So, I just want to get something out in the open: I am a T-shirt junkie, and that’s why we’re talking about branded merch for personal trainers. When I first started designing in college, a lot of my projects at first were just designing T-shirts for different clubs and organizations on campus, maybe some events, that kind of thing. And I really wasn’t in it to make money yet at that point. I was just kind of designing for the fun of it, for my friends. So I would be like, “Just pay me I don’t know $10 and give me a free shirt.” Between those shirts and free shirts we got around campus for whatever other reason, and shirts that I actually did buy on campus.

When I was graduating college. I think I counted and I had like 60 or 70 T-shirts. Just T-shirts, not counting like actual other clothing. It was ridiculous. But T-shirts are a great way to advertise something or just to celebrate something. Like in college we always got T-shirts for homecoming. But even if you’re not a T-shirt junkie like me, you’ll still probably wear a T-shirt. I mean, most of the time people were their T-shirts like usually the free ones that aren’t very pretty. They’ll wear them to the gym, or at least the gyms I’ve been to. That’s what most people wear.

Besides just talking about T-shirts, today I wanted to talk about using different merchandise in your business and how to get them printed and how to best utilize this merch. 

Now a 2012 study showed that 66% of participants claimed they could recall the brand on a promotional product, like branded merchandise, that they received within the last year. And 56% said their impression of the company that is associated with that merch improved after receiving the gift. And of the same study, the most popular or most favorite items listed by those participants were USB drives, pens or a mug. Now, even though those are the most popular items, you want to be sure you’re catering your merchandise to your brand and your audience.

This study was not just in the health and fitness industry, it was all industries and it would likely probably. It makes more sense for you to give away a water bottle and a shirt and a pen rather than a USB drive and a mug and a pen. But again, cater to your audience. If your clients like to drink hot tea then a mug might actually be a great idea. But if they don’t, then give them a water bottle. If you meet with your clients in person and you have a lot of resources to give them, anything like that, it might make sense to give them a USB with all the information on it and your logo’s printed on there and you gift it to them.

If you’re a dietitian, it might make sense for you to give them a branded notebook or a notepad so they can have a place to write down all their food intake. The point here is, don’t just buy a bunch of merch with your logo on it and just hand it out willy nilly. The whole point of having branded merchandise is to increase your brand recognition and brand awareness. It can also help your clients feel like they’re a part of a club or tribe that they belong and they can feel proud to be part of your brand. Now, something that people often miss or skimp on is the quality and the importance of quality.

When people think of your brand, you want them to think good quality or high quality. This means you don’t buy the super cheap pens that stopped writing after one sentence, because then they’ll just throw away the pen and you’ve totally wasted your money. This means you don’t buy the cheapest tote or gym bags because they’ll start falling apart after a few days at the gym, and again, they’ll just be thrown away. This means you don’t buy the cheapest T-shirts because they’ll get holes in them after a few wears and once again, they’ll be thrown away or cut up. If you have a really nice T-shirt that’s comfortable and it’s not cheap, people are going to be more inclined to wear it. If it’s actually a nice water bottle that doesn’t leak, people are more inclined to use it.

And while we’re talking about quality, it’s also important to think about the design quality as well. I recently got a T-shirt from a brand in it literally just said their company name in a basic font. I think it was Arial font across the front of the shirt. That’s it. I have seen insurance companies hand out T-shirts that are more interesting than this shirt. I’m not saying it has to be the coolest shirt ever and you have to spend thousands of dollars, but at least put some thought into it. Again, if it’s a cool shirt, people are more inclined to wear it. And especially with T-shirts, if it’s a really good design, they might actually wear it to places other than the gym. So you might be thinking, “Okay, but like, where do I get it printed?” Two of the most popular online printers for T-shirts or really any other merch are Printful and Vistaprint. And I’ll put the links to those in the show notes.

I would say honestly, that their quality is so, so. It kind of depends on what you order and who you talk to. Everyone has different standards of what is good and what’s not. Like I just said, a lot of people kind of skimp on quality and they’re like, “I’m just getting this branded merch. I don’t really care how great it is.” And that’s why I would highly, highly recommend trying to connect with a local printer. When you work with a local printer, you usually can see samples of products, especially T-shirts, so you can actually pick before getting anything printed because believe it or not, there are actually different standards of T-shirts that they can print on.

Selling merch can help build brand loyalty and brand awareness.

And whether or not you work online with your clients or you work in person with local clients, it’s a great chance for you to support a local small business owner. I’m a big believer in supporting other small business owners and who knows, some print shops display their work in the shop so they can kind of show off their portfolio. So your shirt could be hanging up for all of their customers to see that come into the shop.

The other big advantage is that local shops usually have lower prices and lower minimum orders. It’s also easier to reorder and get your items done faster. So if you order online, then you’re kind of like, “Okay, well here, let me submit the order, then I have to approve it. And then it’ll ship and, seven, eight, maybe 10 days later, I finally get the shirts.” Whereas a local shop, I mean, it depends on the shop. But most of the time you can say, “Hey, if I call you How fast can you get my orders out?” And depending on the order, it might be next day or three days, which is a lot faster.

There are some great online distributors though:

  • StationeryHQ
  • DiscountMugs
  • Print Aura
  • CustomInk
  • Spreadshirt
  • More Than Stick Figures, Inc.
  • Printed Mint
  • Branders
  • StickerMule

Now lastly, let’s talk about some different ways you can use this merchandise in your business. Because there are a few different ways you could go about it. Now first, you could use the merch as a welcome gift to new clients. Some people don’t like this route because you could be giving $20 to $30 worth of March to a client who ends up quitting on you a month later. So that’s not super fun. So if that’s your fear, maybe you just start with a welcome gift that’s really small like a pen and among or something. I mean, you probably want something else with it. Like even if it’s just paperwork or something. Otherwise, you’re just awkwardly handing your client a pen, like, “Here, I’m gifting you a pen.” And that’s just awkward.

Second, you could use the merch as gifts. So not just like a welcome gift, but maybe if they work with you for three months, you surprise them with some merch to say thank you. Or you could just use the merch as gifts around the holidays or maybe their birthday. That would be a great way to add a personal touch and show them that they are more than just a number or just another client. But, “Hey, I remember that it’s your birthday.”

And next, you could use the merch as prizes. So if you do something monthly, or quarterly like challenges competitions, you could easily make the merch the prizes. Now opposite of the welcome gift, you’d probably want to make sure the prize is substantial enough to actually be enticing. If I’m the grand prize winner of a 12 week challenge and I only get a T-shirt, that’s not super exciting.

Lastly, you could actually sell the merch. This could be done in combination with the other options. So you could have certain things that are given us welcome gifts or prizes. And then other than that, everything else is available for purchase. I will say though, this route is going to probably be most effective if your brand has some sort of tagline or mantra that your clients also use. I’m sorry, but you are not Nike and it’s probably unlikely that someone will just want to buy a T-shirt that has your name on it.

But, the Spartan Race Organization is a great example of branded merch for personal trainers. They have shirts that you can buy that say like, “I am a Spartan,” or I think they at one point had one that just said AROO! on it, which is the chant that racers yell at each race. Kind of like how Nike does have shirts that say, “Just do it,” on the shirt, rather than it just saying Nike. And I just want to reiterate, the whole point of having this branded merch is to help your brand recognition and awareness. So you want your clients to be excited about this merch because you are spending money on it. So you want them to actually use it and show it off, share it online, that kind of thing. And if you don’t have a ton of money to spend right now, I will say probably the most cost effective merch to start with would be pens or pencils.

That’s all I have for today. If you have any questions about this, about ordering merch, designing merch, anything like that or you want to share how you are already using merch in your own business, reach out to me on Instagram: @jesscreatives.

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