Is Shop Merch Worth the Effort?

March 27, 2023
Often seen as a novelty, shop merch could make you a few dollars—and a few customers.

The first time Susan McGrath saw her Vermont shop’s merchandise in public was at a rest stop in Maryland.  

“I think she thought I was crazy, but I had to go up to her!” McGrath says, “It turns out her family had sent it to her.” 

Girlington Garage, located in South Burlington, Vermont, has something for everyone when it comes to merchandise. The Girlington swag shop has apparel ranging from hoodies to tank tops to baby onesies to home decor, accessories and stationary; all of which feature the Girlington Garage logo of a woman holding a wrench. The logo, the shop and the merchandise all celebrates female empowerment, one of the pillars that the shop is built upon.  

Backstory:  

Demeny Pollitt opened Girlington Garage in May 2009 with the hope of giving all people, but especially women, a place to bring their vehicles where they could feel educated and taken care of. McGrath came to the shop a year later after working in hotel management for 15 years. She started as a service manager and is now the shop manager.  

Problem:  

As a newly-opened repair shop, it was important for Girlington Garage to get both its name and its message out there. The key was to do it in a unique and memorable way.  

Solution:  

Shortly after the shop opened its doors, it began selling merchandise. From t-shirts to hoodies to cups and throw pillows, Girlington Garage has got it. Its employees wear the clothing as their uniform and customers can purchase a little something for themselves or get gifts for their friends or family with the Girlington Garage logo.  

“Demeny, she loves fun stuff,” McGrath says of the shop owner’s choice to start selling merchandise. “It was a way to get the name out there in the very beginning.”  

The merchandise shop has grown quite a bit over the years to include the inventory it has today. McGrath estimates that it costs a couple thousand dollars to get the initial stock up and running. The merchandise is displayed in the lobby but the merchandise isn’t pushed on customers when they check out. To promote it, Girlington Garage uses its social media pages and hopes customers will see it in the lobby or on the workers and ask about it themselves rather than feel it’s being pushed on them.  

Aftermath:  

The biggest advantage to the merchandise is brand awareness, McGrath says. It’s a creative way to get the shop’s name out into the community.  

“People love the fact that we’re women-owned and operated, and they love to buy it and send it to family out of state,” McGrath says. “It’s kind of an empowerment thing as well.”  

Another benefit is that it brings a couple hundred dollars per month and a little more during the holiday season. And, although it’s not a ton of money, every little bit counts and it’s a relatively low-stress additional income stream.  

Takeaway:  

For owners looking to get into merchandise, McGrath suggests looking at it as a marketing tool rather than a profit center.  

“Don’t expect to make a million dollars off of it right away,” McGrath says. “But it does add a little something extra to your shop. It adds value to what you’re doing.” 

Think of it this way, if someone is wearing a shirt with your shop’s logo on it, that’s a walking billboard for your business. It’s a great talking point, and it’s also a fun way for your customers to remember the excellent service they received.  

Tips for Getting Started 

Not sure how to get your merchandise shop off the ground? Here’s a quick guide inspired by a 2021 Shopify blog post for breaking into the merchandise game.    

Come Up with Ideas 

Before you get started, figure out what you want to sell. Girlington Garage offers clothing, accessories, home decor, etc., but it didn’t start out offering so many different options. Talk to your loyal customers and see if they’d be interested in merchandise and what they’d buy. 

Create a Design  

For most shops, it makes the most sense to go with your logo. But, if you have other ideas, have at it. You can do it in-house if you have someone creative on your team, hire someone to do it for you or even use a mock–up generator.  

Find Your Manufacturer  

There are two options for this: you can get a print-on-demand partner or manufacture from scratch. Print-on-demand is low-cost and easy to set up and manage, but you may not be able to customize it as much as you would like. If you plan on selling common items, like t-shirts and hoodies with your logo on them, this is probably the route to take. If you’re looking for more flexibility, you may have to manufacture from scratch. 

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