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Expert Topic Building a Better Merch Program

Merchandise has become an important part of a brewery’s business model. Once a logo has been designed and approved, many breweries have printed up shirts, hats, glassware and more to sell even before the first batch of beer is brewed. Once a brewery opens its doors, merchandise takes on a variety of roles. It can be a revenue generator, but it is also a consumer endorsement that they want to wear your brand outside of your walls and share your business with others.

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When Fat Heads opened it’s new and large production brewery and tasting room several years ago it carved out ample floor space for its gift shop, conveniently located at the tail end of the self-guided tour.

“I know that [the owners] always wanted it to be that kind of open concept with the barn doors, and they wanted it to feel like it was part of the restaurant,” says Angie Brown the retail and sales manager at the Cleveland, Ohio brewery.

Having it centrally located and in the path of customers has helped drive sales of everything from glassware to clothing. The brewery has also gone beyond just the standard logo on traditional shirt colors, and has embraced color schemes from local sports teams, which are popular buys with locals. The brewery has also expanded clothing into individual beers and labels to highlight specific brands, and Brown says adding on the brewery’s home city to merch, has also made it a more popular buy with locals eager to show off hometown pride.

Tie dye shirts have also been popular. It serves as a good reminder to break out of “safe” choices now and again.

Trying out alternative merch has also helped bring new and repeat customers into the shop.

“Our top sales for the past couple years have been our dog treats and our glassware,” she says. “We work with a really good company called Brew House Bakery. They’re based in Cincinnati. They use recycled brewery grain for the dog treats. And it’s a nonprofit that gives individuals with disabilities work experience. And I think people like the story behind it. And everybody loves to buy stuff for their dogs. I think that’s just one of the main things, especially during patio season because we do have a dog friendly patio.”

She said the initial order of the treats was a shot in the dark. The brewery has sold branded dog collars, which sold reasonably well. But there was no insight on treats. It’s been the store’s top seller since being introduced in 2021, she says. They place fresh orders every few weeks.

Brown says the brewery follows a model where they try to rotate different items through every few weeks, so that long-time fans have an option to buy something new or different. Keeping staples are important too because they are for new visitors, vacationers, or someone looking to freshen up a well-used item.

“We do try to keep it fresh for our regulars,” says Brown.

There are also larger or niche items that have gotten traction.

“I will say personally, I’m kind of surprised at how well we sell our large LED signs. Obviously, the sales team gets a lot of use out of those, but I was surprised at how much the average consumer buys things like that as well. Especially post COVID When people have these bars in their basement and garage. Tap handles have sold well over the last few years as well,” she says.

Having a good plan and an eye on the calendar also helps. Brown says the team thinks a full season ahead on what they might need or what customers might want to purchase. Summer items should be considered in the early spring, autumn in early summer, winter in the fall, and Christmas and the December holiday season should always be on the mind.

It’s also important to keep an eye on external trends but to order cautiously. Fads can come and go in a season, leaving a shop with a lot of extra, unwanted merch that is tough to move, even with at clearance prices.

Building vendor relationships is also important. Being a regular and loyal customer can help get orders fulfilled a bit faster, which can he helpful in a crunch. It also helps if you have a good working relationship with people, as it cuts down on potential frustrations.

Brown says it’s good to keep an eye on beer sales and have merch to go along with it. If a new release becomes a strong seller, getting shirts or glassware to entice those fans is likely a smart move to add to a bottom line.

But most of all, give visitors an opportunity to visit a merch area.

“It’s a big part of the experience for people sitting at the bar, or if they’re waiting to sit at a table they can grab a beer and they can come browse in our store. It’s something to do and we do have a little bit for everybody. I think that that definitely helps. You don’t have to be a hardcore Fat Heads fan to find something in there that you like.”

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