Industry Interview: Tim Des Islets

Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Industry Profiles

In our neverending quest to glean knowledge from those who have done things we’ve never done and seen things we’ve never seen, we present to you another post from our Industry Profiles series. Tim Des Islets has been on our list of brains to pick for a while now, for obvious reasons like his role managing Tim Chaisson, The Lazys and Poor Young Things with Bumstead Productions. He knows what it takes for a band to survive and it’s no surprise (to us, at least – but we’re biased) that a well managed merch operation is on that list. Without further ado, here are a few words from Tim Des Islets about our favourite topic around here: merch.

 Merch: How important do you think merch is for bands today? Why?  

Tim Des Islets: Merch is extremely important for bands today. With constantly decreasing music sales, merch has become a crucial source of income for artists of all levels. For indie bands on tour, merch can be the difference between sleeping in the van and renting a hotel room for the night, the difference between starving or eating a decent meal before the show, and keeping the gas tank full.

Merch is an artist-driven and artist-controlled industry, restricted only by creativity and enthusiasm. With production companies springing up around the world, it is easy to find companies that can manufacture merch relatively quickly and at affordable prices for bands of all levels.

M: Which bands do you think use their merch well?

TDI: I like bands that have a lot of variety with their merch, use high quality products, and use interesting designs:

– I’ve always liked Said The Whale’s merch, they’ve got really great designs and are really nice looking pieces.

– Sam Roberts Band comes to mind because he’s got 20+ different shirts available on his site.

– Teenage Kicks and Cancer Bats have great t-shirt designs.

– The Tragically Hip have a ton of merch and their team is very creative when it comes to how they sell merch online. They have regular sales on merch and are able to successfully sell new items as well as old inventory.

– Hollerado had one of the best merch campaigns with their ‘White Paint’ release. Each album and piece of merch was unique and was hand designed by the band. It was a really cool way to offer fans their own exclusive album and t-shirt. Also, their Hollerado/Wu-Tang t-shirt is just badass.

M: Why do you think that what they’re doing works?

TDI: The key to being successful with merch is to understand your audience and understand what your fans want to buy. There are ‘standard’ pieces of merch that most bands sell (like t-shirts and hoodies) and artists who do well also offer unique items (underwear, sunglasses, mugs, frisbees, etc.).

All of the artists mentioned above also have really easy-to-use online stores. Offering a transparent store that customers feel comfortable using can easily increase merch sales.

M: How do you think that bands often miss out on merch sales?

TDI: A huge amount of merch sales come from live shows and a large amount of artists, especially developing artists who don’t have the luxury of touring with crew or a dedicated merch person miss out on these sales. For developing artists, shows are very busy nights and often there just isn’t time to properly work the merch table during a show.

Bands also miss out on merch sales because they haven’t taken the time to keep their inventory organized and they don’t know what they have. It’s a lot easier to find t-shirt sizes when they are neatly folded or rolled instead of looking like a laundry basket.

M: What could they do differently?

TDI: Designate one person from the band to be your merch person. One person from the band should make sure merch is set up before the show and count in the amount of product before the show. Bands also need to offer credit card payments at their merch table. Not being able to accept credit cards at venues is a great way to cut potential sales in half.

M: From your experience, what advice could you give to new bands who are on the road managing their own merch?

TDI: Be organized and take your merch operation seriously. Take a few minutes to count your merch in and out at each show so you know exactly how much you sell each night, which markets you do well in, and how much inventory you have for the rest of the tour.

Take time after each show to hang out at your merch table. Fans will want to meet you, get your autograph, and support you by purchasing a piece of merch. Fans want a unique experience and having a minute to talk to you and buy a piece or merch means a lot to them.

M: Finally, what’s the coolest piece of merch you own?

TDI: The first band shirt I ever got was a Smashing Pumpkins ‘ZERO’ t-shirt. It’s not the coolest piece of merch I’ve ever seen but to me, it’s still the coolest thing I own.

If you just read this and thought, “I wish I could find a new merch management app getting ready to launch beta testing because I would totally want to try that,” you’re in luck. That might be a little optimistic on our part, but we are still accepting bands who would like to tour with the app while we’re in private beta. You can sign up for an invitation below or follow us on Twitter and we’ll let you know when the moment has arrived. If you’re not familiar with what we’re doing at Merch, please take a look at our post Introducing Merch.