To start developing your retail strategy, it’s important to define your seasons. Are you in a high tourist area where summer or winter is the busy season? Do you have year-round traffic? The answers to these questions will help you develop the outline for your retail planning.
Many breweries take on a semiannual (two-season) strategy with their retail offerings—one for spring/summer and another for fall/winter. If summer is your busy time, maybe it’s summer and then the rest of the year. The biggest variances from season to season are the shift in apparel items and generally items for outdoor use. Of course, if your region enjoys year-round outdoor activities, the variance outside of apparel items could be slightly less. The strategy should make sense for your business and the season demand.
Next, it’s important to identify a space where you can prominently display your merchandise. If it’s tucked in a corner away from foot traffic, it will be difficult to sell—no matter how cool it is. If it’s locked away in a glass case, the customers might view it like a museum versus seeing themselves in the gear. Many breweries do well with merchandise located near the front of the taproom, so it’s seen upon entrance and exit. Allow your customers to interact with the merch. You ultimately want them to rep your brand, so getting them comfortable with the products is key to closing the deal.
Along with an accessible retail presence, it’s important to arrange your merchandise in an appealing, user-friendly way. If all the T-shirts are folded so that a potential buyer can’t see the design, your chance of a sale decreases. Plus, trying to keep the space neat after your customers fold and unfold the shirts increases work for your staff. Make sure to have each of your apparel designs displayed, so that a customer can view the complete design and determine an approximate fit. Product packaging not only helps with sell-through, but it creates a higher perceived value than a wrinkled T-shirt. If you have one item on display that customers can see and feel, use custom banding for apparel and boxes for your glassware to organize the rest of your stock. Custom-branded packaging not only looks great on the shelf, but it makes it very easy for your customer to re-gift their purchase.
Now, what do you put on your merchandise? This is where you can differentiate your brewery. Many just use the brewery logo on items. It is important to have a few products featuring the logo, but how many logoed T-shirts does one person need? By mixing up colors and designs, you provide your fans with new reasons to buy. Instead of having just one T-shirt in a drawer, a fan may now have five or six.
Design options can pull from your environment, your history, or the meaning of your brand. Maybe it’s deconstructing your logo and using its elements in new designs. Scaling brand iconography is another option. There are too many design ideas to mention here. Just know that you can go beyond your basic logo.
Product selection is important for differentiation as well. Your brand and retail merchandise design can work across several products. If designed appropriately, creative concepts can be deconstructed and applied across an entire merchandise line. However, it’s important that you understand what your customers are looking for, such as gender-specific options, items for outdoor use, etc. Also, experiment. Outside of your one-color flagship tee, try different designs and/or merch options. Sacrifice a little margin to decorate a lower quantity—maybe 48-72 items to gauge what your fans want.
Plus, different decoration methods can help you change up your merchandise. Soft-hand printing or using chino inks can provide a new apparel experience that customers want. This is generally what the customer refers to as the ‘vintage’ or ‘weathered’ feel. What used to be a glass with a one-color standard imprint for utility has evolved into the full, vibrant application of photo-realistic art applied directly to your glass. People will pay a premium for these glasses.
Keeping things fresh—changing designs and styles with the seasons you determined for your business—helps to create variety for your customers. Also, if you have limited-edition designs each season, fans get excited, and the scarcity may help convince them to buy.
Of course, to make retail worthwhile, you need to price your merchandise appropriately. Some use a straight-margin percentage across the board. Others price by perceived value. There isn’t one correct way. It’s just important to be pricing your items at a point that the market will pay.
As mentioned, full-color glassware and more elaborate apparel command greater retail prices. For example, the standard pint printed with a logo in one color may be sold for $5 in a taproom. If you turn that glass into a full-color wonder, it can be sold for more.
If you have inventory odds and ends left at the end of the season, consider lowering the retail price so they sell. This frees up space for new merchandise that will turn faster.
Besides your retail display, there are other things you can do to make sure customers buy your merch before they leave your taproom. For example, you’re doing yourself a disservice if your staff is not repping your merch. Your staff members are front and center with the customer. If they are wearing the merch, customers can’t help but see it.
Other suggestive techniques also work. Using table tents puts your merchandise front and center for the length of stay. Asking customers if they want a T-shirt or glass to go, before closing the tab, is another way to encourage sales. Try different things to see what works with your customer base.
Events also provide an opportunity to engage the community and put your merchandise front and center. Have customers take home glassware as part of a Keep the Pint night. Charge a price that covers both the cost of your beer and the glass. Offering to-go kits is another way to combine your merchandise and beer sales.
Just as important as your in-taproom retail space is your online presence. A web store allows you to reach fans near and far so that everyone has an opportunity to buy your retail merchandise. As in your on-site retail store, your online store needs to be well organized and easy to shop. Include several images to provide a well-rounded view of the item. Also use your social media outlets to show off your merchandise.
Remember, branded merch is more valuable than the profit it generates. Hundreds of loyal customers who wear or use your merch are marketing your brand in ways that paid advertising simply can’t.
Grandstand and 88 Design Group are here to help you maximize your retail profits. Learn more by visiting www.egrandstand.com/retail.