LAST UPDATED: 10 August 2023

Race Merchandise

How do you get started selling race merchandise? Merchandising pro Kim Bilancio on picking items that sell and managing inventory wisely.

Kim BilancioKim Bilancio

Race Merchandise

Selling merchandise is a great way to increase brand loyalty for participants outside race day, and, of course, a very good way to increase revenue from your event.

So, how do you get started selling race merchandise, both online, on packet pickup and on race day? How do you pick and test merchandise items that sell? And, very importantly, how do you manage inventory well to maximize sales while minimizing the risk of costly leftover items?

That’s what we’re going to be discussing today with my guest, Greenlayer apparel President, and merchandising expert, Kim Bilancio. Kim has spent decades in the race apparel industry, where, among other things, she has been running the race merchandise programs for Hood to Coast and other prestigious events up and down the country. 

And today Kim will be helping us get a feel for what race merchandising is, how it works, what types of events it is (and isn’t) best suited for, and how, when implemented right, it can help increase your race’s revenue, while giving your participants a piece of your race to keep, cherish and showcase year-round. 

In this episode:

  • What race merchandising can do for your event
  • On-site (race day, packet pickup) vs online (registration flow, website) merchandise sales
  • Starting out selling race merchandise as part of your registration flow
  • Outsourcing merchandise sales to an apparel vendor vs doing it in-house
  • How small things like weather can affect merchandise sales
  • Guesstimating apparel sizes to order from past data and registration trends
  • What types of races merchandising is (and isn't) well suited for
  • Working on a commission vs flat-rate basis with merchandise vendors
  • Choosing where to set up your merch store on packet pickup and race day
  • Choosing products to sell in your merch store
  • Picking shirt styles and qualities for your store that work alongside your finisher shirt
  • The tech shirt vs tri blend debate
  • Including non-wearables in your merch offering
  • Including cycling kits and other specialized merch for multisport events
  • Printing items on-demand for registration flow merch stores
  • Shipping merch to participants pre-race day

Thanks to RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 28,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit

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Episode transcript

Panos  1:58  
Kim, welcome to the podcast.

Kim  2:01  
Thanks for having me.

Panos  2:02  
Well, thanks a lot for taking the time to come on. How are things in Portland?

Kim  2:07  
They're good. We've got a cold face coming up here but, otherwise, it's good. 10 o'clock at night.

Panos  2:15  
Indeed. Yeah, we're doing this really weird thing because of the time zone difference where you're 10pm your time and it's 8am my time, so it's pretty weird for the both of us. One of us is really tired and one of us is sort of, like, trying to get up, which is going to be interesting.

Kim  2:31  
Yeah, I'm not sure if I should be drinking coffee or having a beer.

Panos  2:34  
Yeah, indeed. I would advise neither because you're going to be sort of going to bed really shortly. We should clarify, you're in Portland, the Oregon type, right? There's another Portland you guys have - a pretty big one. Is it Maine or someplace?

Kim  2:48  
Yeah, so there's Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine. Ironically, I was born in Portland, Maine. I don't talk like a Mainer, but that is where I was born. But I currently live in Portland, Oregon.

Panos  2:59  
Was that intentional - you only live in cities named Portland?

Kim  3:04  
It was not. I went to school out in New England. Then, I got a job at Nike and that's what brought me out to Portland. But that's Portland to Portland. Yeah.

Panos  3:14  
Does Nike have a presence in Portland as well? I thought it was all in Eugene.

Kim  3:18  
No, actually, none of it is really in Eugene. Nike is based in Beaverton. That's about five or 10 minutes outside of Portland.

Panos  3:25  
So you're the owner of Greenlayer Sports. Some of our listeners would know about you guys, some won't. Do you want to tell everyone a little bit about yourself and the company? 

Kim  3:37  
Yeah, well, Greenlayer is both a direct manufacturer and also a screen printer. But we also work on creating merchandise programmes for teams and larger sports organisations across a whole variety of channels, so not just running. We operate across probably eight different sports.

Panos  3:57  
How did you start the company? What's the story? Because you mentioned there that you used to work for Nike. How did that transition happen for you? 

Kim  4:04  
Well, gosh, yeah, I started off at Nike and I was working in their innovation group, which was super fun. Basically, all of the projects that we worked on at Nike, it was in their innovation group where everything was targeting either an Olympic Games or World Championships where apparel was essentially considered a piece of equipment. So it would be like Apolo Ohno's speed skating suit that would be worn at the Olympics or, back in the day, Lance Armstrong's Time Trial suit - fun projects like that. Then, I moved after that into product management and merchandise management at Adidas. There, essentially, what you do is you create product assortments. And from a sketch, you're essentially taking things through the product creation process into a go-to market where you're selling it into, let's say a Nordstrom or a collegiate property. And in my case, I was working on team sports, so I was working on probably eight different team divisions where that would get sold into - let's say, like, a UCLA or collegiate property. So, I had been kind of thinking around and thought, "Hey, it'd be interesting to get into doing something with events" because I was an athlete myself. I swam competitively all through age 10 through college through division one school at UCONN. And then after that, I got into triathlons and doing Ironman. So I was very familiar with events from the athlete's perspective. And I also thought, because of that, there were a lot of things that could be improved as well.

Panos  5:46  
Right. And currently, with Greenlayer, you guys mostly do apparel and, as you mentioned, other kinds of merchandising items - but mostly apparel - is that right?

Kim  5:56  
It's primarily apparel, yeah. We do some things that round out apparel assortments if we're doing merchandise-type items, depending on where the event might be. It could start to branch into things like towels or some, what I like to call, more non-wearable type items, but not, I would say, a huge number of those.

Panos  6:16  
Can you share with our listeners, like, any kind of high profile or interesting races you guys work with?

Kim  6:22  
Yeah, well, we do a lot of national championship events and across a few different sports right now. So we do that in tennis, soccer, and swimming. We also do some larger volleyball events. We work with the second-largest beach volleyball event in the world, which actually happens to be in Oregon. Then, Hood to Coast race series, we also do all of their merchandise. We have done countless large marathons that have been in the 15,000 and 20,000 person size range. But we also do work with a lot of accounts where they may want to do the merchandise in-house and we might consult with them on what product mix is going to work best for them. Maybe, the race is only 1,000 people, but it's a four-and-a-half and they're going to be selling onsite themselves and maybe selling online. We also work with them on advising them on what might be the right mix to start with which, 9 times out of 10, I'd say I'm pulling them back and telling them to do less versus doing more.

Panos  7:27  
Well, indeed. And this is precisely the reason why I was so keen to get you on today - because a lot of your business at Greenlayer and a lot of the expertise seems to be around merchandising, which is generally not a topic that I've seen covered all that much. And it's definitely something important to look at because it's a revenue stream and events, particularly coming out of the pandemic, they're having a tough time catching up to their kind of, like, pre-COVID kind of revenue. And thinking of alternative options and different ways of making money, like, in a win-win constructive way for the brand of the event is always a plus. So merchandising is one of those areas. You mentioned you do quite a lot of stuff. We're going to be going into the detail in a sec. But starting off, for people who haven't done merchandising before, race directors - we'd say good it's probably the majority of race directors out there - what is the appeal? Why do race directors do it? Why do the people who choose to do it do it?

Kim  8:35  
Well, it's twofold, I think. One, there's the obvious. It's an added revenue stream. But two, it's also an additional branded product that you're going to be getting out on to your athletes besides what you might be giving away. So maybe you're giving away a T-shirt. This is an additional product beyond that that's going to go onto those runners. And it has a tendency to be, or at least it should be, a higher end and upper end product that people are definitely really going to want to wear and you should see them wearing it out and about.

Panos  9:07  
Yeah, because these types of items, I guess, that people pick-- because the merchandising item, like, if you get a nicer T-shirt or a hoodie or something that may be on top of the finisher shirt - these are two separate things - generally, the people who would pay for it would want to, as you say, wear it more often, wear it outside, and it tends to be a better quality higher-priced kind of item.

Kim  9:36  
Yeah, exactly. So everybody knows that. The line item budget that you might have for the shirt that you're going to give away to the runners is not going to be as high as maybe something that you could resell. Right? And ideally, it is a different type of product that you're putting into the resale items. It's a higher-end piece that you couldn't give away, and that's the goal. Right?

Panos  9:59  
And my understanding from just looking around at what races do is that races tend to sell merchandise through two different channels, right? One is on race day. You see those stalls that you see on, like, the finish line or the start line or around the race where you can buy this additional merchandise. And the other thing I see is selling this stuff during the registration checkout. So during the registration flow, you have a button that you press that you can add an extra item or something in your checkout, right? And then, maybe some races also kind of, like, have a merchandise store on their website where they sell stuff kind of, like, year-round. I'm guessing most of the action happens on race day, or am I mistaken? Or is the kind of, like, checkout, the registration thing also quite a big part of this?

Kim  10:56  
Yeah, that's an interesting question. One would think that race day would have some of the highest sales, but it doesn't. The highest sales tend to be a packet pickup, if you're doing on-site sales. People tend to shop the most during those packet pickup days. So if it's a two-day expo, that's where you get the majority of your sales. You do get sales at the finish line, but it tends to not be as high. People tend to be focused on other things. They finished, they're finding their friends, their families. Sometimes, they're headed over to the beer tent or whatever may be at the finish line. If you're positioned near the beer tent, sometimes that helps but, otherwise, it's usually not as high. Putting product in the registration path, I think, is often a no brainer and it's one of the easiest places to get started because you can put something up and, if it didn't sell well, then you can turn it off two weeks before the race and you can print up whatever was purchased and you're not stuck with a lot of inventory, which is important when you're going to be taking on merchandising, because if you don't plan it right and you have a lot of extra inventory leftover-- inventory is money, so you don't want to have a lot of excess. The registration path, really today, at least in the running market, specifically, really any of the major players have the function set up where you can add apparel items for sale, and it's really easy on the backend to use. And you can put inventory caps on there if you want to cap inventory, and it's a great place to test. And it's essentially an impulse buy because, if you're at the grocery store, and you're walking to the cash wrap and you're gonna go checkout, they've got chocolates and all these little things that you can grab and people grab them. And essentially, when you put that apparel in the registration path, it almost acts as an impulse buy and it self-markets itself, where people already have their credit card out because they're registering and, if they see something they like, they tend to just add it to their cart. So it's a good place, I'd say, for a lot of people to get started even if they don't want to have anything on site.

Panos  13:14  
Yeah, definitely the convenience of being in the registration. As you say, you don't have to take out your credit card kind of thing because it's part of a single payment flow - definitely works in its favour. And I didn't think about your point about packet pickup versus race day. It makes a lot of sense. Yeah, as you say, when you finish the race, there are other things in your mind but, on pocket pickup-- packet pickup sounds a little bit like the registration checkout kind of situation, right? It's a little bit of an impulse purchase as well. Most of the time, you have your credit card with you when you go to packet pickup, plus you have the excitement of the context of being around race day, which I guess helps a lot. So, you're thinking more about the race. You're excited. So it's a good point to sell things. Inventory is something that we're going to get into because, as you say, it's a make-or-break kind of thing. And actually, inventory is the reason why, most of the time, most races decide to outsource the whole merchandising thing to someone like you or other vendors who basically do it on their behalf. Right? 

Kim  14:23  

Panos  14:23  
Going into this, my impression was that when we talked about merchandising, I thought quite simply, the race director decides to sell some merchandise - they go buy the merchandise and they sell it. And when I spoke to you actually, you mentioned that most of this stuff happens a slightly different way around, which is race director wants to put on the merchandise, they go to a vendor, then the vendor handles all the inventory item selection, all of that kind of stuff, and then the race director gets a kickback out of that. I guess the upside or, like, the benefit for the race director is that they don't have to worry about buying the merchandise, holding it, and doing all the inventory management, which is why they choose to go down that road. Is my thinking right on that?

Kim  15:11  
Yeah, yeah, it is. A lot of event management groups don't operate large teams, right? They have a fairly tight team, even if they produce some larger events and they balloon up on race day. But they're managing the operational aspect of the event there, sometimes the timing as well, all the zoning and dealing with the cities and all of that, all of the management that goes into putting on a race, and it's a lot. So there are some management groups that just don't want to touch merchandise. They've got too much on their plate as it is - number one. That could be one of the reasons. Number two, they just may not have somebody who has the expertise on their team who is really going to tackle it and take it on, because if you are going to do it, you do have to do it right. If it's not done right and you don't manage the inventory right, then it could become a bit of a money sink as well. So that's the important part. So if you bring on a merchandise vendor where they take on the inventory risk and then they give you a kickback, for the most part, it's turnkey, the race directors hands off, and they just get money at the end of the weekend. Right? And that just adds to their bottom line, which that's a good thing.

Panos  16:30  
Well, yeah, I mean, actually, now that you mentioned, I never thought about it this way. But it sounds to me a little bit like the consideration race directors go through when they weigh up race photography, in a way. Right? I mean, in photography, you also have this model, either race director hires the photographer, the photographer is just there to take the shots, and then the race director sells them and they take all of the risk of having paid the photographer and then having to recoup that cost from sales or - which is closer to the model you were mentioning just a minute ago about vendors - because maybe that photographer or the vendor have the expertise, lots of people choose to basically get the photographer to come onsite, the photographer picks the model on what they want to do, and then they kick back part of that revenue to the race director.

Kim  17:25  
Yep. And then there are some races that they may manage it in-house, and it varies on the size of the event who may do that. Sometimes, if we're going to manage an event's merchandising, they tend to be either a destination race. They can be a little bit smaller if it's a destination race or it's a little bit larger race. But if you're a race that's kind of got a good regional following but maybe you're 1,500 or 2,000 people, we may not go onsite because it just might not make sense - the sales may not be high enough and we have a travel overhead to get there - but we may help them pick their products if they want to sell onsite. And a lot of times, I see people starting to pick to widen assortment, and so I'm often the person telling them, "No, I would do less. Test it." Any day of the week, I'd rather see a race sell out and wish they had had more than having too much extra product. It's just not worth it to have a lot of excess.

Panos  18:28  
Well, yeah, definitely because, I guess, when you sell out, you can also tell people-- I mean, first of all, it creates a kind of, like, scarcity-type effect. And then, you can tell people, "You can go on our website or you can even take an order there and then ship it later on." Right? But to be left with inventory is quite tricky. I think it's difficult to grasp exactly how complex this thing is because, as you say, you need to pick the right inventory that sells which, mostly, lots of people don't necessarily have the expertise to be able to do that, and in the right quantities. Then, as you say, you have to walk that fine balance between selling enough and not being left holding the bag, so to speak - like, being left with tonnes of inventory that you cannot sell, which is a really big problem.

Kim  19:20  
Yeah, yeah. And you really have to just get to know your race because there are trends and similarities that go across various sports and events, but it also varies quite a bit depending on the demographic region or even the distance of the event or the type of event. So what sells in California or, let's say, Miami area is going to be a little bit different than, let's say, Colorado or another area of the country. It's just always a little bit different. Even when you plan right and you've got some good history, sometimes the weather just changes and that can even impact things. What the weather is like at packet pickup and race day actually impacts sales. And if it's just downpouring and that's the luck of the draw that happened on that particular day, then people tend to look for things that are related to rain, even if, by race day, it's going to be sunny. So there are a lot of factors that just influence what people are going to buy - some of that is not controllable. It's just not.

Panos  20:32  
Yeah, I never thought of that. I mean, it is quite easy. Yeah, I guess if it is an impulse purchase and you're there at packet pickup, and it's pouring down, then you're gonna think, "I may not want to buy the T-shirt. I may want to buy the hoodie or a raincoat or something like that. Right?" So yeah, that makes things quite complicated. I mean, just thinking of that, you guys being the experts in this and having done this for a while, you must have been caught out a couple of times by these things - being left with inventory, like, things switching around, and last minute seeing, like, big swings in what you would expect. Does that happen quite often?

Kim  21:09  
Yeah. Sometimes, if something like that happens, you might just sell out of your outerwear earlier in the course of the weekend than what you'd normally would have done. But yeah, a lot of times, we don't fully sell out. A lot of times, what tends to happen is that a lot of the really common sizes start to get picked over. And then, towards the end, you just have kind of a lot of the end-of-the-size run type sizes. Sometimes, you can move through those and, sometimes, you just end up having some of the extra, but we try to minimise how much that is but, often, you don't always fully 100% sell out if you're doing a really large event.

Panos  21:54  
Because you have two dimensions there, I forgot. One is what item you pick. And then, in working out what inventory you're bringing to the race, you also have to think about sizes, which is a little bit the problem people have even ordering finisher certs around-- if I don't know my exact number because I need to put the order before all my registrations are in, how do I determine sizes and stuff? Right? So you need to go through that calculation as well. 

Kim  22:24  
Yeah. And in general, even if we have a little bit leftover, it's not excessive and we haven't dialled in enough at this point where we're usually not too concerned about that. But yeah, you've got to look at-- I'd say a good rule of thumb is looking at what is your size distribution, looking at between men and women with your race and what are your race shirt sizes looking like so you can get a feel for what size people are getting, at least, in that product. That's at least a starting point. And then, you just have to factor in that women tend to shop more than men - I don't think that's a surprise, right? They also tend to shop for other people and their families a little bit more. So you often build out a little bit more on the woman's product than on the men's product, depending on how your demographic skew is looking. So you factor in things like that as well.

Panos  23:16  
And since we have you on, actually, let's try and answer this-- it's slightly off-topic, I guess, but let's try and answer this question as well. If someone wants to order finisher shirts, since we're at it, and they're, like, two, three months out, the registrations are not all in, how do they go about sort of, like, guesstimating what sizes they're going to need? What would you advise them?

Kim  23:39  
For finisher shirts, do you mean the giveaway shirt that they might just be giving to everybody? 

Panos  23:44  

Kim  23:45  
Usually, what they can see is how things are trending leading up to the race and they can see what the skew is. And then, to some degree, you have to look at what the historical trends have been with your race because every race tends to be a little bit different. Now, post-COVID, I think everyone is seeing that people were always sometimes waiting until the last minute to sign up for races, but that got amplified during COVID, and that hasn't changed. That seems to be this permanent carryover from the pandemic and people are still getting kind of this surge a week or two out from the race. And for that, you can use in-stock products. Maybe you do a bigger print run initially, let's say, three weeks out, and then, a week out, maybe you can do another topper print run if you have a major surge. It's up to the race, to some degree, on how they want to manage some of that. Some races say that you're not guaranteed a shirt if you register after a particular date, so they try to manage expectations that way. But you have to look there are some races out there that get a really big surge on race week, and they kind of know what that is and they account for that because they see that it happens, it's been happening year after year. And then, there are other races that tend to fill up earlier and they're the lucky ones because they can plan better that way. But I would say more are skewing toward people signing up later right now. And so for that, you just have to look at what has happened in the previous years and then how you're trending this year. To some degree, it's always a little bit of a guess, right?

Panos  25:36  
This is with regard to the total quantity. In terms of sizes, is there, like, a rule of thumb kind of formula of guessing how many mediums, how many larges, that kind of thing?

Kim  25:46  
That varies a lot by race too. So I wouldn't say that it's necessarily-- one would say that it tends to track on a bell curve, but it also depends on if you're doing a unisex shirt or a gender-specific shirt because, if you're doing unisex, which a lot of people have transitioned to, especially since the pandemic, then your woman has a tendency to be more skewed into the smalls and the mediums. And so, you have to factor that in versus if you're doing gender specific, it might be more of a bell curve. But it varies a little bit depending on the race. So if it's just, let's say, a fundraiser and it's a nonprofit fun, run, walk, people might not be as serious a runner, and so your sizes may skew a little bit on the bigger side because they just may not be serious runners. Whereas, like, if you're doing, I don't know, let's say, a half Ironman Triathlon or you're doing a more competitive half marathon or marathon distance in there, then the people might be tracking a little smaller, right? Same thing with maybe an ultra, right? So some of the people, if they're out there doing a 50K, they might track on a little bit higher percentage on the smaller side. So it's pretty variable by race and by demographic, and you've got to just kind of take a look at what the trends are with your race and then extrapolate from there.

Panos  27:13  
Right. It sounds awfully complicated. I thought I would say it's not rocket science, but it sounds a little bit like rocket science. There are too many factors that go into it. Let's get back to merchandising, although I hope listeners would grant us that that was an interesting bit to clear out because I get this question quite a lot - we get it in the group - around sizes and guesstimating. So hopefully, that helped people there. Back to merchandising, in terms of the economics, let's hash things out a little bit. So race director goes to a vendor like you guys. They say, "Help me out with my merchandising. You sit down. You work out what's going to be needed sizes, all of that kind of stuff." For a race of, let's say, just picking a number of 1000 people or a couple of thousand people, what kind of money is merchandising, looking to bring in, in total for that kind of race? Like, roughly some number just to give people an idea how many of those participants are going to buy? What kind of tickets are we talking about in terms of sales? And of all of that, how much of a kickback would be going back to the race director in terms of, like, how much money is the race going to be making out of this whole thing?

Kim  28:27  
Yeah, gosh, I hate to say - I feel like I keep saying - that it wildly varies based on the demographic, but it kind of does. So for example, if you have a race that's 2000 people and it's out in Hawaii, then a huge percentage of the people doing that race are going to be travellers and they're going to buy at a much higher per cap rate than the average person. Whereas if you just have, let's say, more of a regional marathon or half marathon and maybe it's not as well known, your sales may not be as high. So a lot of it comes into how prestigious is the race. How is the race's branding? Do they have a good brand name? Does it resonate with people? Do they know it? How difficult is the race? So the harder the race is to finish, the more people tend to buy. And that goes even, like-- let's say there's a race that's just notoriously difficult, has a difficult course, then that also may motivate people as well. So, I've seen people who have had smaller races. Maybe they're just going to bring in an extra $3,000 to $5,000. There have also been races that have been in that size that could bring in $15,000 to $20,000, but it skews a lot. It skews a lot. If it's a championship event of some kind then, all of a sudden, it spikes up even more, and it could be not as big a race, but the sales could really start to get up there quite a bit higher.

Panos  30:12  
Are you saying, then, perhaps, that there's a type of race like your local 5K where merchandising may not be a good idea to consider overall because of these factors that people may not be buying enough? It's all going to be local crowds who may not spend a lot of money. Is that the case - you think?

Kim  30:34  
Yeah, I don't think merchandise is necessarily a fit for every race. I don't think it makes sense for everybody. If you're a local 5K, 10K Run, and it's a nonprofit event that is not very large, and maybe it's all locals, for the most part, it's probably not going to pull in a lot for merchandise sales. It's just probably not going to be the best fit. If you've got a pretty good following and people like your brand, and you've got a good following not only on social, but you're actively working with all of the participants on email, and people tend to like your race, then you have a better chance of, I would say, the sales being higher. And so, the numbers I was talking about were more for, let's say, the race is 1000, maybe, to 2000 people. So it's going to vary quite a bit, but I definitely don't think it's a fit for every race.

Panos  31:32  
Okay. And of those top-line numbers that you mentioned, how much of that-- I guess you agree that upfront with the race. How much of that ends up going back to the race?

Kim  31:44  
I would say, like, on average, the kickback is about 15% to 25% depending on the event - usually what it ends up being. But we've worked on sliding scales before that's based on performance. So if we ended up selling more, then there might be a little bit higher percentage that goes back. And we've also worked off of flat rates. I'd say the flat rate is really-- that works better if the race has had a history and there's good historical data to look from. So you really can show that this is how much has been getting sold because you also don't want to really put your merchandiser in a bad position where there are uncontrollable factors that come into play. And so, let's say the weather's just terrible and something happens and maybe even the race gets cancelled, you don't want to put them on the hook for something, a flat amount, if something like that happens. It just puts them in more of a bad position, I would say. I think that flat rates are more reserved for events where there's been clear history to show what the sales have been to warrant it.

Panos  32:55  
Ok, so it’s race merchandising we’re talking about today, and guess which registration provider comes with an easy-to-set-up free merchandise store straight out of the box. 

That’s right - it’s RunSignup!

RunSignup’s comprehensive race store module allows you to sell race merchandise as part of your registration checkout flow, which, if you recall from our chat with Kim earlier, is exactly where your participants have their wallets out and are ready to spend. 

You can set up your race store and start adding items to it in minutes from your RunSignup dashboard, where you can also set options for sizes and colors for your apparel and other store items, as well as set additional costs for each item to cover handling, shipping or whatever else you may need to fulfill the order, depending on your circumstances.

Not only that, but through your RunSignup store you can also set limits on your available inventory, making sure items are removed from your store as soon as your inventory is exhausted, therefore avoiding the risk of overselling items you don’t have. 

And, as we’ll get to discuss with Kim later in the episode, a registration checkout store can help you manage the risk of leftover inventory even further, by allowing you to print and ship items on demand as orders come in rather than committing to a large and potentially expensive upfront inventory order.

So to learn more about RunSignup’s race merchandising capabilities, or to book a free demo tailored to your needs, make sure to visit today. And see what RunSignup’s awesome race technology can do to take your event to the next level.

Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode… 

Panos  34:35  
I want to move on a little bit to the actual operations on race day of how you would sell and the kinds of items you're going to pick. And of course, you mentioned at the top of the podcast, which is quite interesting, that most of the sales would happen on packet pickup rather than race day. So when you show up on packet pickup or when you advise people what to do in races locally - if you can show up or it doesn't make sense for you to show up - like, how around packet pickup and the race are you advising people to set up sort of, like, the merchandising tent?

Kim  35:11  
Yeah, placement is important. The ideal placement is right after runners come in and get their packets. And ideally, there's a way to then funnel them or at least have them walking pass that official merchandise area, whether that's something that the race is doing in-house or if they're using another vendor because, that way, they get the traffic flow. And ideally, they hit that official merchandise, and then maybe they flow into the rest of the expo. But what we find is that people tend-- when they show up at the expo, they tend to be kind of on a mission to pick up their packet. They want to get that out of the way. So if you have the merchandise before that, then sometimes they're just a little bit distracted and they don't stop because they want to go get their packet. So the ideal placement is to let them go get their packets, get settled, and then funnel them through.

Panos  36:06  
Right, yeah, so they want to be in a kind of, like, relaxed mood. I did what I came here to do. I picked up my stuff. And now, I can sort of look around and maybe pick up an item or two.

Kim  36:17  
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And it is making it easier now with everybody having Apple Pay and they can pay on their phone and all of that. That's helping a little bit, I would say, with race day sales because not everybody carries money with them when they race, right? So that helps a little bit but, still, I would say, the lion's share of sales tends to track more at packet pickup.

Panos  36:39  
And on race day itself, when I show up in races, I've seen kind of like both models. I've seen tents setting up at the start line, tents at the finish line, I mean, sometimes, the start and the finish line are the same place. But when there are different points, where would you set up?

Kim  37:00  
We typically like to go at the finish line because, again, when you're at the start line, people are more focused on getting ready for the event versus buying things. You might pick up the friends and family there, but they're also a little bit more focused on watching the people that they know. And at the finish line, that's when they tend to be more relaxed. So again, typically, they're going through the finish line area. Everyone's finish line is a little bit different, but they might be picking up a medal and they might have some food - sometimes, it's out there - and we just try to be fairly close to where just that next step past, maybe, the awards photos, and then food, and then maybe we're the next location.

Panos  37:44  
I guess the good thing these days is that because it's possible now to pay through your phone and your watch and all kinds of stuff, that barrier at least to race day sales is sort of, like, eroding a bit in the sense that you don't have to also carry a wallet, which lots of people showing up for a race may not want to do, right? So you're there and you can pay with your phone, which makes everything easier, I guess? 

Kim  38:07  
Yeah. Before this, you might see some people with, like, the little fanny type waist packs and sometimes they would just run with that and they'd keep a few credit cards in there and sometimes their phone. It's usually not the serious runners who are carrying that. But the folks who are maybe middle of the pack and back, they might carry something like that because they're more in it for the experience anyway. They're not concerned about something weighing them down. But that's what they would carry. And now, we're seeing less of that because people have things on their phones and everything else. So it does help, yeah.

Panos  38:46  
Let's talk a little bit about what I feel is quite a crucial part of all this, which is picking up what products you want to be selling. I think, at some point, we were discussing this. You mentioned-- I took a note here. You mentioned everybody loves hoodies. So I guess hoodies are part of what you're selling. Is that the case?

Kim  39:07  
Yeah. Everybody does love hoodies. It doesn't seem to matter. You could be in a hot humid climate, especially if you're a local there-- what someone who's travelling in might consider hot and humid, the locals might not consider it that way, especially in the mornings or in the evenings. And so, it doesn't matter almost what the climate is. People will buy hoodies. It's got to be the right ones. It's got to be nice ones, but they will buy the hoodies. This goes back to, again, number one. It's the demographic. Like, what's your ratio between men and women? Where is this race taking place? What's the weather typically like? So if this is a race that's, like, in the mountains, then even in the summertime, it's probably going to be a little bit cold, right? So you may bring more outerwear. If this event is in Miami or if it's in Texas or Hawaii, then you're of course probably going to do more tank tops, but people wear long sleeves and hoodies even in those climates. But, I would say, headwear too. If you have, like, good headwear, people tend to buy hats. They're easy because there's no sizing. So that makes it a lot easier from a skew perspective, but even for the purchaser - there's no sizing. So I'd say that's one to go to.

Panos  40:40  
So you mentioned hoodies and headwear. Would you be selling a T-shirt even if you're giving away a T-shirt? Would that still be part of your merchandising offer?

Kim  40:51  
Yeah. I mean, we do that all the time. But the key is that, well, one, you should be doing it in a different colour. And ideally, you're doing it in a different fabric, something different. At the end of the day, people want to buy nice things. If they like it, they will buy it. So if you're giving away, let's say, a performance tee, then maybe you could sell a tri-blend - that would make sense - different colour and maybe even a different graphic on it. If you're going to sell another performance tee, then ideally it's just a completely different fabric and maybe it's an upper-end style that you would have never used as a giveaway tee, and that would factor in. But yeah, you can do that. You just have to make sure that it looks nothing like what's being given away.

Panos  41:38  
Well, again, since we have you here, another really hot question that we get quite a lot is, between tech fabrics and tri-blends - I guess there are qualities to both, so it's not, like, comparing one quality to another quality - generally speaking, which one is trending better? And which one feels kind of, like, more plushed and higher end? How would you compare the two, basically, on all fronts?

Kim  42:06  
Yeah. It's a mixed bag. And gosh, I mean, some people are just diehard tri-blend fans. So if you say anything against tri-blends, they'll come at you. But I'd say, in trail, I see more tri-blends and just blends in general right now. At the road races, it's mixed. Some of them want performance, some of them want the blends. The blends are nice. You'll definitely find people kicking around in them more. Some people will wear them to work out, but some of them can get a little sticky on you, still, if you're going to wear them for a run. I always say I throw a shirt like that on when it's not a very serious run - I might wear something like that. But if I was really going to be sweating a lot, I tend to want to wear a performance tee, still. I think it tends to be, a lot of times, just the fabrics. Sometimes, if you want a price point performance tee, sometimes, they're not as lush feeling as if you can pay a few dollars more and go into a little bit nicer style and a lot of those performance tees really feel really nice if you can get into just something that's just a couple levels up from the basic one. So, a lot of the product, we might even just merchandise with just a performance tee. It tends to be upper-end products that really have a very, very soft hand to them and they often end up still acting like a crossover piece because they are really nice. But it comes down to budget. Sometimes, it's what the race can afford or what they want to budget for shirts. And so, there's not really a right or wrong. I think there are some races that we hear from that still will say that if they give away a blend, their runners think that they're going cheap on them and that it's a lower price shirt. And then we've also got people who say, I won't go back to tech shirts right now. I just want to stick to blends. So it's a mixed bag. But I think variety is good. I think, at some point, people might get a little sick of blends constantly being used and, eventually, that starts to burn out a little bit too. So people are always looking for something new.

Panos  44:25  
It's interesting because I've received a few really horrible tech shirts in my time, and I tend to think of tri-blends-- like, whenever you get a tri-blend, it at least seems to feel a lot more decent. Like, it's difficult to get a tri-blend that is totally horrendous whereas, with tech shirts, I've had a couple that they feel unwearable, really. So, in my mind, at least, tri-blend, I have this impression that it's a slightly higher-end kind of product compared to a tech shirt.

Kim  45:02  
Well, the way the blend is it's polyester with viscose and bamboo and cotton and, so, it tends to be really soft. And you're right, I tend to not feel a tri-blend and that combination, feeling rough for not feeling very nice. There are a lot of different levels of polyester you can use depending on what people are trying to get it for the price point. There's definitely a range of how some of those feel. Some of them can feel really soft and feel really nice, and there are some that just feel terrible and they feel like plastic bag. Right? So that's the ones you want to avoid.

Panos  45:43  
Indeed. Well, you wear whatever you're given. But yes, I think, as a race director-- yes, as a race director, you can definitely make that choice. Going back to items you would want to sell again, we have the hoodies and shirts. You mentioned quite interestingly that you know, like, weatherwise, location-wise, you may choose to sort of lean towards more kind of, like, long sleeve versus tank tops, all of that stuff, which is something I've seen in some races. Would you sell as part of your merchandising tent things like maybe branded cups or keychains or stuff which is not necessarily wearables or kind of sports-related, but more of generic stuff that may be branded with a race? Is that something that people do?

Kim  46:29  
Yeah, I think it's good to add in some of that. We tend to do-- pint glasses and mugs are really easy. And I think there's a lot of people, again, who maybe don't want to buy something that's dealing with sizing or they don't want to buy an apparel piece. They'll buy, like, a cup or a mug, something like that, because they'll use it. Stickers sometimes can do well, depending on the race - or a magnet. I try not to go-- I hate to use this phrase but if you do too many of those kinds of tchotchke type things, you want to make sure if they're they're getting done well if you're going to do them because they can look a little flea market-ish if you're not doing it right. But if you do high-quality items and you do the right assortment, then they can look good. Like, for example, if there was a beer run or some sort of a wine event and somebody had a keychain with, like, a bottle opener on it, that was nicely done. I could see people buying. I could see people buying that. But kind of its relevance and making sure that it's done nicely, I think is important - and having good designs.

Panos  47:37  
Would you also put items which are not event-branded next to those to sell on race day? So let's say you have your Hood to Coast hoodie that you sell at Hood to Coast. Would you throw in there, like, a buff, but a branded-buff kind of thing as if you were selling an item that's not branded by the race? Would you add those items in there as well?

Kim  48:03  
Not a lot. Not really. People tend to be looking for the branded merchandise. They tend not to look for things that are blanks. We've sometimes built out some bottoms just to round out an assortment that doesn't have branding on them, but I would say people look for the logos or the graphics tied to the race. And a lot of times, I see-- a lot of times there's a running store that might be the sponsor of a race. And it's common for us also to be next to that running store at the expo. And a lot of times, that running store is running a sale or something on maybe a particular brand - maybe it's Brooks or, could be anybody - and they're doing race day specials, and they tend to have a lot of that blank product. So, we tend to try to filter people over to them for those blank goods. And sometimes, they might even have a graphic on a few shirts that are a similar theme to the race but don't have the race logo on it. And I think that works well for them. And then, we stick primarily to that branded merchandise and then the resale store gets some of their traffic that way as well.

Panos  49:14  
By the way, now that you mentioned it, when you guys show up on race day, you sort of want to blend in with the rest of the event team kind of thing. Right? So you're wearing probably the branded event clothing yourself and you're acting as if you are part of the race, right? You don't mention, say, "We're Greenlayer and we're selling this stuff." You try to blend in, I'm guessing.

Kim  49:37  
Yeah, we could. But typically, with the relationships, we could do that but we tend to act more as an extension of their team. And honestly, a lot of the people who come and shop in our areas, a lot of times, they just assume that it's part of the race. They don't even know that it may be an external vendor who may be doing it. So yeah, we do try to blend in, and that usually works well doing that.

Panos  50:04  
Last question with regards to item picking for a race. I mean, you mentioned, which makes total sense, that merchandising works quite well for aspirational races with a story where people may travel to the race, like that kind of event - you mentioned Ironman races, similar triathlons. For a triathlon or for a general multi-sport kind of race that may include a cycling component or a swimming component, would you also bring along, say, cycling jerseys or swimming trunks or other more, like, sports-specific things besides the casual stuff that people may wear as part of the offering?

Kim  50:50  
Yeah, good question. We do typically bring some items, yeah, and I don't think that's a bad idea. I think, if it's a cycling event, I tend to see people buy more kits than when it's a triathlon, but I see them buying kits at both. I think that is a really good opportunity for people to test the item in the registration path when it's a kit, because the kits tend to run more expensive. And so, if you overbuy on those, they're a little bit more of a bite on you. So I think getting a read on the pre-registration items and then maybe building out a little bit beyond that for your on-site is a good way to go. But I think it's important too to choose the right kit and the right brand if you're going to be doing that because, I think, kits-- people are a little bit more picky about what they may wear when it comes to, let's say, a cycling or a triathlon kit, and I know myself and a lot of folks that I know who do these sports are particular about that. We may have our top one or two brands that we only wear because it's tight-fitting and you're in the saddle wearing it. They're going to be a little more discriminating than if you're just buying a hoodie. I almost equate it, like, a sports bra in a lot of ways. So for women, women are very picky about their sports bras, and it's almost kind of in that vein. So, choosing the right brand is important and, then, having, of course, the right design as well.

Panos  52:18  
Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. I mean, I mentioned earlier that I've picked up a couple of horrendous tech shirts in my time. And I've bought - particularly when I was starting out in cycling - some really cheap kinds of cycling kids and, boy, they are unbearable. I mean, if a tech shirt is slightly unbearable to run in, these things are practically immersed in when you're cycling on and they can get impossible. So definitely go with some higher-end products on that one.

Kim  52:52  
Yeah, I mean, the chafing and everything else. If it's not comfortable, then people are just not going to wear it. Right? So that's important, I think, with the kits.

Panos  53:03  
You mentioned, on cycling kits, to try it out on your registration checkout and see how items go, which I guess goes to say that you can use your checkout sales as a kind of bellwether for what to go for on race day. I want to wrap us up a little bit on this registration checkout flow, which we didn't mention all that much because we focused on race day. One good thing about it is that inventory management is a lot easier, right? You don't need to keep inventory for things you're selling through the checkout, right?

Kim  53:38  
Yeah, if you're using something that's in stock, yeah. So you could let sales go through and find out exactly how many people have purchased and then produce that exact number, if that's what you want to do. If you were producing, let's say, something like a cycling kit or something that's sublimated, then you would have to, at some point, go into production right and it's a little bit longer lead time - probably more, like, four to six weeks on it - so you'd have to cut that off a little bit sooner. But yeah, it can give you a good read on the numbers.

Panos  54:08  
When you have, let's say, the registration checkout shop, you don't print on demand. My thought would be that you actually keep zero stock and you actually print on demand and you ship it directly from the printer. But I guess that would be too expensive. You don't do that?

Kim  54:27  
Well, we usually don't do a whole lot of print on demand. We usually print up at least some inventory to have on hand and because we know what the trends are. So we do small batches typically. But you can do on demand. If you're talking just in that registration path, there are printers and there are vendors who do on-demand printing, sometimes they do direct-to-garment and other styles of printing, but you do typically have a lower margin when you're doing it, so you just have to weigh that out because they do typically charge more for on-demand printing, if you're doing one-offs. So you just have to evaluate, if it makes sense to do that.

Panos  55:06  
Right, yeah. So you're sort of swapping some of the inventory uncertainty against lower margins kind of thing. So you're making less money but you have less of a downside because you don't have stock sitting around. In terms of the stuff you would sell through that channel, do you see - when people purchase, say, on registration versus packet pickup - them buying different kinds of stuff?

Kim  55:34  
Well, I think what you're selling in registration can be a good pulse for what people are gravitating to. You can also bring products that were getting sold in registration and sell that on site, and then you might build additional products around that. But I think it's fair to say, if you have something that's just killing it in registration and people are just buying it, then it's safe to say that they're probably going to do the same thing on site because the percentage of people that actually buy in the registration path, even if your good sales is not extremely high, you're always going to pick more people up on site who are going to be looking to buy. So it's gonna give you a good read on where things are trending.

Panos  56:19  
And in terms of how you deliver this stuff, what do people tend to do? Because I can see you can either ship that stuff after the person registers - so you just ship it to their address. Or - which sounds to me a little bit more convenient - you just deliver it to them on packet pickup - I guess you need to know who they are and put it in their bag kind of thing. Which of the two do people tend to go for?

Kim  56:42  
People do both. It depends on how they're set up and what they want to do, and we've done it both ways even when we've managed it. You can have a cut-off and say, "We're going to close the store off. And at four weeks out or three weeks out, we're going to fulfil all the products." Because some races don't want to hand product out on site. They're too busy and maybe some people just put things up in the registration path, and then they don't have an on-site store. Maybe they're too busy on race day and they don't want to manage one, so they may just ship everything out. There are some people who also don't want to ship everything out - the shipping costs money - and they actually have a mechanism for handing all of that out on-site and they're okay with it. Maybe they have an on-site store and there are some pros to that where people will come pick up the product that they pre-purchased, and then there's additional product in the store, and then they may drive traffic to the store and they may buy other things. So they may say, "Oh, I like that pint glass, I'm gonna buy that." So you can work it both ways. There's not necessarily a right or wrong way. It's a matter of how is the race set up and what makes sense for them. I will tell you that no matter which way you do it-- I'm sure event directors will appreciate this, but people have a tendency that athletes don't always read and follow instructions. So if you tell people that it's all getting shipped out before the race, then there's always going to be some people who say they didn't read that, and will come looking forward to the race. If you're handing products out at the race, you're always going to have some people who completely forgot that they even purchased anything online and they're not going to pick it up. So you just have to expect that that's going to happen and know how you want to manage it.

Panos  58:28  
Well, I think in terms of merchandising, that's sort of, like, all the questions I had, and I think we've covered quite a lot of ground. One last thing I would ask, which I don't actually often ask people on the vendor side of things, how is it all looking from your point of view, I mean, going ahead, coming out of the pandemic? How are you seeing things for the rest of 2023 and beyond?

Kim  58:49  
Yeah, well, I think things are really coming out of the pandemic and there's definitely a difference this year, even from last year. There were some races that we saw that just disappeared and they never came back. Their last event might have been in 2019 and they just disappeared. But a lot of the races are rebounding nicely. A lot of them who may have still been down a bit in 2022, we're noticing, are starting to come back up more, which is good. We're seeing, in general, the trend for signups is definitely trending towards being very late. That has definitely been just the permanent change after the pandemic. But I'd say, 2023 is definitely stronger than 2022, and it's really coming around more. I think people are much more open to travelling. It was starting to change last year, but I would say, this year, there's a bigger change.

Panos  59:49  
Yeah, things pointing in the right direction, I guess. 

Kim  59:51  
Yeah, they are. But I think the pandemic probably left a bit of a scar on this industry. I think there are some people who didn't make it, but I think the trend is positive right now.

Panos  1:00:01  
Awesome. How can people reach out to you if they want to sort of, like, follow up with any bits we may have discussed? Maybe they want to take an interest in merchandising - something they want to think about. 

Kim  1:00:12  
Yeah, well, they can email me. It's They can go to our website, which is, and you can contact us on our contact us page there as well. 

Panos  1:00:26  
Well, Kim, I want to thank you very, very much for taking the time, particularly this late in your day to join me. I thought we covered some great ground here. Lots of interesting practical tips for people who want to follow up with our merchandising efforts. So, thank you very much for coming on.

Kim  1:00:42  
Yeah, thanks for having me. It was fun. 

Panos  1:00:44  
And thanks to everyone listening in and we'll see you guys all on our next podcast.

Panos  1:00:55  
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode on race merchandising with Greenlayer’s Kim Bilancio.

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website You can also share your thoughts about merchandising or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.

Many thanks again to our awesome podcast sponsor RunSignup for sponsoring today’s episode. And if you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite player, and check out our podcast back-catalog for more great content like this. 

Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.

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