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Promoting your brand and getting paid for it

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Promoting your brand and getting paid for it

This is the second in a series. If you haven’t already done so, you can read the first post by going to www.runtobeer.ca/blog/part1


Building a beer running community can be a big undertaking, but like most things in life, the more you put into it, the more you get back. Your time, attention to detail and creativity determine how successful it can be. This post is about making money from merchandise, including one very creative way RunTOBeer boosts both sales and exposure.


RunTOBeer started as something I did for myself. I loved beer. I needed the exercise. I wanted to socialize with others who had similar feelings. RunTOBeer accomplished all that and more.

For the first year there was never a thought of paying myself. I didn't even expect anyone to thank me for organizing events because I was the most grateful runner in the bunch.

There was no blog like this to guide the development of RunTOBeer and before going any further I want to be very clear about one thing: I was VERY lucky to have an incredibly talented and charismatic partner helping me build the brand. I'd be lying so hard if I claimed I deserve all the credit. Without Tej right from the beginning I don't think I would have chased this nearly as much. Our skills overlapped in many areas (which was an asset in delivering clear, consistent communications), and while I was better connected to the brewing industry, he made major inroads into the running community. Tej now runs a very successful brewery less than an hour from Toronto, and manages a run crew there.

Over time, as the RunTOBeer exploded in popularity, Tej and I became insanely busy trying to manage it. The Toronto Star sent a photographer for a story about us. Canadian Running Magazine staff started joining us. Online media were fascinated with us. Racing series wanted to partner with us. And with the increased exposure came more public interest and more questions that had to be answered.

With growth, came more planning. Volunteers helped us in some areas, but we still had to manage the volunteers. If we were going to keep doing this, we had to start making some money.

Merchandise seemed like the logical first step. There's something awfully satisfying about people paying you so they can advertise what you're doing.

The benefit of promoting beer and running is you can offer beer and running merchandise. From buffs to bottle openers, sunglasses and pint glasses, you're less limited in what you can sell.

We ordered beer glasses and technical shirts to start, each sold at a slight mark-up. Logistically, it was a challenge, as we didn't have a storefront or shipping, but if we planned it well we could distribute a bunch of items at each event and make it worthwhile.

If you're thinking of selling merchandise, here's what you need to consider:

How good are you at record keeping? A database would be ideal, but at the very least you'll want an easily accessible spreadsheet. I use Google Sheets, so I can check it from my mobile. Have columns to record names, items ordered, quantity, whether you've received the money, how you received the money (cash, bank transfer, PayPal, etc.), whether you've delivered the goods and a column for special instructions or other notes.

What will you do with your inventory? I have unworn shirts that people paid for more than three years ago and never collected. What's a reasonable time to keep stock in your basement before you give up on it? What happens if the purchaser tries to collect afterwards? Do you refund their money? Have a plan for that.

Are you able to carry extra merchandise to your events? You can do really well on same-day sales, especially after you've delivered grateful runners to waiting beer. They see other people with merch and want a piece of it too. If you can drop items off at the venue before the run, you'll almost definitely take less of it home with you.

What are you going to do with flawed merchandise? I made a HUGE mistake last year, when I ordered singlets (tank tops) that came at the end of the season. Because no one was buying singlets right before winter the shirts sat in my basement for months. Then, in spring, when I tried to sell them I realized all the men's shirts were too short. They were wide enough to fit typical men's dimensions, but cut to women's length. Waiting so long to check was a very expensive error. Not only do I have a tonne of pieces I can't sell, but I didn't have any small or medium men's shirts I could sell. They're still sitting in boxes in my basement, making me angry every time I look at them (if you know of any barrel-chested dogs that need technical shirts, please let me know).

I've had several other problems with suppliers, but I'm typically very detail-oriented, so I can always challenge their mistakes and get the orders corrected. I pay in advance, in cash, which saves them paying credit card merchant fees. Suppliers don't want to risk losing a client like me by getting caught lying about their blunders.

Getting stuck with product you can't sell is frustrating, as it costs you money, takes up space and wastes your time. Be very, very careful about knowing exactly what you're getting, and how to remedy any issues with your orders. Whenever possible, get timelines guaranteed in writing so you're not taking delivery on merchandise that's out of season.

As I mentioned above, you also need to be creative with your sales. One ridiculously fun thing we do – it was Tej's idea – is hand beer to runners during races (that’s me in the photo, finishing the 21k de Montréal with a Cameron’s Cosmic Cream Ale). If you're wearing a RunTOBeer shirt or hat at a race where we have a cheer station set up, we'll pass you a can as you approach the finish line.

Breweries donate much of the product, because having someone Instagram a photo of themselves crossing the finish line with their beer is some pretty badass marketing.

What they don't cover, good-natured benefactors pick up. See the “BUY SOMEONE A BEER” link in the top corner? That's where we take donations to pay for the rest of the beer we hand out.

Those photos of elated beer runners aren't just good for breweries, they're also gold for RunTOBeer's own promotion. While the weeks leading up to major races always lead to a significant uptick in shirt & hat sales, the weeks after lead to a sizable increase in new recruits (ie. potential new customers).

But merchandise is only one way RunTOBeer makes money. I planned to discuss more revenue streams in this post, but promotional product was a big topic on its own. I'll add to the financial discussion next week.

Look for my post on Running Tour Guides Worldwide when it's ready.

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RunTOBeer => City Running Tours

RunTOBeer => City Running Tours

When RunTOBeer started, my whole motivation was to offset the calories with a simple workout. I didn't think about monetizing it. I never thought I could use it to steer customers elsewhere.

I'll go into much more detail in the weeks ahead, but if you're only curious to know how leading a bunch of beer runners boosts sales for tours, here's the short version:

  1. The beer runs are free (sort of... but I'll discuss the revenue model in more detail next week) and I also work with local breweries to ensure the first beer is free for everyone. There's no membership required. For a runner, it's a pretty easy decision to join us: No commitment, no cost, free beer. Simple.

    Nearly all of my RunTOBeer business is done though a Facebook group, as it's easier to reach a large number of people quickly. I don't allow any other businesses to promote their services unless they're a RunTOBeer partner (supporting the group or our charity). Because I shield my runners from other advertisers, they don't mind if I occasionally promote my own tours. After all, they know I need to make a living while planning their social calendar.

  2. Some members get an occasional free tour. Although there's no membership required to join RunTOBeer, I do sell a limited number of “Imperial Memberships” that allow those members better access to products, services and events. The fact is, free beer runs are VERY popular and most of our events are limited to the size of the venue we run to. If a certain bar can only hold 75 people I'll probably register that many interested runners in about five minutes. But my Imperial members get advance access to registration in exchange for their yearly dues.

    Imperial members also get the occasional free tour, like the Ghost Tour I did for Hallowe'en. Not only do they get a fun experience, but they also become ambassadors for City Running Tours, writing reviews on TripAdvisor and posting about it on their social media accounts.

    What I've found really interesting about offering free tours is some Imperial members choose to pay for them anyway. And the tips are pretty great too, when runners feel like they've had a valuable experience they didn't pay for (even though they did pay, when they bought the membership).

Without RunTOBeer, I probably wouldn't have enough running tours to be worthwhile. Winters here in Toronto can get mighty cold and tourists seldom plan runs when they visit between November and March. But local runners are less afraid of the elements, so I plan destination runs to the Christmas Market or the Winter Light Festival; or themed runs to celebrate Women's History month or St. Patrick’s Day. Each of these runs ends with beer.

Not surprisingly, these runs are almost exclusively booked by my beer runners and often include their friends or family. They pay, they write great reviews and they share their experience on social media.

If you're interested in learning more insights into how I grew RunTOBeer, check back over the next few weeks as I share more details, starting with the all-important revenue streams. In the following weeks, I'll explain promotion strategies (we brewed the official beer of this year's Toronto Waterfront Marathon!), partnerships and other lessons I've learned along the way. I'll post updates to the Running Tour Guides Worldwide Facebook group, to let you know when they appear.