Some Numbers

We got to thinking the other day that there’s no reason we can’t share some of our sales figures here. Maybe you think we rake it in, maybe you never gave it a second thought. Either way, this should be interesting.

Here’s the big picture, August 7–15, 2:00 PM (that’s almost nine days, so more than a typical week):

  • Total sales revenue (does not include shipping & handling): $6,022
  • Total cost of goods sold (COGS): $3,648
  • Net profit: $2,374

That’s… not great. Ideally we’d like to be at 100% markup, just like any other retailer. Because we’re dealing with such small quantities, however, and because we are printing with water-based ink (expensive) on tri-blend tees (really expensive), a $25 tee just isn’t going to hit that ratio without selling in the triple digits. That said, let’s break down our sales for the week.

Units Sold, Pre-Order:

A normal week for us sees only one new product. The six locals are somewhat of an exception. We know they’re not going to go over 50 sales per tee unless we catch a break. In some ways, they’re sort of like a loss leader: we hope they bring people to the site and, more than that, we hope people like ‘em even if we can’t keep them in stock.

By the way, here’s something you should know about t-shirt sales: you need to print at least a few dozen—preferably way, way more—to make it worthwhile. You’ll notice only three of our seven pre-order shirts are in that range… which means we’ll need to order extra tees, cutting into profit until we can move them. It also means that while we love the new designs, next week will almost certainly be our last run. Don’t worry, we’re going out with a bang. (If your city didn’t make it, we sincerely apologize. The long tail of cities is… long.)

Beyond the pre-order, we were able to sell a number of in-stock shirts, hats, t-shirt mockups, stickers, etc. that amounted to a little over a third of our profit during that span. Those items have some additional costs like storage, guest designer cuts, and having capital tied up in the original inventory purchase.

Speaking of costs, we’ve got a whole bunch that didn’t make the above COGS list.

For example, we’re four people (Nate, Jay, Matt, Sara) putting in a total of about 15–20 hours / week coming up with the shirt concepts, creating mockups, adding products to Shopify, building the website and keeping it up-to-date, writing the newsletters, packing and mailing products, answering customer service emails, rounding up tickets and other goodies to give away, corresponding with you all on Twitter, and writing blog posts. (If you‘re wondering where the rest of our time goes, do you know about our sister site, Cotton Bureau?)

Then there’s the software we use like MailChimp, Shopify, Linode, Dropbox, and Slack. We’ve also got rent, parking, accountants, lawyers, shipping supplies, ad nauseum. Some of those costs are shared with Cotton Bureau, but not all of them. How do we quantify the 4+ years of developing a reputation as trustworthy, handsome, and stylish?

As far as promotion, we sent out two newsletters for this run and tweeted directly to the home page or product page at least 20 times, fretting each time we were making a nuisance of ourselves but equally worried that because these weren’t coming back, we’d hear for months from those that missed out.

So that’s a week(ish) in the life and sales of United Pixelworkers. Were these numbers bigger than you expected? Smaller? They fluctuate with our efforts and, of course, with the unpredictable winds of external publicity. Sometimes it seems United Pixelworkers has exceeded our wildest dreams; other times, we wonder if there isn’t another 10x it could grow if we just pushed all the right buttons.

Yeah, it’s all a little “to sell t-shirts you must first invent the universe”, but… it’s true. Retail is hard (like anything else worth doing, right?), but we like it, we’re getting better at it all the time, and we’ve got lots of buttons left to press.

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