The Dos and Don’ts of T-Shirts


With T-shirts, gyms in general have a very powerful branding and advertising tool. Even the smallest gym has members who are ready to buy their shirts. Most businesses would have a hard time selling T-shirts to promote themselves. Gyms have a unique market position where their clients are members. Because they are members, the fitness facility they go to is part of their lives, part of their story. People in general are very interested in declaring their identity and things they value. The gym T-shirt serves this purpose, and fills this identity need.

Beyond this there is a side benefit to the wearer. It says something good, or at least potentially good, about them. The gym T-shirt says “I work out,” “ I take care of myself.” For example, there is a donut shop called Marge’s Donut Den. Marge’s also sells T-shirts. Sure, there is a part of a person’s story being told when they wear the shirt from their favorite donut shop, but there is no good personal message that goes with it.

So, CrossFit gyms in general are in a better position to sell shirts than any other service business. In a way, it is the perfect marketing tool. What other kinds of marketing are there that you can both advertise and actually profit from selling the advertising itself?

Still, with all those positives there are good and bad ways of approaching it. What you don’t want is clothing racks full of merch that doesn’t sell and collects dust. What you do want is to have members excited about buying apparel, and to build word of mouth for your gym by having your shirts worn all over town.

To start with, here are some no-nos to avoid:

  1. Don’t just get the cheapest tees. Yeah, this one hurts on the front end. You can get cheap white Gildan tees for a lot less than a nice ring-spun tee by American Apparel — which is actually owned by Gildan now by the way. The importance of this is members need to love their T-shirt. It needs to be comfortable and fashionable to get worn. The more it gets worn around town, the better your exposure. Sure, they might wear their basic Gildan tee to the gym to sweat in it, but they probably won’t wear it out to the brewery or their friend’s house.
  2. Don’t always get the same thing. If you always get one color shirt with the same one color print, you doom yourself to lower sales. Members want variety; they want some personality in their apparel. Change up colors, change slogans on the back, change styles. By getting variety you will have more repeat sales. You will also catch those who did not want a regular T-shirt. There are many members who don’t normally wear T-shirts around, but who might wear a tank or a zip hoodie. Give them options and they will buy.

The hardest part of this is creativity. For coming up with your variety of styles and designs, have someone work on that who is really into it. If it is drudgery for you, don’t do it yourself. Find someone on staff who is a fashionista — male or female — and put the task in their hands.

Things to do:

  1. Get some samples. At a bare minimum, keep some sizes around of the shirts you most commonly get. All manufacturers have different sizing specs. There is no such thing as true to size. Chances are you will focus on a few basic styles of shirt and get most of your variety out of color and print changes. As long as you a have at least some on a rack, members can check sizing and feel the fabric. Comfortable fabric is important and you will sell a lot more to your members if they like the way the garment feels.
  2. Pre-sell. Why not? This is easy to do. You are already connecting with members through social media. Use this platform to put the word out about shirts you will be ordering. Post a picture of you new design mocked up on a T-shirt. Your printer should be happy to provide a good mockup for you. Pre-sales will pick up orders you would not get just by hanging the shirt on a hanger in your gym. The feel of getting in on a special run of shirts will move more apparel for you. It will still be a good idea to order a few extras for the shelf and for the members who “meant to order a shirt” but never got around to it. Chances are you can have your whole order already paid for by your pre-sales before your order arrives.
  3. Have design contests. Get members involved in voting for the next design. This takes some of the creative burden off your shoulders. Offer a free tee to the one who submitted the design. You can effectively run a design competition every six to nine months without burning it out. Once you run one, put the next one on your calendar.
  4. Plan ahead. There are certain events you can be pretty sure you will want to have shirts for. Are you participating in the Open? Murph? You will want to start thinking about your design in advance. This might be a good item for your design competition, or to give to a Coach who is into apparel and whom you can depend on for extra tasks.


By BoxTees. For more information, visit