PewDiePie earns $8 million a year - 85% of his earnings are from merch sales. Aside from that, he has the most engaged subscribers in the world. If those are not enough to convince you to sell your own shirts, I don't know what will.
In this write-up, the founder of shirt.ly - who has been a shirt entrepreneur for 10 years - breaks down how to sell merch the traditional way and how to sell merch in 2020.
Part I - Ready for merch?
Part II - Shirt design ideas that sell like hot cakes
Part III - How to sell merch the traditional way
Part IV - How to sell merch in 2020
Part V - How to promote your merch
PART I: Ready for merch?
There has never been a better time to be a Youtuber.
One of those huge opportunities is selling merch online.
As Flipinos watch more Youtube content, they are also becoming more comfortable with online shopping. By 2025, the gross merchandise value of online shopping in Southeast Asia will be $153 billion.
Even better, Youtube is now helping US and EU-based Youtubers sell merch through Merch shelf. It's a matter of time until Youtube Philippines offers that (we think) - so the best time to start selling shirts and stuff is now.
Top Youtubers earn more from merch than ad revenue.
Merch can easily be a supplementary source of income, you might think.
Actually, if you can create highly compelling products for a highly engaged community - it can become your primary source of income like PewDiePie.
According to a study by Purple Moon Promotional Products, PewDiePie "rakes in nearly $8 million in monthly revenue, including more than $6.8 million from selling merchandise and more than $1.1 million in advertising." Yes, PewDiePie earns more from merch than ad revenue. Source: PRWeek
In fact, these top 10 earners on Yotube have higher revenues from product sales than ad revenues:
Numbers don't lie. Selling merch can bring in even bigger bucks!
Merch brings communities together.
People actively look for merch of their favorite shows. It's a matter of time before your subscribers ask for yours!
"Merch is the physical connection we have with our fans all around the Philippines. Many of them don't get to see us, but our merch makes them feel that they are part of our community." - from an interview with a prominent band vocalist
As your subscriber count rises to 100,000 and more, merch will play a big role in bringing your community together.
Are you ready to sell your own merch?
Not everyone is ready to sell merch yet. If you are just starting, it would be wiser to focus on building your audience before selling merch. Here are the questions you want to ask to know if you're ready:
PART II: Shirt design ideas that sell like hot cakes
Creating sellable t-shirt designs is more art than science. There is no formula, but once you catch the idea at the perfect time, you'll know it. Here are some success stories that may inspire you:
Using your channel logo and your community name
With 591,000 Facebook likers and 524,000 Youtube subscribers, Team Spartan members (communit name) definitely loved these logo shirts and caps from Bisayang Hilaw. His weekly videos revolve around showing how amazing this country is. Within 2 years, he has become fluent in the Bisaya and Hiligaynon language.
Bisayang Hilaw merch is very simple and straightforward - yet deeply rooted in the culture of the Team Spartan community. He uses white and black shirts with one color prints on them, and a cap that simply says "Bisayang Hilaw." Logo merch is for Youtubers who have highly engaged community members.
Using catch phrases and community lingo from your channel
The pup with "odd sleeping position" Paningning rose into international stardom after getting featured on so many media sites. It all started with a post on Facebook group Dog Lovers Philippines by her owner Ms. Janess Cua - who was also featured on our blog here! Paningning now has 123,000 followers on Instagram and 9000 subscribers on Youtube.
Paningning merch is all about insider catch phrases and jokes. If you are having a tough day, follow Paningning and you will see captions like "Today is a perfect day to be happy. Good vibes only" and "Dreams do come true. Keep sleeping!" This is exactly the reason why her bestselling shirt is the Mondays Be Like shirt.
Bold and simple designs win
We've seen hundreds of Youtubers - both local and international - sell merch. The most common theme among their top selling shirts is that they are simple and bold. This is exactly what Casey Neistat does with his merch.
Using Canva's awesome t-shirt templates
If you are having a hard time thinking of shirt design ideas, we highly recommend using Canva's templates. They have so many t-shirt design templates that will give you unlimited design ideas. The only thing you need to do is inject your own content and you can download a shirt design in minutes.
Listen to your audience
Sometimes the best ideas are already in your comment section! Browse your video comments now and check the bits and catch phrases that are liked the most by your subscribers. Chances are - these are your best shirt design ideas!
If you want to go even further, you can always conduct a Twitter poll to see which among your ideas is the best. You should also ask your Youtube subscribers to comment their best merch ideas in the comment section.
PART III: How to sell merch the traditional way
Ask any traditional shirt-seller about their experience with starting and running a traditional t-shirt business and they’ll tell you about the hassle they go through every single day.
Nothing worth doing is easy. But truthfully, it is not supposed to be that difficult. Here is a breakdown of how to start selling merch the traditional way.
How to get shirts made
Hire an agent. Agents are individuals who have a vast network of suppliers and manufacturers. They can get it done whatever your merch requirements are - with a hefty cut. Their minimum order quantity is 50 pcs per design. The cost per shirt can be as high as 300 pesos, so the initial investment for just one design can go up to 15,000 pesos.
Work with a backyard printer. Backyard printers have enough equipments to deliver hundreds of shirts at a time. They use traditional silk screen printing methods and would require a minimum order quantity of 20 to 50 pcs per design. Because they rely heavily manual labor, prices are not standardized and lead times are not accurate. The cost per shirt is around 200 to 250 pesos, so the initial investment for just one design is around 12,000 pesos.
Work with a big printer. Big printers can manufacture thousands of shirts in a day. They have complex and expensive equipments that can accomodate various types of prints. Especially during the peak season, they do not accept orders below 100 pcs per design. The cost per shirt is around 150 to 200 pesos, so the initial investment is around 20,000 pesos for just one design.
Do-it-your-own. With an initial investment of 50,000 to 100,000 pesos, you can set-up a basic printing station at home. Printing methods are limited to transfer paper and vinyl prints - both of which require heat presses. You're going to need at least 2 employees to efficiently source materials and print approximately 50 shirts a day. 2 minimum-wage employees would incur a fixed expense of 21,000 pesos per month, plus other fixed expenses, inventory and operating capital.
How to collect orders from customers
PM sent is real. As much as we want to automate online shopping, many shoppers still prefer messaging ordering via Messenger, Instagram DMs or Viber. You will miss a lot of sales opportunities if you don't respond to shoppers through PMs. This may consume your whole day having someone else to do it for you is a must.
Shopify. Anyone can create a Shopify store - from a backyard merchant to a big costemics company like Kylie Cosmetics. With Shopify, you can automate your online orders, design your storefront, connect with different payment channels and automatically update your shoppers with order statuses. There is $29/month fee though to create a basic account.
Meetups and bazaars. If you have boxes of inventory, sell merch during meetups and bazaars can be a good idea. Selling during meetups does not involve any fixed cost while selling in bazaars may cost 10,000 to 25,000 pesos depending on which bazaar.
How to collect payments
Manual bank deposits and remittances. This is the process that involves sending your bank account details to shoppers and asking for photos of the deposit slip. The same goes for bayad center payments via Cebuana Lhuillier, M Lhuillier or Palawan. These manual processes are very time consuming and inefficient.
Digital wallets. A more convenient way to collect payments is sending your digital wallet address to shoppers or integrating the wallets to your Shopify store. The most prominent digital wallets locally are Paypal, Gcash, PayMaya and coins.ph. Unfortunately, most shoppers do not have digital wallets. In our opinion, it's just a matter of time. Everyone in the Philippines will most likely have a digital wallet soon.
Dragonpay. Among all these options, this is most efficient way to collect payments. Dragonpay is a payment solutions app that is integrated with all the major banks, bayad centers, LBC, 711, GCash, and more. There is a one-time set-up fee worth 36,000 pesos though.
Cash on Delivery. Cash on Delivery is the most preferred payment option in the Philippines (Approximately 80-90% of online purchases are paid via COD). Many up and coming third party logistics companies offer this as a service. Unfortunately, the big down-side of COD is returns (10-20% industry standard). These companies still charge delivery fees for returned orders.
The most common reason for COD returns are the following: (1) Shopper has no money at the moment (2) Shopper is not answering the rider's call and (3) Shopper is not at home.
Meetups. Meetups is the "old school" way of collecting payments from shoppers. This process involves physical meetups at train stations or fast food branches. For shoppers who are worried about sending money online or receiving inaccurate items, meetups is still the payment method of choice.
How to pack your merch
Don't forget the importance of having good packaging. If you are just about to begin, having blank plastic pouches is okay but make sure it's decent and presentable.
Make sure that all the items are safe during the rainy season. If you reach a certain volume of orders, consider getting custom pouches made. The minimum order quantity of custom pouches like the one below is about 10,000 to 15,000 pieces.
How to deliver your merch
Doing the deliveries on your own - like meetups - is very inefficient. Likewise building your fleet of delivery riders is quite expensive. Because of these, working with third party logistics provider is a must.
Branch drop-offs. Established logistics companies like LBC and JRS have branches where you can drop-off packages. This process can take a lot of time - possibly hours if you have more than 20 packages.
Corporate accounts. When you reach a steady volume of orders per day (20-30 packages), you can create corporate accounts with big logistics companies like Ninja Van and LBC. Your account will be handled by an account manager who can help you with delivery concerns. Payment for delivery fees can be stretched up to 30 to 60 days.
Home pickups. Up-and-coming logistics companies offer home pickups - and don't require a minimum # of packages. Waybills have to be prepared and a delivery rider will simply pick them up. This is more efficient than branch drop-offs. Black arrow, Xend and J&T express are the top-of-mind companies for home pickups.
There are more logistics companies not mentioned above. Pick the ones with good reviews and referrals from friends. Also, try every company you can find until you find one that works well for you.
How to provide good customer service
Keep your product descriptions accurate. Fill in your product description as accurate as you can. Include photos and textile compositions of your merch. Include the printing process. Better accuracy decreases returns & exchanges problems.
Do not overpromise delivery lead times. If your lead time is 4-6 business days, stick to it and never overpromise. Shoppers don't mind 1 to 2 weeks of waiting (if you sell made-to-order merch) just as long as you stick within your promised lead times.
Use an external app for customer service. Integrate all your social media accounts to an external customer service app like Front. It has metrics and analytics that will allow you to measure how well you are performing.
Keep your response time within 3 hours. Shoppers start getting agitated if they have to wait more than 3 hours for a single reply. If you can't do this on your own, we suggest having someone else to do it for you.
Polish your Returns & Exchange processes. Every now and then, you will encounter an irate shopper because of a wrong item, rude delivery rider, etc. Human error is normal, but you must have a system for responding and processing these concerns.
Learn how to appease irate shoppers. As you start doing customer service work, you will notice that in order to appease irate shoppers, you have to go the extra mile. Experiment on ways on how to appease them until you find tactics that work.
PART IV: How to sell shirts in 2020
I know what you're thinking. Selling merch the traditional way is a time-consuming, labor-intensive and inventory-based venture. As a shirt entrepreneur for almost 10 years already, this is the reason why I started shirt.ly in 2014.
Enter shirt.ly marketplace
In a nutshell, we curate shirts and various merch created by Philippine-based artists, content creators, influencers and communities. By supporting shirt.ly, shoppers are supporting the labor of local creators, manufacturers, marketers and delivery personnel.
Made-to-order production model. All orders made on http://marketplace.shirt.ly are made-to-order. We only produce items once orders have been placed. Our merch store owners do not spend a single centavo on inventory.
End-to-end fulfilment. From sourcing items from local and international fabric makers to our door-to-door Cash on Delivery service, we take care of the dirty work behind merch stores. There is literally zero hassle in this process. All you need to do as a Youtuber is create content for the designs and promote your merch store. Here is a sample: shirtly.ph/bisayanghilaw.
Easy-to-understand cost structure. Our cost structure is in favor of Youtubers. Say our base price is 299 pesos and you decide to sell each merch at 700 pesos. You'll literally get 401 pesos for each shirt sold. There's no need to think about complicated royalty or costing computations.
Discounts for personal-use orders. Let's say you have a meetup and you want to sell 10 pieces of shirts to 10 lucky subscribers. No worries, we can do that for you. We'll just ship those 10 items to you at a discounted price and you're good to go.
Cash on Delivery Nationwide. To deliver your items, our own delivery team (SLX - shirt.ly express) will take charge for orders within Metro Manila, Laguna, Cavite, Rizal and Bulacan. For areas outside those, we have a direct partnership with LBC and Ninja Van.
Totally free to sign up and get started. Yes, you don't need to pay anything to create a Merch store. We only earn when you earn. There's just a screening process for Merch stores here.
Why shirt.ly is the platform of choice
You may have seen other brands and platforms offering collabs. Here is why shirt.ly marketplace is the platform of choice:
We ship in volumes. We have shipped over 100,000 pieces of apparel for the past 4 years. If you are worried about capacity, we can handle high volume of orders.
You are allowed to publish as many shirt designs as you want. Selling merch is all about design experimentation. The first design you will release will most probably not your top-selling design. With us, you can launch as many as 20 designs at one go.
You are in charge of your profit. We are not going to dictate how much your products will be sold at. You have the final say when it comes to pricing.
Our shirts become viral. We have many posts that have received thousands of comments and shares. Our followers (100,000 on Facebook so far) is highly engaged with our content.
Our Customer Feedback score is high. Even with volume, we are able to maintain the quality of our service (See photo below). That's because most of our supply chain processes are done in-house.
Customer Feedback Score on Facebook
PART V: How to promote your merch
If you have a highly engaged audience, promoting your merch is easy-peasy. But if you are looking for some best practices done by other Youtubers, here are some.
Create a separate IG page for merch. Promoting your merch all the time on your main IG account won't look good - as you already know. What you can do is to create a separate IG account where you can post lifestyle photos or photos from your subscribers wearing your merch.
Include your merch store URL on your social media posts. Inserting that link at the middle or bottom part of your social media captions won't hurt!
Link in bio when you have new designs. Your link in bio might be very busy but it would be worth it to put in your merch store URL 2-3 days after releasing new designs.
Encourage your audience to post a photos of them wearing your merch. Ask them to tag your merch IG page and repost all their photos! This is a smart move that would entice more people to buy and fill your merch page with new content.