Selling Hats & Branded Items = Real Money

Supply Things & Provide ServicesWe have all learned, through painful recent experience, the branding power of hats. And branded materials (hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts, totes, coffee mugs) can indeed benefit your group by helping to establish your political identity. Branded items can help your group become "a thing" rather than just an idea.

At the same time, branded hats, t-shirts, and the like can add a valuable messaging element to rallies, marches, and similar large public events. And imagine this scene – a popular local personality jumps on a stage, pats her your-logo-branded t-shirt or tips her your-logo branded hat as she says "support these activists – they are fighting to protect our voting rights" while pointing to your table in the back of the room.

For some groups, the benefits described above will be their main or only reason to develop and sell (or give away) branded materials. But for other groups, perhaps more stretched for funds, the revenue raising potential can be surprisingly strong. Done in the right way, sales of branded materials can be a meaningful part of almost any group's budget.

Should We Try It? Is It Worth a Trial Run?

If you think the combined benefits – political and revenue raising – are prospectively strong enough to make a trial run worthwhile, what follows are some suggestions for how to proceed.

#1: Consider Your Opportunities

Could you, if you decided to, have tables or booths at many medium and large events such as street fairs, farmers markets, flea markets, candidates' rallies, movement rallies, demonstrations, conferences, public talks, and the like? Will the normal course of your organizing involve multiple house meetings, recruitment meetings, planning and training meetings, and the like? Are you planning fundraising events, either virtual or in-person, where sale of campaign materials would be a natural add-on? Is your social media activity robust enough to use to promote the sale of campaign materials, or to support attendance at events where the materials will be for sale? The more the yeses pile up, the better your prospects.

#2: Selecting Suppliers

There are lots of suppliers of preprinted "Vote!" hats, t-shirts and so on. They won't, of course, include your branding, and the gross margins will make it harder to be profitable under realistic operating conditions. Custom products are readily available and affordable, first orders can often be small, and the branding elements can be very simple and easy to derive. One prominent provider of custom printed branded materials,, is used here to illustrate the range of possible branded items readily available from large reputable suppliers. There are many possible suppliers to choose from. They offer custom printed hats, t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, coffee mugs, travel mugs, water bottles, totes, lanyards, keychains, sportpacks, and… the possibilities go on and on and on.

#3: Selecting Products

Know your market. Understand the pricing levels that are considered normal in your community. One location will object to a hat costing more than fifteen bucks, while another barely notices that a hat costs $35. In a more upscale/suburban environment, lots of cool branded items may find a market at a good price. In areas more economically pressed, it may be better to just plan on $15 hats. Know your community. This is a key starting point, because without an adequate markup, no sales program will actually produce a net profit to apply to organizing.

#4: Suggestions for Successful Pricing & Pitfalls to Avoid

Be realistic. When considering your markup, remember that your inventory will likely suffer losses. Some will be given away, taken, damaged, or soiled. This will consume more of your stock than you might expect, and your markup needs to build in a realistic view of these losses. For suburban or more upscale urban markets, a 150+ percent markup will likely be needed to provide actual profits after absorbing the inevitable losses. Lower income audiences (think an urban community college) will need lower prices, and this will likely require BOTH less expensive (to you) items AND a less aggressive markup. A 150 percent markup on a hat costing your group $12 would make its sale price $30.

Don’t sell hats that cost you $8 for $35. If you sell upscale at all, purchase products that don’t make the buyer feel ripped off. “I paid for a quality hat, but I got a piece of crap.” Nobody expects a quality hat for ten or fifteen bucks, but nobody expects a cheap hat for $35 either. If you sell hats for $35, sacrifice some of the potential profit to sell a better hat.

Put a BIG sign on your table that answers the question, "Why is this stuff so pricy?" before it is even asked. Your sign can address price issues by saying something like:

Published: October 2021
Revised: June 2023

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