Do you remember when KFC came out with fried chicken sunscreen? Or when Burger King came out with burger flavored toothpaste? And the best one so far, when Domino’s came out with adult onesies.
No, this isn’t a fast-food chain specific, we often also buy swag from our favorite restaurants and bars too. Some of my personal favorites are those teriyaki wing flavorings from buffalo wild wings and my favorite waffle house t-shirt.
Why do these fast-food chains and many restaurants come out with their merchandise? Does it make sense financially? What kind of restaurants make this transition, or should they do it?
This piece will get deeper into this topic, and we will discuss why, as a restaurant, it could make sense for you to launch your merchandise line and how you can go about it.
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Build Your Fan-Base Through Merchandise
Branded merchandise (objects that will have your restaurant logo, color, name, and other elements for easy recognition) are everywhere. It is one of the oldest tricks in the marketing book for your brand.
It can be quite successful and lucrative if done correctly.
Before we move on to learning how to execute a merchandise strategy, here are some incentives for you to get into merchandising if you are not yet convinced:
One of the most explicit benefits of swag is the brand introduction. People carrying your tote in grocery stores, wearing t-shirts at events, using your branded cups at the workplace – the merchandise is exposed to a new audience, and this introduces your brand to them.
Your merchandise ideally will have your logo, color, name, and other brand elements on it. Continuous or regular exposure to it helps your customers register your brand elements in their mind and find allegiance with your brand.
You have seen many people wearing those hard rock cafe t-shirts with pride; collecting them from different cities has even become a trend. This wearing of clothing is an emotional connection with the brand.
Merchandises give you a channel to build this connection and also helps people craft a positive sentiment towards your restaurant.
Additional Source of Revenue
Of course, this blog is about restaurant finance, and who doesn’t like additional revenue? Merchandise at its heart is a marketing tactic and not your cash cow, remember, that’s your successful restaurant. Merchandise could potentially become an additional source of revenue.
Depending on how large your organization is, you could even sell your merchandise outside your restaurants if you have that fanatic following.
Are you coming up with your very own everything-pumpkin menu this fall? Or are you supporting that upcoming pride parade in your town? Put that on some totes or t-shirts and give them out.
Your merchandise can also act as a way to communicate and pass on your company’s mission to your town or community.
Elevates the Experience
People love wearing your t-shirts or hats and come in for that Sunday brunch weekly without missing a beat. Perhaps they love your graffiti on the water-bottles so much, they want to Instagram it. Your merchandise can add to the experience of your audience when they come to you.
Further, even when they are waiting for their table, just browsing through your merchandise keeps them busy with their wallets out (Cracker Barrel built their whole business around this).
Merchandise Guidelines (AKA What Should I Sell?)
There are countless things you can sell, don’t worry, we will give you a detailed list below. What is most important is how you can make the right choices about the products you will sell. You do not want too many, and you do not want too few.
You want to get the right items that will propel your restaurant brand.
Keep the following factors in mind when you try to make your merchandise selection:
You do not want to give out products that last just a few days or weeks! The whole point of it is to “be in sight, be on the mind.” So, instead, choose t-shirts over flowers.
Remember when the pen was the king of merchandise, and no matter which conference, event, party, meeting you went to – you came home with a pen. There was a logic behind it – give something useful, and they will use your merchandise in their regular lives. USB, mugs, t-shirts, and so on are things that can be both useful and visual.
Not only will these items help accomplish a task, but they will remind the customer of your brand as well.
Try to select products that can easily fit into the 3S parameter: source, store, and sell. Do not choose a product that is exclusive and difficult to source, or if you do, make sure that you can get significant quantities within your desired timeline.
Getting bulky items will just add to your storage costs, and some merchandise does not have high enough margins to pay for that additional overhead. Be smart about inventory. I recommend avoiding inventory in general by utilizing a few dropship offerings.
For those of you who don’t know, dropshipping is a direct fulfillment method where a store doesn’t keep the products it sells in stock. Instead, when a store sells a product using the dropshipping model, it purchases the item from a third party and has it shipped directly to the customer.
This method results in the retailer not touching the finished product and is excellent for businesses that want to only brand t-shirts or coffee mugs.
Plan your selling space and channel, and keep that in mind when you select your merchandise. The dropshipping model even works if you want samples in your restaurant and simply ship out the products to your customers when they purchase.
Fitting to Your Image
If you are a restaurant that markets itself as a green practitioner and all things sustainable, then you want to sell sustainably sourced products.
Find merchandise that goes well with your restaurant’s brand identity. Most importantly, select products that you know your customers will purchase.
When you read the list of product examples, compare these to the merchandise guidelines we have outlined previously.
Follow our advice, and you may even have a shortlisted portfolio of products by the time you get to the end of this article.
This is something the customers could use to take their take-aways or left-overs in, and also use later.
Cups and Glassware
These are very versatile items for your restaurant or bar. Are you known for your exclusive scotch collection? Offer vintage branded glasses. Do people love your craft beer?
Let them shell out big bucks for those branded beer mugs (which are perfectly chilled in your at-home freeze).
T-shirts, tank tops, fun socks, ugly sweaters, and much more. The list is truly endless, find something that fits your brand – there is a lot you can do with this option.
Albeit expensive, it could be a short-term promotional item. Or you could also encourage returning it, and in the mean-time let the umbrella do its marketing.
Bottled Wine or Beer
To your surprise, many great companies let you label their wine or beer products with your brand for resale.
If you are a family restaurant, allure those kids to buy your toys, parents can rarely say no.
The golden arches have been winning over children for decades.
If you are a cafe or coffee shop, essentially a place where people usually work a lot – having diaries, notepads, branded post-its could be a good sell. You could also sell quirky calendars.
This is especially if you are in tourist-heavy areas. That one time at their favorite beach bar, or that evening in the Paris cafe, people love collecting memoirs from restaurants too.
Eiffel tower-shaped fridge magnet with your cafe’s name on it, famous BBQ sauce from the south with your brand logo, you could include some local elements of your area along with your restaurant elements and get creative with the items.
Merchandise Tricks to Making the Most Sales
To help you get started right, here are some additional tips and tricks to add to your repertoire.
Leverage Those Holidays or Seasons
The holiday seasons are notorious for merchandise sales. For example, it’s St.Patrick’s day, and you are an Irish pub; clearly, customers have their wallets out and want to get in the spirit of the holiday.
Take Christmas for example; what do those kids buy dad, who is the regular? They buy him a t-shirt to his favorite watering hole. Get in the holiday spirit and offer new swag or discounts to move products.
Get Digital About It
If you already have a website or any digital presence, make use of that digital presence to market and also sell your merch.
Those additional sales will only benefit you, and we will dive into how to set this up shortly.
Study Customer Traffic
There is usually a set pattern that all customers follow when they walk into your restaurant. They speak with the hostess, stare at your fantastic view or wall art as they walk in, get seated, and immediately dive into their dining experience.
Try to study these patterns so that you can leverage that behavior into dollars.
Make It Accessible
If you are selling children’s toys, you do not want to have high placement shelves where kids cannot reach. You do not want a customer to walk to the back of your restaurant to buy that shirt they wanted.
Be tactical about placement and accessibility.
Those notepads are selling super well, time to sell branded pens with them. Try to analyze what sells and what does not, and see how you can bundle them up or add products to boost sales.
Maintenance Is Key
Do not stock up your merchandise and simply forget about it. The last thing you want is the customers to see accumulated clutter and dust.
Placement is critical, analyze what is directly at eye level, and how changing installations and display affect the sales.
Keep up Your Branding
Make sure that your brand does not get lost in the creativity of the merch. If your bottle is covered with graffiti, make sure that it is themed according to your restaurant colors and has the name vividly written on it.
The whole point is to have cohesive brand marketing across your in-person, digital, and product experience.
How to Start Selling Merchandise Online
We cover the soup to nuts on how to set up a print on demand website for your restaurant in our blog post: Set Up a Print On Demand Website for Your Restaurant.
In the meantime, I will cover the board strokes here to help you get started.
Pick a Domain (If You Haven’t Already)
Make a list of 10-20 potential names, then use the Namecheap domain name finder to see if they’re available. If not, no worries! You can always add a modifier (an extra word) to the domain name. Get your .com for just $8.88 with Namecheap.
For example, if you want mybar.com but it’s already taken, you could try mybartown.com.
The other alternative here is if you already have a website and want to leverage its traffic and success into your merchandise endeavor, you can set up a shop.mybar.com or a shop.mybartown.com. This setup is a bit technical for newbies, but I am sure your friendly tech consultant can help you out.
Set up a Shopify Store
Shopify is hands down the easiest and best way to launch a digital merchandise business, or in other words, take your restaurant merchandise game to the next level.
We dive deep on how to set up a Shopify store for your restaurant in this post, but here are the highlights you need to know:
Benefits of Shopify
You don’t need to know how to code – Shopify walks you through the entire process with the click of a mouse.
Shopify lets you add your domain name (e.g., www.my-restaurant-store.com), hosts the store for you, and maintains the complicated ‘back office’ of the website.
Designing your store is easy, you can choose from 100s of existing themes and tweak them to your liking (again with the simple click of a mouse).
Shopify processes manage and track all your orders and payments, letting you focus on the business. All you have to do is plug in your bank account information so you can receive deposits.
All you need is 20 minutes to spare, a product to sell, and $29 per month. BUT there’s a 14-day free trial, and you needn’t enter any card details until you go live. You’re free to play around until then.
Get Started With a Free Theme
Shopify has more than 100 design templates, or ‘themes’ to customize your online store. Think of them as a starting point – you can tweak or modify the layouts, colors, and images as you go through the setup process to match your branding.
I recommend getting started with the ‘Express’ theme. It’s clean, simple, and is perfect for restaurants or bars just selling t-shirts.
In this article, I am recommending a free theme to get you online. Don’t worry; you can always change this out later and get a more robust paid theme that better suits your bludgeoning online restaurant brand.
Download Print on Demand App
Print on demand is a whole new way to run a restaurant’s online store. The best part? You do not need to buy a ton of inventory to get started.
When a customer buys a product from your store, you then place an order with a third-party supplier, who then ships the product to your customer. It gets even better, though; they also print your designs on your selected styles. It’s like you ordered custom T-Shirts for your restaurant, but only have to place one order at a time!
As far as the customer knows, the order comes straight from you. It just means your storage room or bedroom isn’t full of inventory boxes. You are virtually eliminating the most significant barrier to entry for bringing your restaurant merchandise business online.
To set this up in Shopify, I recommend using Printful. They are the #1 print on demand option available and perfectly designed for your restaurant and bar to start making money today.
Select Winning Products
What sets Printful apart from their competition? It’s merely, custom clothing without minimums. No longer are you making an order for 100 shirts at the local embroidery store? Now you can create custom clothing for both men and women within minutes.
Their collection of customizable clothing includes printed t-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, sweatshirts, embroidered shirts, and more. Is not it time you had branded mugs for your celebrated Sunday brunch? Printful has that too, and they do not stop there. Check out Printfuls selection today, get started with $0.
Make Money Online
In the past, one of the trickiest things about setting up an online store was taking payments. Luckily, Shopify makes this easy too. Shopify has two built-in payment gateways that you simply have to turn on.
Shopify is the quickest way to turn your dream of running an online store into a reality. It might seem daunting, but you’ll pick it up quickly! Get started at Shopify now.
Let me know if you’re already using Shopify or selling merchandise in the comments below. Or, if you have further questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.