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T-Shirts with Your Logo Can Boost Your Small Business

If you think Matsumoto’s is a shave ice store, you’re half right

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Photo: thinkstock

Thirty-six years ago, a designer on the North Shore walked into Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa and told the family he wanted to design a T-shirt for them. Just for them to wear, not to sell.

Stanley Matsumoto, now the owner, agreed, and the young designer went off to create what has become the shop’s bestselling T-shirt.

“At first, only the family wore it, but lots of customers were asking if we sell the shirt,” Matsumoto says. “So I asked my dad (founder Mamoru Matsumoto) if we should start selling the T-shirt, and that was the start.”

Today, the iconic shave ice shop sells everything from coffee mugs to license-plate frames to shot glasses with its name and logo, all of it crammed into the little shop on Oahu’s North Shore. However, T-shirts, which are stacked on glass display cases and line the walls up to the ceiling, are still the top logo sellers.

Together, logo goods account for roughly half of Matsumoto’s total revenue. In the winter months, T-shirts often out-sell shave ice. “Would we have survived this long without it? I don’t think so,” Matsumoto says. “Not with the cost of doing business now. I couldn’t survive on just shave ice.”

In this sluggish economy, businesses are looking at inno-vative ways to diversify their revenue, and launching or increasing logo merchandise is a popular option.

It’s not a new concept. Businesses big and small have long sold logo-related goods to promote their brands and earn additional revenue. Sunscreen companies sell beach towels; diners hawk coffee mugs. Media conglomerate Disney posted a fourth-quarter gain of 30 percent in profit and a 7 percent increase in sales over the previous  year’s fourth quarter, thanks, in large part, to its consumer products unit. Disney toys and merchandise posted a 13 percent gain in profit to $207 million.

But businesses should realize that you can’t make a lot of money off logo goods without a serious investment and effort. That can mean hiring a professional graphic designer to create your logo, investing in staff to man this part of your business, and building a physical or virtual space from which to sell your products.

T-shirts and other logo items account for about half of the
revenue at Matsumoto Shave Ice.
Photo: David Croxford

“It’s not enough to have just a good brand or just a good logo,” says Dylan Ching, general manger of Duke’s Waikiki. “You have to have both. And you have to work at it.” Ching understands the logo business well: Duke’s can sell up to $6,000 a day in T-shirts and other merchandise from its Waikiki restaurant.

That wasn’t always the case. When Duke’s Waikiki first opened 19 years ago, it sold a few T-shirts that weren’t really advertised. Customers had to ask a manager to grab the right sizes from the back office. It was more of an afterthought than a real part of the business. However, over the years, customer demand prompted the restaurant to add to its meager line.

Today, Duke’s boasts about 40 different logo items, ranging from beach towels to jackets to sauces. It opened a logo store and hired a logo-wear coordinator about five years ago, and that has made a huge impact on sales, Ching says.

“This is definitely a major part of our business,” says Ching, who sees people wearing Duke’s Waikiki T-shirts all over, including while he was on vacation at Disney World two years ago. “We have a pretty strong brand.”

That’s an important prerequisite, say brand experts. But you can’t sell logo goods without a compelling design, and the two have to make sense together.

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