for 6 June 1996. Updated every THURSDAY.


Merch Search

Okay, so you're young, you're
brilliant, and that indie label of
yours is starting to attract a bit
of attention. Or maybe it's your
fanzine. Or your band. Or your
public access show, your website, or
your mail-order condom business. So
what are you gonna do to take things
to the next level, to give your
project that extra little cachet,
all while staying within the
confines of your limited resources?
Being young and brilliant myself,
I've pondered this question quite a
bit, and I'm happy to report that
I've found the answer. In a word,
people: merchandising.
Lots of companies spin off
merchandised products, of course,
and I ought to know because I
collect them - a quick glance around
my apartment reveals, among other
goodies, a Schaefer bottle opener, a
Nathan's Famous ashtray, a Mr.
Peanut porcelain figure, a Hershey's
with Almonds paperweight, a Rice
Krispies wristwatch, a set of M&Ms
stickers, and a Hydrox refrigerator
magnet. But those products all come
from big companies - nobody expects
a zine editor, for instance, to
begin spinning off merchandised
goods. And that's sort of the point -
if the Rice Krispies logo looks
cool on a watch (and believe me, it
does), then a zine logo looks even
cooler, and I ought to know that
too, because the watch I'm wearing
right now sports the logo of my
zine, Beer Frame: The Journal of
Inconspicuous Consumption.
Small, DIY projects are ideal
subjects for merchandising,
precisely because nobody expects it
of them. It's one of those
contextual tricks that turns a
standard notion on its head, in this
case the notion of conferred
legitimacy. For an established
company like Kellogg's, it's the
familiarity of the Rice Krispies
logo that makes the watch cool, but
in the case of a living-room
enterprise that nobody's ever heard
of, like Beer Frame, the equation is
reversed - the watch is helping to
legitimize the logo. And for the
handful of obsessive zine readers
for whom Beer Frame is as ubiquitous
as Rice Krispies, they get a kick
out of seeing a little project
playing the merchandising game,
"just like those big corporations" -
again, a matter of
I got my watches done by the American
Watch Co., one of several companies
that advertise cheap introductory
offers in those in-flight magazines
that the major airlines publish. The
watches turned out great, and Beer
Frame is a magazine about
consumerism anyway, so additional
merchandising seemed warranted. I
soon learned that companies like
Harvey Products, Best Impressions,
and Nelson Marketing, among others,
will print your logo onto just about
anything - golf balls, pocket
knives, coffee mugs, screwdrivers,
flashlights, teddy bears, luggage,
computer disks, lighters, change
purses, silverware, you name it.
They'll even stamp your logo into a
chocolate bar. Unfortunately, the
minimum orders for most of these
items are usually in the $400 range
peanuts for a normal company
running a promotion, of course, but
more than I had in mind. My plans
for merchandising domination would
have to wait. Eventually, however, I
found enough specialty companies
offering cheap deals to build a
small product line of Beer Frame
merchandise. You'd probably be best
served by coming up with your own
merchandising concepts and your own
sources for them, but for those lazy
and shameless enough to steal all my
ideas, here's the scoop:
Apparel: Everyone does T-shirts, of
course, myself included, but see if
you can also come up with an article
of haberdashery that relates to your
particular enterprise. In my case,
Beer Frame has a bowling subtext, so
I arranged for a local supplier to
make me some bowling shirts, which
look very swank indeed.
Key chains: If you're looking to
immortalize your logo, then having
it stamped into solid fucking metal
is about as immortal as it gets.
Martguild, Inc., an Ohio firm, will
make you ten, very handsome key
chains for well under $100, and they
have other inexpensive introductory
offers as well.
Beverage coasters: One of my
favorites. The American Coaster Co.
of upstate New York offers a wide
range cardboard coasters, just like
the ones you drool on at your local
bar. Depending on which cardboard
stock you order and the complexity
of your logo, you can get 2,000
coasters (the minimum quantity) for
as little as $140.
Refrigerator magnets: As someone
once said, the classics got to be
classics for a reason. There are
lots of sources for fridge magnets,
including one probably lurking
around your town, but if you want to
support a fellow small-time
operation, try Zine Arts, a
two-person Seattle outfit that
offers very reasonable prices based
on the size of your design.
Temporary tattoos: Your true fans,
of course, will get a real tattoo of
your logo, but your more wishy-washy
adherents may prefer this option.
The company you want is Calico
Temporary Tattoos - they'll make you
1,000 tats for about $200. Just the
thing for all those alternative-
lifestyle types I keep hearing so
much about.
Finally, in the midst of all the cool
products and contextual ironies,
don't forget that merchandising
offers one other benefit: Each
doodad with your logo on it is a de
facto advertisement for your
operation, giving you new exposure
in all sorts of disparate media. Of
course, if you can get some website
to print an article you wrote on the
subject, complete with illustrations
of all your merchandised goodies,
that's probably the best exposure of
American Coaster Co., 3685 Lockport
Rd., Sanborn, NY 14132; 716-693-6540
American Watch Co., 2846 Misty
Morning Rd., Torrance, CA 90505;
800-862-6772 Best Impressions, P.O.
Box 802, La Salle, IL 61301;
800-635-2378 Calico Temporary
Tattoos, 315 Plantation Way,
Vacaville, CA 95687; 707-448-7072
Harvey Products, Inc., 506 6th Ave.,
Brooklyn, NY 11215; 718-499-7838
Martguild, Inc., 576 Industrial
Parkway, Chagrin Falls, OH 44022;
216-247-8978 Nelson Marketing, 210
Commerce St., Oshkosh, WI 54902;
800-722-5203 Zine Arts, 1427 Harvard
Ave., Seattle, WA 98122; 206-328-7624

courtesy of
the Inconspicuous Consumer