How To Pad Your Bank Account With Comprehensive Merch Programs

Park Roberts didn’t set out to build the next globo-gym or fitness empire. He wanted a place people could come and workout without judgment or insecurity—a place where gym rats and newbies could congregate and find the threshold of their physical abilities. So he built Boulder Athletics. 

If you find yourself walking through downtown Boulder, CO, you’re bound to see a few of their coveted shirts plastered with a sunrise over the mountains graphic that many have tried to get their hands on. It’s not easy, as the fitness club only offers the shirts once a quarter and during small pop-up events. 

You might be thinking, “what’s the big deal about a basic t-shirt? Can’t you just get one online?” Nope, you can’t. You can scour their entire site and will never find one of their shirts for sale. Why? Because this shirt is more than a piece of clothing. It’s a uniform, a trophy, and a reminder of something much bigger than a few hours in the gym every week, it’s a sign of community. A community that was built through a comprehensive merch program. 

What’s a comprehensive merch program?

Comprehensive merch programs are not a collection of 25 different shirts that you shove down customer’s throats. It’s not that smorgasbord of items you can buy whenever you want. It’s a collection of well-crafted materials that speak to the essence of a brand—like the exclusive items VIPs get, except these VIPs pay for them in advance. 

Comprehensive merch programs are more than business promotion, they are the foundations that build communities and grow a brand’s reputation. Every brand has a culture and merch programs are the catalysts for making that happen. 

What makes comprehensive merch programs different from purchasing regular promotional products? 


If your customers want to make people care about what they’re selling, a comprehensive merch program is the answer. Comprehensive merch programs leverage exclusivity and limited releases, rather than constantly pushing products on customers. By making a smaller collection that is limited in quantity, it increases the demand from customers and starts to build brand recognition. 

Boulder Athletics is no stranger to running a killer comprehensive merch program. They keep it simple, offering a small series of shirts, hats, and water bottles that are released quarterly and sold in limited quantities inside their gym. But they don’t stop there. Boulder Athletics creates curiosity each quarter by dressing their coaches in the new merch prior to it being available. As members attend classes and workouts, they are teased with potential products they can get their hands on down the road. Not only that, but before each drop, they offer pre-order runs allowing customers to drive demand, rather than demanding customers to buy. 

This fundamental flip of the script puts your customers in a better position to build demand, limit stagnant inventory, and run a highly efficient merchandise program. 

Ok, but how do comprehensive merch programs play a role in my job as a distributor?

Distributors play the most essential role in successful merch programs. Without them, brands can’t equip their audiences with the shirts, hats, notebooks, phone cases, and other goods that foster the community they need to thrive. Behind every great business is a distributor that is driving their merch program. 

As a distributor, it’s important to think about your customer’s customer. Do they want the same boring shirt that’s always for sale, or do they want the exclusive summer edition t-shirt that’s one of one hundred? See what we’re talking about? Most buyers aren’t interested in the product itself, but rather the experience that product brings. For Boulder Athletics, it’s that feeling of community and connection that comes from wearing one of their shirts and seeing another person do the same. It creates a clear connection between the person and the brand that goes far beyond the superficiality of actually wearing a basic shirt. 

Distributors are in charge of empowering these kinds of experiences. With a connection to suppliers and a relationship with the brand, aka your customer, you can be the one to bring them closer to their customers with this kind of program. Instead of looking at your role as a distributor selling promotional products, be the expert that helps deliver top-notch merch programs that help build business empires. 

Simply put, sell the service, not the product. 

When you do so, you bring more value to your customers and as a result, they begin to experience success rooted in connection and community, as well as generate recurring revenue—sounds like a win for all three parties if you ask us. 

What if I don’t work with gyms? 

Comprehensive merch programs work for all kinds of businesses. Schools, sporting clubs, restaurants, bars, bike shops, church programs, youth programs, your local bodega—pretty much anyone can start an annual, quarterly, or monthly merch program if they have the right distributor. Just look at Dunkin Donuts and their annual Christmas pop-up shop that crushed it last year—if they can do it, so can your customers. 

Think about what brands in your niche would benefit the most and how you can come up with a creative merch program that they can use without having to do the heavy lifting. Think outside the box of traditional promotional products and find the items that your people’s people really crave and are willing to pre-order or purchase when a merch drop happens. 

Focus on the people, not the product. 

When you start thinking more about customer needs and less about pushing products, you’ll be surprised at how quickly they get snatched up and your customers start asking you for more great ideas. 

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