Source talks to head of brand licensing and retailer development, Clare Brown about the National Trust’s licensing ambitions.
How the licensing team is structured at the National Trust?
Over the past three years the team has grown and now consists of eight brand licensing specialists, covering everything from product design and business development through to relationship management and channel distribution.
The team has grown in line with strategic priorities, which commercially is the ability to generate income for the Trust, beyond our core membership and visitor offer.
As an organisation that means many things to many people the ability to tell our story through collaborations, to their engaged audiences and in places that we aren’t usually visible is a fantastic way of increasing relevance and welcoming more people who share our values.
What have been some of the most recent/most successful licensed collaborations you have been involved in?
We’ve been incredibly fortunate to develop collaborations with some wonderful organisations, some of whom are household names and others which aren’t so well known, but all bring the right mix of product, values and ambition.
Within the home category, Little Greene Paint continues to be one of the most successful collaborations since its launch in 2018. Obviously, with 300 built properties in our care, reflecting hundreds of years of history, this was a really logical collaboration, with an organisation that understood that historic significance and could see how to translate it for today’s customer.
Most importantly, their environmental credentials and commitment to British manufacturing were absolutely in line with our conservation ethos and desire to support local businesses as much as possible.
Since the initial launch of the ‘green’ paint collection, which includes 20 shades based on places and gardens in our care, a wallpaper collection has also been launched. Again, this collection takes inspiration from places we look after and brings to life the stories of these places for customers not just in the UK but across Europe and further afield.
The outdoor category really exemplifies the commitment that we and our licensed partners have for seeking sustainable and environmentally-friendly product developments.
Vango, one of our newest collaborations, speaks to the passion so many members and supporters have for really connecting with nature, through camping. The collaboration has developed products which incorporate sustainable fabrics, made from recycled plastic bottles, and enables people to enjoy the outdoors whilst also caring for the environment at the same time. In year one, this collaboration will repurpose almost 295,000 PET plastic bottles.
This innovation has recently seen the Vango x National Trust range of tents and sleeping bags awarded ‘Best Eco-friendly product’ at the Camping Magazine Awards 2020.
From a licensing perspective, our presence in the children’s market is relatively new, however this is an understandable space for us given our places’ appeal to the family audience and our 50 Things to do before you’re 11 ¾ programme. With the future of our nation’s nature, beauty and history in the hands of children, enabling them to connect with the natural world is of paramount importance.
The National Trust Nature Hideaway Kit contains everything a little naturalist needs to get up close and personal with local wildlife and is a great way to introduce them to the natural world in a really imaginative and playful way.
This is a category that we hope to expand during the coming months.
200 parks and gardens, many designed by the world’s leading landscapers, and now cared for by thousands of volunteers and staff, allow the Trust to be a voice of expertise in the garden category. It therefore made sense for us to develop licensed products that enable customers to enjoy and replicate what they have seen in our gardens in their own homes.
Collaborating with a highly reputable brand such as Burgon & Ball, was a natural fit. Well known for quality, expertise and heritage, our range of high carbon garden tools offers excellent quality and a heritage aesthetic that has broad appeal for every level of gardening enthusiast.
We have also developed our own National Trust seed range with Thompson & Morgan which features a number of flower, vegetable and herb varieties, as seen in some of our gardens. This extensive selection of seeds is a really accessible way for people to engage with us, both from a price point of view but also in terms of the space required. Some of these varieties can be grown in window boxes, on a balcony or in a pot.
We are proud to have recently launched collaborative ranges with well-known brands within the lifestyle fashion category, most notably Hunter Boots and Barbour.
Our collaboration with Hunter Boots celebrates our shared passion for exploring the great outdoors, whatever the weather. The range of vegan, natural rubber wellington and gardener boots, and garden clogs, offers something for every member of the family, including little ones who love to splash in the muddiest of puddles. Our work with Hunter has also enabled us to feature some of our people in their campaigns, which has enabled our places and work to come to life through Hunter’s channels.
Working with Barbour on a lifestyle men’s and women’s range of clothing, footwear and accessories is a great brand fit, given their synonymity with exploring the British countryside. Themed around reconnecting with nature and enabling our audience to enjoy the benefits of being outdoors, both the menswear and womenswear ranges are perfect for exploring our places and beyond.
Available exclusively through John Lewis & Partners, we have seen fantastic exposure of the collaboration and support of our charitable message through all organisations landing really clear messages to the consumer.
How do the collections, places and landscapes owned by the Trust inspire licensed products?
We work closely with the licensee to determine which aspects of the National Trust authentically apply to their brand and products.
One of the best examples is the collaboration with Little Greene Paint. Our historic houses were the obvious source of inspiration for both the ‘green’ and wallpaper collections, alongside access to our experts. In particular, Tina Sitwell our Paintings Conservation Specialist, who was able to share her knowledge for the ‘green’ collection.
This collection featured paints inspired by: Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top: Sage & Onions™; Smallhythe Place, Kent: Jewel Beetle™; Claydon House, Buckinghamshire: Tea with Florence™; and Shaw’s Corner: Hidey Hole™.
Other locations included Peckover, Melford Hall, Calke Abbey, Saltram, Ickworth, Osterley, Mount Stewart, Castle Drogo, Snowhill Manor, Nostell Priory, Standen House, Churchill’s home – Chartwell, Chastleton House and Wimpole.
For collections, such as those with Abraham Moon or Jack Wolfskin, it is the colour and the landscape which inspires the print/colours/product names.
Input into the collection comes from a wide range of experts within the Trust, including rangers (for products such as Jack Wolfskin), countryside specialists who can help advise which conservation projects a collection can help to fund (such as Barbour and the Whitburn Coastal Park Nature Reserve in the North East) and gardeners who contributed to the Hunter campaign.
We are also finalising our style guide which features a range of contemporary print and design assets, inspired by the unique places in our care, which we hope to release later this year. This will help our existing and future licensees understand how they can relate their ranges to our brand, creating genuine and appealing extensions inspired by the National Trust.
What criteria do you look for in a licensing partner or collaboration?
Because of the need to work with organisations that have an authentic connection, we have a stringent criteria list which includes:
- Shared values, particularly around the environment and sustainability.
- Shared passion for looking after places for the benefit of the nation – whether that is a love for National Trust places or their own company values of championing nature, the outdoors, countryside, historic houses, etc.
- Innovative product development capabilities with a real focus on sustainability and ensuring products are as eco-friendly as possible.
- Brands who design and/or manufacture their products in the UK.
- Excellent story telling capabilities and willingness to support our fundraising ambitions.
- Brands who recognise the feel-good factor their customers seek when purchasing a product that directly benefits a charitable cause.
- Great B2B and B2C distribution to ensure we can reach as many likeminded people as possible.
How does the activity within licensing benefit the Trust?
Entirely independent of government funding, every penny generated is fundamental to the work we undertake. Every licensed product sale generates a royalty payable back to us.
It’s really important that we demonstrate how these commercial relationships directly benefit our responsibility to care for nature, beauty and history. Therefore, projects such as the planned creation of Whitburn Coastal Park Nature Reserve at Souter Lighthouse & The Leas, in the North East of England, made possible through the royalty contribution from Barbour, brings to life the real benefits of a purchase.
This reserve will help to care for nature and wildlife and specifically provide homes for wading birds including the ringed plover and oyster catchers.
We are working increasingly closely with our conservation specialists to ringfence licensing royalties for specific fundraising projects (rather than contributing to the overall conservation budget) and look forward to telling these stories in time.
What are the short-terms aims for the Trust and licensing – what you would like to achieve by the end of 2020 and into 2021?
With the impact of coronavirus, many licensing plans have naturally been put on temporary hold. However, when the restrictions lift, we are looking to launch new collections as part of existing collaborations, move into new categories, and build retailer relationships and DTR opportunities.
What is the ultimate aim for National Trust within the licensing space?
A big charity has big ambitions and our team is the same! We’d like to become the leading licensor within the conservation charity sector and a leading charitable licensor for sustainability and innovation in licensing product development and distribution, to ultimately derive the maximum benefit for the places the nation trusts us to care for.