Recently the Brewers Association shared an article, “Diving Deeper on Brewpub Sales Strategies,” in which the author discusses ways to raise check averages, including:
- Implementing table service
- Retail sales and higher-priced options
- Employee incentives and competitions
Real-world examples from the Brewers Association Brewpubs Committee give business owners and managers an inside look on what is and isn’t working to grow sales during a summer when overall consumer confidence is low. We were particularly interested in the strategies for building a successful merchandise program, which apply universally to all craft beverage producers, especially those with a local tasting room or a mature online store. But what about craft businesses with existing retail that just isn’t moving fast enough?
Time for a Merchandise 2.0 Strategy.
It’s natural for owners and managers to feel proud of the craft beverage business they have built. That pride often translates to brewing what they want to drink, decorating the way they like, etc. We call this the “Clubhouse Effect,” where owners basically want a place to hang out and drink with their friends. The same could be said about early merchandise offerings for the tasting room: would the owner wear or use it? Let’s call this Merchandise 1.0, and it’s a place to start but not to end a successful merchandise selling story.
Very few craft producers today will survive with a bullheaded approach to business. Drinkers have too many options. If your business isn’t offering something for everyone, it’s immediately a tougher sell. We’ve seen this time and time again with tasting rooms who have gotten past the first 3-5 years in business: they make it easy for new drinkers to say yes. Yes to beverage selection (including low- and no-alc options). Yes to tasting room environment. Yes to entertainment options. And yes to branded merchandise as a means of telling the world outside the tasting room that they’re a fan. Even if management would themselves say no.
Merchandise 2.0 strategies shift from inward (what I want) to outward (what the customer wants) thinking. You may have already done this with your beverage menu and maybe even your décor. But have you used the same filters for retail? It’s time to take a hard look at your merchandise and why it’s not selling. Below we dive into common issues with the slow movers and offer quick ways to improve sales:
- Offerings are stale: has the same hoodie been on the shelf since you opened your doors? If you have a wearable or similar product that hasn’t moved in months, consider taking it down. You can always re-introduce it down the road or rotate it in seasonally. Changing up your selections causes customers to pause and consider buying what’s new.
- Selections aren’t relevant: what’s trending right now in wearables, novelty and other merchandise? For example, it’s not enough to offer a “Women’s Graphic T-Shirt” when your options could be collared, knot crop, boyfriend/oversized, round or V-neck, cold shoulder, striped…you get the idea. Think about smaller runs of different options to test and learn what works for your current customer, as well as what might attract a new customer.
- Visuals aren’t arresting: ask your graphics artist or designer to help you push the limits of your brand. Consider spending the time and money to produce a Brand Book: a set of guidelines for color, font/type and logo usage serving as a filter for all Marketing efforts. Stay away from politics, greenwashing or similar controversial topics as these are polarizing and have a short shelf life.
- Personality is lacking: beyond the brand basics is the story being told by your merchandise. How is your business different from others? This is a tough one, because “personality” could mean a lot of different things. If the brand is built around the owner or Production Team, is their voice reflected? And if the personality is bigger than the individual(s), is it easy for a customer to immediately associate merchandise items with your brand?
- Badge value isn’t there: do the words and visuals give a nod to something only a customer would understand? Lean into inside stories that stoke a sense of pride in the customer, fueling ambassadorship for the brand.
- Price is an issue: a general rule of thumb is doubling your wholesale cost to determine retail price, but that’s not always the best approach. If you want to have people wearing your branded clothing or walking their dog with a branded leash, consider underpricing the item to move. Or specialty items with a perceived higher value could be priced at a premium to match.
- Quality isn’t there: in every aspect of your business, you’re likely searching for the highest-quality inputs – ingredients, team members, decorations and entertainment – you can afford to provide best-possible outputs – craft beverages served by knowledgeable staff in a comfortable environment. Merchandise is no different: invest in a level of quality one-up from what you would typically use/wear, if budget allows.
- Team isn’t wearing: want your new or seasonal items to move? Put it in the hands (or on the backs) of your frontline team members. If the item isn’t part of their normal dress, it will stand out to return customers. And it’s an excellent opportunity to upsell new customers who have a great experience in your tasting room.
- Not cross-promoted: make a merchandise purchase part of the natural tasting room experience! If it’s the rule versus the exception, [new] customers will be faced with talking themselves out of buying something rather than the opposite, harder sell. Promote bundles (discounted beverage and merchandise purchase); frequently post drinks and merchandise together; and clearly display merchandise within sight of the entrance/exit, bar ordering position or restroom (seriously!). Point is to attract as many eyeballs to your offerings as possible (without shoving it down customers’ throats).
- No sense of urgency: if the same merchandise is always available, customers have less incentive to buy today. “I can always buy it next visit,” they may say. Keeping inventory fresh is one way to disrupt that thinking. Also using phrases like, “limited run,” “special item,” and “until they’re gone” help push customers over the edge to “yes” more quickly.
choosing what to sell
Have you noticed: nearly everything can and probably has been branded? Every possible surface that can hold a logo, URL, #hashtag or social @handle has likely been used for some advertising message. Which is why companies like 4imprint.com and VistaPrint.com exist. We know – we’ve used both twice in the last two weeks!! But just because you can brand it doesn’t mean you SHOULD brand it. What branded merchandise is most relevant to your customer? Which items are the best canvas for telling your unique story? Grab a glass and try this exercise for yourself. Take a half an hour to list every possible way you could imagine your business branding merchandise for sale in the tasting room. Then prune that list down using the “would the current/new customer buy” filter. Did it cut the list in half? And why did branded baby onesies not make the cut?!
To make it easier, our team did the same exercise and you can find the results below. Different brands, different geographies and different target customers will make your list look a little different, and that’s okay! Point is to start with an outside perspective on what merchandise you should offer and fine-tune your strategy from there. We’ll group ideas from most-to-least obvious with the goal of broadening the scope of what’s possible (and profitable):
- Clothing: remember to buy on-trend styles in both men’s/women’s/unisex sizes. Examples include: short- and long-sleeve t-shirts, polos, work shirts, hoodies, pullovers, shells, jackets, raincoats, windbreakers, hats, beanies, scarves, jerseys, socks, bandanas and pajamas. Avoid branded logo clothing in kids’ sizes – this could be viewed as advertising to the underage. As for the baby onesie, that’s in-bounds if geared towards adults/parents.
- Drinkware: when they’re not drinking in your tasting room, make it easy for customers to enjoy a branded experience at home! Examples include: koozies, can/bottle covers, insulated crowlers, glassware, decanters, shakers, mixing sets, tap handles, bottle stoppers, coasters, racks, chalkboards, shot glasses, openers. Consider bundling drinkware with a to-go purchase like a crowler or bottle.
- Decoration and Home: find ways to extend the brand beyond the bar setting. Examples include: branded artwork, recycled decorations, stickers, books, coffee table pieces, puzzles, flags, banners, calendars, photo frames, [board] games, drip spoons, plaques, recipe books, grill tools, [neon] signage and winter ornaments.
- Sports: what sports do your customers participate in, and at what level? Craft businesses with a road bike clientele may be very different from those geared towards mountain bikers. And within that it’s important to understand how casual or serious an enthusiast they are when you purchase merchandise. When in doubt, lean into casual, more social sports. Examples include: water bottles, bike covers, frisbees, corn hole, sport packs, duffels, coolers, sports towels, golf balls, tools and stickers.
- Pets: did you know that Americans spent an estimated $100 billion on their pets last year? While most of that goes to food and vet bills, there is a huge amount of discretionary income being spent on “comfort” items. Examples include: clothing, jackets, covers, leashes, water dishes, bandanas and chew toys. Like in our baby onesie example, who wouldn’t stop to compliment you on your well-dressed pup – a walking billboard for your business!
- Practical: sometimes the most obvious choices for relevant branding are those items we use every day. Examples include: COVID masks, stationary, thermos, reusable [grocery] bags, keychains, travel accessories, bags, backpacks, purses, carryalls, coffee/camping mugs, towels, blankets, umbrellas, chairs, playing cards, lip balm and hand sanitizer.
- Office: during COVID and beyond, more people are working remotely. Help outfit their home office with examples that include: phone covers, office organizers, USB drives, tablet covers and vinyl skins for electronics.
- Makers: support your customer’s interest in the art and science behind craft beverage! There are hobbyists out there who want to make beer, wine, cider, mead, kombucha and other fermentables (whiskey is a little different story). Selling a DIY kit, ingredients and a recipe book will not cannibalize tasting room sales, quite the opposite: you are further cementing your relationship with a drinker-turned-enthusiast.
- Novelty: this category is only limited by your creativity and what will sell. It’s important not to get too novel – if drinkers have to spend too much time/energy understanding something, they will lose interest. But some successful examples include: bobbleheads, sunglasses, pins, magnets, Bluetooth speakers, patches, skis, snowboards, skateboards. Here in Denver, we’d be stoked to see your brand on a pair of fat skis 😉
sell your merchandise online
You will open up new revenue streams when you start selling branded items on your website. Just like your [mobile-responsive] website introduces you to new drinkers looking for a “tasting room near me,” so too will a great-looking t-shirt or branded drinkware attract the eye of new customers. The difference is online retail customers may or may not ever step foot in your business. Selling online is not easy, otherwise every craft producer would be doing it. However, it’s more straightforward than most think and you CAN make money. It comes down to a business decision of whether or not you want to mail items to customers or just allow order-ahead for pickup.
Still not convinced? Chances are if you use a Point of Sale (POS) system like Toast, Square, GoTab, Clover or Arryved, you already have the ability to sell your merchandise online. These and other similar platforms have an online portal that can be integrated into your existing website for immediate online selling. Not using those platforms, or you want more control over the [branded] online order experience? We get it. If you’re using a website builder/CMS like WordPress or Shopify, there are a variety of free and paid plugins/apps that can help you list products, manage inventories and conduct seamless online transactions. Not sure how to manage shipping? There’s an app for that as well, using your USPS, UPS, FedEx or other shipping account to calculate postage and print labels automatically. All that’s left for you to do is mail the product. We’re not trying to oversimplify the process – we’re hoping to expose additional sales channels that might not currently be on the radar. Always happy to chat about it!