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.