If you’ve ever been to a business conference, chances are you likely came back carrying a lot of special insights and new connections on LinkedIn. But I’d bet my precious money that you left that event with a new tote bag, a water bottle, a small notepad or a pen.
Or maybe, if you’re still one of the cool kids (and you still got the knees for it), you really enjoy going to music concerts to catch your favorite bands. And right when you arrive or right after you’re leaving the venue, you just can’t stop yourself from buying that new band shirt to add to your collection.
If any of these examples ring a bell, then ring-a-ding-ding: These products are all merch.
Today, we’ll discuss all there is to know about how to sell merch: How to make your own merch, the perks of selling merch, which merch makers you should use and how you can add these products to your business. So grab the notepad from that conference, fill up your water bottle and let’s dive in.
What is merch?
When we talk about how to make merch and sell it online, we’re talking about creating custom merchandise. This is a process that involves taking a product that already exists (and has a high chance of being used by your clients) and stamping your brand’s logo or some other exclusive design on it.
Custom merch is different from products we normally associate with an online store. Just think about it: Different stores can sell the same product, but only one store can sell its own custom merchandise.
If that wasn’t clear, here’s an example:
Suppose you have a garment store and you’re sourcing products from an international supplier that also caters to plenty of other stores, and those other garment stores all target the same audience as you. If you all follow the same fashion trends, it’s very likely that there will be that one floral dress or that one knitted cardigan being sold simultaneously by everyone.
This happens because you’re all selling products. But if you expand your catalog to start selling merch, your business will be the only one selling that hoodie with your brand’s logo or exclusive design on it.
💡 Interested in building a fashion ecommerce? We can help!
🪙 Merch ideas
Before we move on to more specific topics such as how to make your own merch and how to sell those items, check out some merch ideas that can net you good money:
- Tote bags
- Enamel pins
- Wall art
- Mouse pads
- Notebooks or notepads
- Phone cases
The list is pretty big, right? Unfortunately, though, one of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs and creators that are looking to sell merch online make is that they usually stick to the basics: T-shirts. And while there’s no denying the power of a good t-shirt, the world of custom merch is way bigger than that.
Who can sell merch?
If you’ve been reading about selling custom merchandise online, chances are you’ve encountered lots of content talking about how merch is an important step for creators looking to foster their own brand.
And that’s 100% true: Creators that already have a consistent following on YouTube and TikTok tend to tackle the possibility of selling merchandise because it’s a way for them to sell something more tangible than the content they’re consistently putting out.
However, online businesses of every size can also reap some good results with a merch-oriented sales approach, without necessarily having to create a separate merch store.
💡 Want to know more about selling on YouTube, TikTok and other social media before learning how to make merch? Then don’t miss the posts (and video!) below:
- How to Make Money on Pinterest: Everything You Need to Know
- Writing the Perfect Instagram Bio to Attract Followers
- How to Use Instagram Hashtags for Likes and Traffic
- Quick Guide: Get Ready To Sell On Social Media
- How Do I Use YouTube to Boost My Sales?
- Use TikTok Business to Build your Power Business Community
Benefits of selling merch
Now that we’ve covered the basic definition of merchandise, listed some custom merch ideas and indicated that merch is not a business idea exclusive to creators, you’re probably starting to contemplate the possibility of making your own merch.
To strengthen this possibility, let’s check out why selling your own merchandise can be a good idea for your business:
It’s perfect for expanding your reach
Looking for ideas on how to increase traffic and sales without necessarily spending money with paid traffic? Then merch might just do the trick.
Because of their visual appeal, they’re great items to display on social media along with branded hashtags or as a part of other marketing strategies. You can partner with an influencer or creator your fans love and have them display your merch on their profile, too.
It’s a great tool for fostering a sense of community
Creators are usually more inclined to sell merch in the first place because they already have an engaged audience that views itself as a community of sorts: They’re all supporting the person they admire, helping them create videos and quality content.
This is a good strategy to implement for your existing brand, so try to think in terms of using merch to tell a story and create meaningful connections with your customers and fans. It can be as simple as stamping a relatable meme on a T-shirt or as intricate as designing keychains—it’ll all depend on what your audience wants.
A masterclass on how to make merch and sell: The poet Rupi Kaur sells merch on her website that ranges from tapestries with her poems to clothing items and candles to create an ambience at home, which is in line with her brand.
It can work as a new revenue stream
As we said earlier, merch is not like other products that you normally sell in your store. Because it’s a highly customizable item, it’s also something that only your store can offer—and that’s exactly why entrepreneurs who are looking for a new revenue stream for their store should probably learn how to make merch.
Having good quality merch to sell can help you increase sales and diversify your income since you’ll have more to rely on other than usual products. If all goes well, you’ll have more money to invest in marketing strategies and other actions aimed at growing your business. Heck, you might even be able to invest in high-potential niches and hidden ecommerce markets.
It’ll do wonders for customer acquisition
Nothing says “we’re a clique” quite like merch. And you know that who’s out always wants in, right?
That’s exactly why you should start selling merchandise online: It’ll help you construct a cool brand that sells awesome merch. And, if you can curate your social media, your message and the photos of your products just right, you’ll be able to create that brand that everyone’s so eager to follow and to buy from.
🪙 Bonus tip for entrepreneurs looking to sell merch
Selling merch also makes for a flow of user-generated content, especially if you’re able to really foster a sense of community among your fans and customers. And the best part is that you can channel all of that into an organic marketing strategy.
Create a cute little plush bear for Valentine’s and dress it in a miniature merch shirt, and then generate a branded hashtag for that special day. You can encourage customers to post photos of themselves with their valentines and the bear, too. That content will make for some pretty cute Instagram campaigns.
How to make merch?
Now on to the specifics of how to make merch.
To start selling merch in your online store, first you’ll need to make some business decisions that will help you set up shop and create a strong merch strategy.
Pen and paper ready? Good, so let’s get to it:
1. A strong visual identity
Branding is a crucial element to any online store, and it revolves mainly around creating a coherent and enticing identity for your brand.
Having a good branding strategy will help you define your logo, your company’s tone of voice, the design of your packaging, your email marketing design, your website’s contact form and about page, what you post on social media and so much more.
It will also dictate how you make your own merch because it’ll serve as a nice starting point to figure out the designs that’ll be printed on your store’s merch.
Here’s why: Selling merchandise online is, as we’ve explained, a way to sell branded items. This means that a huge part of your merch collection will include products with your brand’s logo on them.
Take Canadian-based coffee shop Kicking Horse Coffee, for instance. They have a whole “Kickass Goods” section on their website, where they sell different merch for customers. Their Dreamer mug has a sleek design that’s aligned with the overall style and logo of their brand:
☕ Make merch that goes one step further
We’ll still talk a little bit more about design ideas, but it’s worth noting that you can also take a page from Blenz Coffee and create merch with a special twist—featuring not just the brand’s logo but exclusive art made by a local artist, too.
2. A social-oriented approach
The second thing you should keep in mind when deciding how to make merch is that one little word that starts with an E and ends with a T: engagement.
Selling merch is, first and foremost, a sales strategy that is based on engagement: The more your customers engage with your brand, the higher their disposition to buy merch. Not only that, the higher your overall engagement levels on social media, the higher the chances of building a tight-knit community that makes new and existing fans more inclined to buy what you’re selling.
As we’ve mentioned above, selling merch is also a great way to foster and amplify a store’s user-generated content ― which means that your main arena will, of course, be social media. That’s where you’ll collect all that content, and where you’ll post and share most of it, too.
💡 Before we move on to other important aspects you need to know in order to start to sell merch, check out how to create interactive posts on social media.
3. Audience research
Before you actually get down to business and start to make merch, take a couple of steps back and really look at your audience. Do they really want merch?
Or, even better: Are they predisposed to buy merch? If so, which items are they more likely to buy?
Those are important questions to ask yourself because they’ll help you align your planning with your customer’s shopping intentions.
Remember: You need merch that is coherent with your brand. There’s probably no use in spending time and money creating enamel pins if you have a shoe store that targets forty-something adults. However, enamel pins can be good merch to have if you’re a stationery shop targeting young adults.
4. A sustainable business model that fits your needs
Knowing how to make merch also involves figuring out the best business model for you. To make this decision, you’ll need to consider a lot of things, such as:
- How much you’re willing to invest
- How much time can be spent daily on your business
- What are the goals you want to achieve
- What is feasible, logistically speaking (mainly, how you’ll handle thorny aspects such as shipping solutions and warehousing)
🖨️ The combo of your dreams: print on demand + dropshipping
Dropshipping has been around for some time now, and the reason why it’s still a successful ecommerce business model is pretty simple: It requires no upfront investment in terms of warehousing, shipping or product manufacture.
All in all, dropshipping works like this:
- The store owner picks a dropshipping supplier and adds the products they want to sell in their store. These products are already manufactured by the supplier.
- The customer places an order in the store.
- The store owner then forwards this order to the supplier, together with the customer’s shipping details.
- The supplier ships the product directly to the final customer.
And print on demand, for its part, can work as a dropshipping solution for entrepreneurs who want to make merch.
Much like dropshipping, print on demand also involves pretty much the same process: Your customer places an order, and this order is sent to a third party who’s responsible for the fulfillment infrastructure. The main difference is that, instead of picking up a product that’s already made, the print-on-demand supplier will pick up the selected merch and stamp your branding or exclusive design on that product.
In other words, the print-on-demand supplier will be your merch maker.
While you can always manufacture your own merch, it should be noted that this is a much more costly way to go about it because you’ll need to manage the whole operation from end to end.
Just think about it: Sourcing all the items that will be turned into merch, from water bottles to phone cases, and then renting a space to store all of that, purchasing the printing machinery to stamp your logo or special designs on those items… It’s a lot, and it can get you into some unnecessary debt.
Guess what? We can help you make your own merch and sell it!
If you’ve stumbled across this post because you were looking for info on how to make merch, and the idea of working with the print-on-demand/dropshipping model is exactly what you were looking for, we’ve got great news!
You can do all of that right here, on Shoplazza.
Our dedicated ecommerce platform can help you pick out products and start selling pretty fast, without having to think too much about coding or anything HTML-related. You can create and design your store with just a few clicks, and we have many innovative apps that will make managing a business what it should be: An exciting journey, not a nightmare.
💡 Here’s a couple of dropshipping reads for you to catch up with while sketching out plans for making your own merch:
- Is Dropshipping Legal?
- Global Product Sourcing: Dropshipping 2.0
- The Best Dropshipping Products to Sell and Make Money in 2023
- How to Scale Your Online Business with Dropshipping in 2023
- Syncee: 5M+ dropshipping products with fast shipping from US and EU suppliers
5. Pick your merch maker
If you decide to work with the print-on-demand business model for your dedicated merch store or the online store you already have, then you’ll need to pick out a merch maker.
This is a big part of setting up your business to sell merch, so be sure to try out a couple of options before you settle on one maker. Remember to order some product samples from all the suppliers you’re considering, to check whether you’re satisfied with the overall quality, customer service and shipping methods.
💡 There are plenty of merch makers and other dedicated platforms where you can create a merch store, but we definitely recommend expanding the business you already have and just selling merch as a special collection. That way, you’ll be able to target the customers you already have and that already know your brand.
Where to make merch?
The great thing about working with print on demand to make your own merch is that the whole creation process can happen online and without much hassle.
To make your life easier, we’ve picked out 5 of the best sites where you can create merchandise and get them all ready for the fulfillment stage.
1. Printify: The #1 free merch maker
Printify is a pretty popular merch maker that’s been around for quite some time now. Their website is really intuitive, and you can create merch for free, with no upfront payment required.
If you don’t wanna take our word for it, just check the tutorial below:
2. Canva: User-friendly free merch maker
You can’t go wrong with Canva, right?
One of the most well-known design websites out there, Canva has recently expanded and started working with t-shirt mockups and even a dedicated solution for people interested in learning how to make merch.
The best part is that Canva also offers fast and free shipping options, not to mention that they work exclusively with sustainable materials―which can be a great hook for your green marketing strategy, too.
3. Merchly: Minimalist merch maker
Merchly might be the best merch maker for you if you’re looking to make merch that is more on the minimalist side.
However, Merchly it’s not exactly a print-on-demand solution because they work with bulk orders. They do offer a special price, though, so it might be worth checking them out if you’re planning on doing an in-person sales event anytime soon.
4. PrintDoors: A Shoplazza parter
Not to toot our own horn or anything, but Shoplazza also has two pretty stellar merch makers, and one of them is PrintDoors.
This merch maker has been in the print-on-demand business for ages and offers solid, good-quality items. It’s also 100% free to use, so you can try them out for yourself and see if you’re satisfied with what they offer.
5. HugePOD: A Shoplazza partner
The second merch maker that we have here at Shoplazza is HugePOD, a merch maker that’s an ideal fit for small brands and start-ups in the fashion industry.
They have a huge selection of t-shirts that you can work with to make your own merch, and their design tools are free and easy to use.
🪙 Hey, how much does it cost to make merch?
To make this calculation, you’ll need to consider both your merch maker fees and how you’ll price all that merch in your store.
As a rule of thumb, keep in mind that, in the dropshipping model, the store owner keeps the difference between the wholesale price and retail price as profit. This means that if you’re selling a dress for $25, but you’re paying $13 for it on your supplier’s site, you’ll have a $12 profit.
A similar situation will happen with a print-on-demand business.
Design ideas to make your own merch
Now that you know how to make merch, keep in mind that you don’t have to work exclusively with your brand’s logo. You can also create great merch with some of the design ideas below:
Meme-fy your merch
If your brand is a bit more on the playful side and sells products for a younger audience, why not enjoy the success of that internet staple we now call memes?
You can also adjust and adapt viral content if you think that’s something your audience will recognize and enjoy.
Unsure about how to make this happen? Just take a page from podcasts that sell merch as a way for listeners to support their work. You’re Wrong About, for instance, has fantastic content and amazing merch that includes one-liners and running jokes from the show.
Partner with local artists
Remember that mug from Blenz Coffee? It was pretty cute, right? And it didn’t look at all like your standard merch.
That’s because the brand partnered with a series of local artists to create special designs for their merchandise. Another great idea is to make merch with a special purpose, like for partnership with an NGO or to raise awareness about a social issue you’re passionate about.
Make merch for special milestones
Creating special items for special milestones is another great idea for entrepreneurs who want to make merch, especially since it’ll help strengthen that sense of community we were talking about.
Consider dates and other milestones that people can understand and empathize with, like the brand’s three-year anniversary, for instance.
After you make your own merch, promote it!
Knowing how to make merch is great, but it can’t hurt to check out some tips on how to sell it, too, right? So take a look at the ones we’ve selected below.
- Create a dedicated page for all that merch. Don’t put your merch together with all the other items of your store: Treat them as a special collection of sorts and create dedicated product pages and product descriptions for them. That way, customers and visitors will understand right away the difference between products.
- Highlight your merch collection on Instagram. Brands use Instagram Highlights for a number of different reasons, so why not create one just to display your merch? This will help followers check out all of your merch without having to leave Instagram.
- Create a special link to put on YouTube videos. Already building that YouTube following? That’s awesome! Put links for your merch on your video descriptions and remember to mention them during the video. It also can’t hurt to use some of that merch on the video as well. You can also go live and do a merch giveaway!
- Consider special promo codes. Customers love special promos, and you can take advantage of that with limited-time-offer coupons valid only for merch. Announce them via email and social media. Oh, and remember to create special announcements on your website, too, to guide visitors and make their shopping journey as smooth as possible.
Even YouTube knows how important it is for a brand to make merch and sell online.
More merch = more sales potential
Now you have everything you need to start selling custom merch online: All the tools, some burning tips and even some inspo to get you started.
Selling merch is selling your brand’s missions, values and identity. It’s about fostering a sense of community, and it’s about making your customers relate to your very special messaging.