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The Licensing Lookout: Spring Fair stand outs

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes picks his highlights from this week’s trip to the NEC.

Spring Fair is one of my favourite shows – one reason being that its sheer size allows me to keep my step count up. My lowest amount of steps at the NEC was 13,000. A show that is good for health if not wealth… coffee doesn’t come cheap!

Spring Fair is a vibrant show with a full and diverse range of products from inflatable flamingos for your pool through to soft plush llamas for your bedroom. It is a good show for trend-spotting, networking and business development.

As with all shows, when you are a visitor it is hard to form a really accurate picture of the market, but my sense was that there was a little less licensing on show particularly in the entertainment category. In contrast there seemed to be some new and fresh examples of licensing from sectors such as art, music and celebrity. Maybe companies are looking for licensing opportunities which are safe bets and more predictable in terms of lifecycle.

Over three days, as well as taking a lot of steps, you get to see a lot of product. I feel for the retail buyers in attendance – on the one hand it is a fantastic show with a wide sweep of opportunities, while on the other hand so much to select from. Tough buying choices.

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One new launch that created a real buzz was Meyer Group’s launch of a range of cookware and housewares under the Joe Wicks brand. Meyer had invested in a dedicated stand for the Joe Wicks range. A real statement of intent. Joe has risen to fame through digital media, books and television. It is quite a coup for Meyer to secure licensing rights to such a strong ‘personality brand’ not least as a Joe is obviously fully involved with the project – he was at the show on Monday demonstrating the products.

This is a significant point as it is a very public demonstration of his commitment and support to the range. This helps reinforce the fact that Meyer and Joe Wicks are working in a real partnership. It is not an opportunistic one. This should translate well in retail terms. Meyer has successfully disrupted a very staid category with a celebrity that brings credibility and energy.

A challenge for the range at retail will be placement, range building and price points. I understand Joe’s natural audience are a relatively young one and, with this in mind, pricing will be important making the range accessible to them and reflective of their lifestyle. But I imagine retailers will support the range not least because of Joe’s very active schedule. He is a visible and credible celebrity.

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I think Enesco should be congratulated on its ongoing commitment to Peter Rabbit. I imagine it is difficult to keep a classic brand fresh and to bring in new ideas. Range wise it seems to succeed in this. But in the context of an annual trade show it is a constant challenge to grab visitors’ attention. Enesco achieved this by accessorising its stand with a custom Peter Rabbit caravan set in a countryside scene (parked with permission I hasten to add). This created a point of interest and intrigue.

The caravan was used as a showroom and impromptu meeting space. It was also attracting interest from social media users – a good image to ‘gram apparently. This was a good reminder that licensing can help manufacturers sell product and create retail theatre.

Enesco has successfully harnessed the power of Peter Rabbit with an innovative approach to its stand which will attract retail buyers to stop and also inspire their own retail displays.

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From my own portfolio, I was heartened to see how well Pigment Productions has brought the artwork of US artist Kendra Dandy alive in greetings cards. Kendra’s style is contemporary, colourful and chic.

It would be easy for a card company to leave the artwork to do the work, but it has added to the appeal of the designs by investing in glitter detailing and gloss finishes. This enhances Kendra’s artwork well and is a reminder that a little bit of additional investment in licensed product can make a difference. Sometimes licensees forget that licensed product also needs attention to detail and fresh design thinking.

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Staying with greetings cards, Danilo has alighted on some interesting new licences to build new ranges. I guess it is trying to build its product offering to embrace a wider pool of retailers and consumers. After all, cards are products that can be sold in a variety of retailers.

One collection particularly caught my eye which was using a number of classic movies from Universal’s archive including classic movies such as Jaws and TV series such as Miami Vice. Content like this should open up some new retail channels and also encourage card sending among a hard to reach consumer group. It is a good example of matching licensed content to consumer audiences to create new opportunities.

Licensing needs new companies, ideas and categories to keep growing and refreshing. With this in mind is good to see stalwart companies like Danilo looking to do different things and try new ideas. I also noticed that it was adding value to standard cards as well. A good move. An example that caught my eye was a hair clip added to a L.O.L Surprise card. A neat addition and one that should be rewarded with impulse purchase pick up.

Blueprint Collections is another long-term licensee which hasn’t stood still, seeking out new types of licences, new product formats and finishes. This year it seemed to be focused in part on cute properties sourced from overseas, publishing or digital platforms – a reflection in a shift in consumer behaviour coupled with the appeal of designs like these to stationery buyers particularly in the tween, teen and young adult demographics.

Blueprint Collections was one of a number of licensees supporting a new property, Happy News. Happy News was created by Emily Coxhead and started life as a free newspaper featuring ‘happy news’ – the news is delivered in a format with bright colours, icons and designs. Other licensees such as Pigment and Widdop & Co have picked up on the brand. Happy News works closely with the charity MIND. This is a really nice example of an enterprising new licensing programme and a reminder that licences can emerge from a range of places. It is also great to see a licence that is doing good and has a positive message at its heart.

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Thinking new companies and categories, I spotted a couple of good examples which encouraged me that there is progress in the market in terms of fresh thinking.

Professor Puzzle has acquired the rights to develop a range of puzzles under the Einstein brand. This is a good fit and a good example of the value of investing in an appropriate licence. Being able to lean on an official licence makes a real difference particularly when trying to sell product to retailers in categories such as museums, galleries and online. Professor Puzzle has embraced the licence well, utilising the Einstein name well and delivering products that ‘fit’ the brand values.

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Another new company that caught the eye was Beer Buddies. It has developed a Motörhead wall mounted bottle opener – this fits perfectly with the band and also links into the launch of a Motörhead branded beer.

A really good example of focused and coordinated licensing, while also an example of licensing making an impact in a new category.

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Music licensing is a fast emerging and developing category – a reflection in ‘ageing up’ in consumer terms and perhaps other factors like the revival in vinyl coupled with consumer’s interest in having great ‘live experiences’. Big name bands are reforming, playing live and doing the festival circuit. This refreshes their appeal to consumers and should drive product sales.

GB Eye has alighted on this trend securing licences for iconic bands like Guns n’ Roses and developing products that should appeal to their fanbase such as shot glasses.

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Another licensing category that is growing in popularity and is being used more frequently are computer gaming brands. Paladone is a leading player in this market and its PlayStation product range includes a light-based on the iconic PlayStation icons. It also had a really clever light based on the Pac-Man character.

Paladone is a great example of a company that has grown with a helping hand from licensing, but importantly it has used licensing in a focused way, selecting carefully and also adding value to the licences by clever product development.

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Demand Media is also a licensee that seems to use licensing in a focused way to create original products in the composite gift sector with a particular eye on seasonal gifting. It has developed some great products using brands such as Haynes and Flower Fairies.

Its new range based on The Snowman and The Snowdog really stood out with neat ideas for kit meets gift concepts such as Make Your Own Snowglobe. A really good example of matching licence to product.

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It was also good to see companies developing ranges based on licences that are perhaps below or indeed off the radar, but are actually very relevant to the category that they have been developed in.

A prime example of this was Fikkerts‘ toiletries, home fragrances and accessories range based on the Thomas Crapper brand. Thomas Crapper was the inventor of the flushable WC I believe – there is a future quiz question for you and his name became synonymous with ‘going to the toilet’.

Fikkerts has tapped into this heritage in a stylish way creating a range that uses the brand identity well with a nod to vintage and heritage themes. I think this range will appeal to home consumers, but will also be a hit in channels like pubs, hotels and clubs. You can still buy Thomas Crapper sanitary ware and so there is a contemporary link to the brand as well.

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Finally, on a personal note I was really pleased to hear from licensee Ancestors that its Early Man product range was getting a lot of interest. It is a specialist gift supplier servicing the heritage and visitor attraction markets. Sectors that are not always heavy users of licensing. However the Early Man range ticks a lot of boxes for this category, but importantly the product is ready to go and can be delivered quickly – from a licensor/agent point of view this is great as it will allow retailers to make buying decisions on the spot as the film is in currently in the market. This approach has cut short lead times for product and opened up more selling opportunities.

As I say the Spring Fair is a diverse one and it is good to see licensing is playing its part in that diversity: Thomas Crapper toiletries meet Motörhead bottle openers!

All that is needed now is a range of branded step counters that I can use to add up those steps next year…

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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