It’s official: venue merchandise is on the rise. Diners are choosing to not only eat and drink at a venue, but wear its name on their back.

Gone are the days of tattered Bubba Gump Shrimp T-shirts — the new wave of venue merchandise is here, and Australian bars, cafes and restaurants are jumping on the bandwagon. Big and small operators are capitalising on the trend which has become an invaluable marketing tool when it comes to getting your name out there.

Daisy’s Milk Bar and Sparkke Change Beverage Co are two businesses utilising the power of the people. From T-shirts and canvas bags to caps, hoodies, mugs and keyrings, there are plenty of options available to bring in some extra cash and boost your brand presence.

“We had our first run of Daisy’s logo T-shirts made when we opened as a promotional tool,” says co-owner Jessica de Varine-Bohan. “We would give a Daisy’s T-shirt to people for free on the condition they would post a photo of themselves in the shirt on social media. This helped to build hype about the cafe from day one.”

For Sparkke, selling merchandise isn’t just about getting their name out there — it’s about promoting their message and starting a conversation. “Our brand revolves around the values we campaign for, and merchandise is a great way to expand the reach of our messages,” says co-owner Abi Chow. “It’s also a really accessible way for people who don’t drink alcohol to support us.”

It’s advisable to start small and gauge consumer reaction before going all out on the merchandise front. Offering a limited run to start with is a good way to test the waters and monitor customer demand while also determining an effective price point.

Daisy’s experienced success from the get-go and went on to expand their line to include accessories, kids shirts and even a capsule collection with a local designer. “For the Daisy’s tees and totes, we don’t do limited runs and we have them reprinted all the time,” says de Varine-Bohan. “But we did a limited T-shirt design collaboration with designer Megan McKean. The shirts had multiple colours and we had them screen printed, so they were quite expensive, which is why we just did a short run.”

Sparkke change up their beverage packaging and apply the same principle to their merchandise, meaning all their pieces are relevant and have a coveted status. “It came back to keeping with our message strategy — why would we keep the same messages on our tees when we won’t be keeping them on the cans?” says Chow.

“Changing it up also prevents us from being static and really taps into the millennial mindset of wanting something fresh and different. The nature of our mission to change the messages on our cans and our merchandise also makes every piece we produce a collector’s item.”

Whether merchandise is a golden ticket to extra cash is completely unique to each business. Placing merchandise near the point of sales system ensures visibility to every diner and provides staff with the opportunity to upsell customers. Creating a portal on your venue’s website is also advisable and provides easy access to customers who might not be able to access the venue in person.

For Daisy’s, merchandise is financially beneficial and significantly contributes to brand awareness. “It’s always really exciting to see someone out and about in a Daisy’s shirt!” says de Varine-Bohan. As Sparkke is a relatively new business, they’re still ironing out the kinks but see merchandise as a solid investment for the future. “We definitely see this as an opportunity for growth,” says Chow. “In the future, we see merchandise as becoming a profit centre for the business.”

Committing to a run of T-shirts or tote bags isn’t a significant cost in the long run when it comes to boosting brand presence. Whether you want to create buzz around your venue or just diversify your offering, investing in merchandise is an effective marketing tool that won’t break the bank.

This article originally appeared in Hospitality‘s February issue. Subscribe here.

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