VidCon is one of the largest annual YouTuber and Fans convention that takes place in Anaheim, LA.
It’s a couple of days where thousands of YouTuber fans hang out in an what is essentially an oversized playground. YouTube stars and celebs from around the country and the world come out to VidCon to meet their fans, casually hang out, snap selfies, sign autographs, and just connect with fans.
At my first VidCon, I described the scene as:
Since I have a YouTube channel (shameless plug), a camera, and colored hair, I too joined the crowd.
I knew it would cost me. Besides the tickets, plane ride and hotel, I knew I had to budget for “Merch”
What is Merch?
Some YouTubers earn additional revenue by offering their fans shirts, hoodies, pop-sockets, mugs. The Merch usually has some rad design or a saying that is associated with the creator, allowing the fan to be part of the YouTuber’s journey.
One of my favorite creators is Jackfilms (the guy in the selfie without the green hair). Has over 4 million subscribers on YouTube, and make killer content that both I and my kids love.His #FixBio series is genius!
Jack has a line of merchandise that I knew I just couldn’t return home without (see selfie with Ella). I know how much effort it takes to produce video content, so buying a creator’s mech is a little way for us to support a creator we watch. Jack is also just such a great guy! (see selfie to prove it)
Behind the Merch Scene
I noticed that Crowdmade seems to handle the merch for some of the biggest YouTube creators in the world. People like: Jackfilms (4.1 million subs), Guava Juice (10 million subs), Simply Nailogical (5.5 million subs), SMG4 (2.1 million subs) and Yandre Dev (2.2 million subs) to name but a few.
I managed to get an exclusive interview with Charlie Guo, the founder and CTO of Crowdmade, who revealed why their company warrants the trust of from elite creators.
Q. What is Crowdmade?
Crowdmade is a premium merch service that lets creators focus on what they’re good at, which is making great content.
We handle the headaches that come with designing, printing, and shipping excellent merch to fans. Ultimately, we know how important our creators’ audiences are to them, and so we do our best to make sure they can wear and sell something that they are truly proud of.
We offer a wide range of products and decoration types, whether its apparel (which can be printed, embroidered, or embossed with metallic foil), hats, accessories (e.g. phone cases, pins, mugs, and pop sockets), or truly custom products. Moreover, we can do almost all of them as print on demand, which means creators take on zero risk, and never have to pay for their merch upfront.
Q. Why do creators want to have merch?
We look at YouTube monetization as having three pillars: ads, sponsorships, and merch. While many can (and do) get by on ads and sponsorships, taking a strategic approach to merch can result in a third reliable revenue stream. We’ve had several creators tell us that they had no idea how successful their merch could be, including creators who had tried doing their own merch in the past.
Q.Why do creators need you when they can use a do-it-yourself on-demand service?
While on-demand services are pretty easy to get up and running, there are some long term drawbacks to using them. The biggest one is a lack of personal touch.
It’s pretty easy to launch a hoodie campaign or a new t-shirt design, but we love to go above and beyond for our creators when it comes to offering unique merch to fans. For one of our creators who’s building an anime-style video game, we launched custom two-sided body pillowcases featuring three of his characters.
For another creator who wanted to create a concept that could be bigger than himself and his channel, we’ve worked to create an entire fashion line, and we’ll be rolling out Season 2 of that line soon.
When we work with creators we genuinely care about making their fans happy, and to us they aren’t just an anonymous user inside of a massive platform.
And we’re always trying to offer new types of products and prints. For a long time we’ve had metallic foil prints, which is pretty hard to find when using on-demand services. Similarly, this year we introduced on-demand embroidery, which allows some of our smaller creators to sell high quality embroidered products without worrying about hitting minimum order quantities (and is one of our unique competitive advantages).
And we’re always looking to expand beyond our main product selection: this year we’ve added enamel pins, pop sockets, pillowcases, and we’re researching a potential nail polish line for one of our creators.
Q. You work with some of the top creators in the world, how have you earned such a great reputation?
I’d like to think we’ve earned our reputation based on the quality of the products we put out, as well as our commitment to the creators we work with.
When we decide to work with a creator, we treat their fans as though they were our own. We know how important quality is not just when it comes to printing, but when it comes to the design itself: we want creators to offer merch that both they and their fans will be proud to wear.
Beyond that, we want to make sure that we offer the highest quality products, both when it comes to work with our creators and when it comes to communicating with their fans. Image is everything for creators and influencers, and if there’s ever a quality problem we proactively handle it ASAP, rather than treating all of our creators like anonymous platform users.
We are narrowly focused on making merch work for creators.
Q. What are some of the pitfalls of the merch industry that creators need to be aware of?
There are many pitfalls, but a few big one that we see frequently with creators who decide to do their own merch are as follows:
- Good designs: Coming up with quality designs is always a challenge, and often a major bottleneck for releasing merch that fans will love. In a lot of cases, it can be hard to budget paying several hundred dollars upfront for a professional designer to create quality artwork (and if they haven’t designed for merch before, there are plenty of technical pitfalls when it comes to file types, RGB vs. CMYK, opacity problems, and more).
- On-demand vs. bulk inventory: If you’re ordering your own inventory and fulfilling orders yourself, a major dilemma is deciding whether to order merch in bulk or to print on demand. With the former, you’re paying upfront and taking the risk of having leftover inventory. With the latter, you’re delaying shipments and taking the risk of paying more due to having a small order size.
- International shipping: When independently accepting money and fulfilling orders, it’s easy to overlook how much international shipping costs, especially when shipping bulkier items! Trying to mail a hoodie to Europe can cost over $30 when using USPS, and if you only charge a flat rate you can quickly lose most of your profits on international shipping.
- Print quality: Lastly, finding a printing company that can reliably deliver great results on time is a much harder problem than it appears at first. Crowdmade works with several vendors currently, but we’ve fired almost twice that number because of quality control issues. Every printer will promise the moon, but almost all of them inevitably fall short on print quality, turnaround time, cost, or all three.
Q. Do you take on any creator or do they need to have massive audiences?
Because we invest a ton of effort into each and every creator that we work with, we usually look for creators with already established audiences. That being said, we’re currently working on new tools to help any creator, no matter the size, offer high quality merch to their fans.
What’s much more important than audience size, however, is the ability and willingness of a creator to promote. A creator with a small audience who works hard and understands that good promotion is part of being a professional is a much better fit for us than a massive channel that refuses to sell to their audience, whether it’s their own branded merch or a third-party product.
Q. What do you expect from the creators you work with?
For starters, I can tell you what we don’t expect. We don’t expect creators to sign a dense, onerous contract. We don’t expect creators to pre-purchase thousands of dollars worth of inventory, or pay a contract termination fee. We don’t expect to lock creators in while we provide a bad service; we expect them to choose us because of our quality.
Beyond that, we appreciate when the creators we work with are willing to communicate with us, and when they’re willing to regularly promote their merch. It’s always great getting feedback rather than radio silence, although I know how busy creator schedules can get. Similarly, while we can handle making the merch, we need creators to handle telling people about it, which can sometimes be a challenge.
Q. Who designs the merch?
At Crowdmade, we have a diverse roster of professional designers that we work with. Every channel has a slightly different aesthetic, and it would be impossible for a single designer to capture every channel’s distinct style. Fortunately, we’re able to pick the best designer for the job depending on the channel and the design.
Q. How much control does the creator have?
The creator has complete control – they approve the design, approve the samples, have final say on retail pricing, and ultimately choose when to launch. While it might benefit Crowdmade in the short term to have a strict contract or require upfront inventory purchases, we intentionally give up a lot of control because we’re committed to competing on quality and creativity for the long term.
Q. Now that I have merch, do I just sit back and watch the money roll in?
Great merch requires ongoing investment and strategy. It’s not enough to build an online store, stick the link in your bio, and walk away. When we first got started, we thought “how hard could it be?”, but now with three years of experience under our belt, we’ve discovered (nearly) all of the potential hurdles when it comes to doing merch well.
To get the most out of their stores, creators need to plan on regularly promoting their store, and they should have a longer term strategy planned for new designs and products. And that’s assuming they’re already using a third-party to produce the merch, fulfill it to fans, and handle customer service.
Ultimately, we want to handle all of this logistics work for our creators; they should be focused on making excellent content and growing their audiences.
Last day to check out booth #709! pic.twitter.com/FCqBiDim1C— jacksfilms (@jacksfilms) June 23, 2018
Q. YouTube recently announced a partnership with Teespring, how will this effect the business?
It’s great that YouTube thinks more creators should have merchandise! Over the years, we’ve encountered a fair number of creators that have been hesitant to pursue merch, and often they’re afraid to come across as “selling out,” or they’re worried their fans will react negatively. It’s encouraging to see YouTube promote merch as a valid revenue stream, and if their partnership means more creators are willing to give it a shot, that’s absolutely better for the ecosystem as a whole.
Of course, there are still plenty of difficulties when it comes to doing merch yourself, which means Crowdmade will still offer value to creators.
Q. What happens behind the scenes?
We’ve been able to engineer a system that allows us to plug-and-play between several different vendors simultaneously. For example, when ordering a hat, a phone case, and a t-shirt, you can easily be ordering from three different printers. Each item is sent to its corresponding printer to be produced and shipped, and tracking numbers are automatically collected and sent back to the customer.
An automated order processing backed means that we can spend more time communicating and strategizing with creators, rather than manually ordering and fulfilling every shirt and hoodie that comes through our system.
It’s one of the reasons that our team has been able to stay incredibly lean (we’re at five full time employees). And although it might sound simple, handling multi-vendor ordering and fulfillment is an incredibly complex problem, one that I haven’t seen solved well anywhere else.
So in summary:
The one thing that struck me, is how much Crowdmade genuinely cares about each article that they sell to ensure that the fan is happy with their purchase. Watching these guys interact with fans at VidCon and seeing the delight on the kid’s faces when they walked away from the booth wearing a Jacksfilms hoodie, makes me think that one day – WHEN I am big – I want Crowdmade to handle my merch.
To check out all the merch from the top creators, head over to crowdmade.com