learn more about MELT!”

The Process

In order to sell shirts, water bottles or bumper stickers, you must first come up with ideas to place on them. Will you use just your logo? Or will you place inspirational, witty or motivating sayings on them? What about graphics? Will you design them yourself, or will you need to hire a graphic designer?

“As soon as I thought of my tank top series, I immediately reached out to a friend who has his own printing business and he sent me a catalog to look through,” remembers Ford. “After looking at about 50 shirts, I finally found the exact style of the shirts I wanted. Luckily, I also went to school for graphic design, so I was able to prepare the files for production and send them to my printer. We received our first shipment just a few weeks later—and sold out of that first shipment within 2 weeks!”

When I decided to sell T-shirts and other items, I contacted a graphic designer friend of mine and we decided to make it a joint effort. I came up with the sayings, she developed the designs, and I put our online storefront together; an online storefront is simply your online page or site from which to sell your wares. We split the profits 50/50.

You also need to decide how you will sell your products. Will they be displayed in your facility’s pro shop? Will you sell them online? If you sell them online, are you going to have them printed yourself and also ship them yourself? Or will you use an online company that can do all the shipping and handling for you? Some examples of online companies are included in the sidebar “Online Print, Pack and Ship Sites.”

Hiring a graphic designer and a printer involves upfront costs, and you are responsible for the shipping and handling of your products. If you’re not able to afford this, consider using one of the online companies through which you have your storefront. You choose the products and styles you want to sell, upload your designs to your chosen company and set up your online storefront. You then link to the storefront from your website.

Some sites allow you to set your storefront up for free, but they limit how many products you can sell. They all offer an option for you to pay a nominal monthly fee, which then permits you to offer unlimited products. These companies make their money by setting a baseline price for each item; you then decide what you want your profit margin to be. While many sellers mark the items up by at least 50%, this can be difficult to do if the company sets the baseline price for you. The upside of this is that they take care of shipping and handling for you. You might make less money this way, but you save the time and hassle of doing it yourself.

“I created my own logo back when we started,” recalls Hill, “so we just had a local print shop run our first batch of apparel. We had two pieces for men and two for women. Carrying apparel inventory is challenging and can tie up a lot of money or even waste it in dead stock, so now I avoid carrying inventory in favor of using Spreadshirt™. They do all of the dirty work for you, but you still get to set your price. You won’t make as much as you would if you did a large order and had the inventory on hand, but it takes away all of the risk and hassle so it is worth it to me.”

“I made a mistake with my first T-shirt distributor, and made very little,” explains Sinkler. “He charged me $5 for handling every single order! With the margins already as small as they are, this meant it was slowgoing. This spring, I switched to Rugby Athletic. Not only do they have a designer on staff, but they don’t charge me handling at all, and their customer service is second to none. My margins are a lot friendlier now!”

While there is no guarantee you will make a ton of money selling your wares, promotional products can bring other work your way and help spread your message. “Would I recommend selling shirts to get rich?” asks Sinkler. “Nope, it’s not that kind of game. It is great for marketing, though, and also for spreading really fun, positive messages about fitness and strength. My passion lies in the latter.”

“Know what makes you stand out as a brand, and run with that,” encourages Ford. “Amongst all the chatter, it will help you create an original name for yourself.”

SIDEBAR: Need a Logo?

If you can’t afford to hire a graphic designer for your logo, but you have an idea of what you want, you might want to try a DIY logo site:

SIDEBAR: Online Print, Pack and Ship Sites

Don’t want the hassle and cost of carrying inventory and dealing with shipping and handling? Check out these sites that will do it for you:


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