Most clan and family societies earn revenues through their membership dues and donations. However, some also generate funds through online sales of merchandise (merch.) Of the over 150 clan and family societies with websites, about 47 offer online sales of some form, with some having multiple sites. About nine of the 47 offer discounts or a special promo code for their members. About half (29 or over 61%) handle the sales and fulfillment themselves while others use commercial services. At least 16 use the commercial vendor House of Tartan, which provides either a member discount or commission. Two societies direct their members to Zazzle. Some have a variety of sources for their publications and merchandise.
The number and type of products range from just a few books to a veritable department store. Some societies have only a few items for sale such as T-shirts (House of Maxwell) or books (Clan Campbell Society North America and Clan Rose International). Some offer the traditional items such as t-shirts, badges, kilt pins, quaiches, Glencairn whisky glasses, tartan scarfs and wall plaques (such as Clan Cochrane in North America, Clan Hall Society, Clan Leslie Society International, Clan MacThomas Society, and Clan Pollock International.)
Others have a wide variety of products for men, women, pets, and the home (Clan MacFarlane Worldwide Kilt & Lantern, International Clan MacFarlane Society, and House of Burnett.)
Some societies use only paper order forms sent through the mail (Clan Douglas Society NA, Clan Maitland Society, and Clan Bell North America.) However most use a modern online “shopping cart” for purchases (Clan Forrester Society and Family of Bruce International.)
Those societies that handle their own sales and inventory rely mostly on volunteers. Brian M. Rose, Presiding Elder for the International Council and President of the US Branch of Clan Rose International, reports that his is “a 100% volunteer organization.” The Clan MacKinnon Society also manages its own store. Steve Mills relates that “The MacKinnon Shop” is completely volunteer: “I run the webstore, including purchasing goods for resale, fulfilling/shipping orders, etc. I work with St. Kilda Holdings (same people as St Kilda Store) for our pewter goods, and I've used a few vendors for t-shirts and glassware. The nice thing about our offerings is you can't really find them anywhere else.” He notes that “We've tried outside vendors before but the financial benefits were minimal at best, and the variety of goods was very limited and generic.”
Paul Johnston, President, Clan Johnston/e in America (and Canada), reports that “a few years ago we began the process of transitioning from selling merchandise directly to our members; to partnering with a third party for our merchandise sales. We are currently partnered with the House of Tartan (HoT) in Scotland.” In exchange, the society receives a 10% commission on all of their Johnston-related sales.
House of Tartan
In fact, the most popular commercial partner for selling merchandise is COSCA Organizational Member House of Tartan. The vendor currently offers either a commission of 10% or a discount of 10% to 16 different clan and family societies. The company also offers 15 other dedicated clan and tartan sections.
Steve Mills reported that “I went into the Clan MacKinnon Facebook group and asked. T-shirts, pewter goods, and glassware (barware really) are slam dunks.”
Chris Burnette: “We looked at other Clan's stores and we asked our membership. We constantly update the store to take out items that are not wanted and add items that are. We also look at our sales and see what seems to be in demand and what doesn't.”
Copyrighted designs are also an issue for some societies. Paul B. Galbraith, President of Clan Galbraith Association, explains that “A lot of merchandise with our crest and badge had already been created by vendors not associated with the Clan Galbraith Society."
Sales and Value-Added Taxes
D. Chris Burnette of House of Burnett International reports that they use their outside vendor to handle all sales taxes: “They have tutorials to explain everything and they keep up informed about any changes in the law. The last thing we want is to be found out of compliance for sales tax. This is one of the main reasons to use a commercial vendor.”
For all the effort devoted to clan and family stores, the return is not high – unless you count the secondary promotion and member service. Paul Johnston, President, Clan Johnston/e in America (and Canada) reports that merchandise sales have typically been less than $2,000 per year. Chris Burnette: “we haven't been pushing our store much, until the last quarter of the year. That being said, we still sold a Gross of over $3,000 on our store and brought in around $1,500 net.”
Jon Hedges, Treasurer of the Clan MacThomas Society, observes that “we operate our shop as a service to clansfolk rather than as a profit-making exercise - although there is of course a markup. Any profit is used to support the maintenance of our land in Scotland.”
If you are a Delegate or Alternate of a COSCA Organizational Member, you can learn more details about clan and family online stores, get advice about setting up your own store, and a complete listing (with links) to all known stores here: https://www.cosca.scot/clan-merch