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A meander along the South Bank… it’s the Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a stroll along London’s South Bank and discovers how Foyles is using licensed brands as a key part of its offer.

I have managed to get out and about a few times over the last few days, even managing a couple of face to face meetings. Hopefully this is a sign that we may be getting back to some semblance of normality. I have certainly missed my between meeting strolls around London and was pleased that I was able to get a short walk alongside the Thames last week. It was a lovely crisp sunny morning. A great morning for a stroll and Looking Out.

I always like wandering along the South Bank, not least as I can visit the Royal Festival Hall branch of bookshop Foyles. This branch is located alongside the Royal Festival Hall and in normal times would be a prime retail location.

Of course, recently footfall in London has been reduced and venues like the Festival Hall have had a curtailed programme of events. I visited Foyle’s on a Friday morning and I was one of a handful of customers. Hopefully this was atypical and things are picking up for retailers. Indeed, it was promoting a January sale prominently in the window with reductions up to 50% off. I guess this is normal for January, but I think more retailers will be using price reductions and sales to drive footfall.

LL5Another window display was promoting a charming illustrated book The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess by Tom Gauld. This was Foyles’ Children’s Book of the Year. The window display featured illustrations from the book and there was a really good display for the book in-store. It is good to see retailers taking a proactive front foot approach to selling and promotion. I am sure this is a welcome boost to publishers, authors and illustrators. Initiatives like this give retailers real focus and help them stand out in the market.

Because of its location, this branch of Foyles carries quite a lot of London-centric product. It also majors on ranges connected to the arts, music, drama and film reflecting the fact that the South Bank is a cultural hub. One of the licensing highlights in the context of London-themed products was the presence of a number of London Underground/TFL products including a range of magnetic mini page markers featuring a number of the individual Tube lines and corresponding stations.

LL6Shops like Foyle’s seem to be very good at managing their inventory branch by branch to reflect the make up of their customers. This sort of approach to buying is not possible for all retailers, but I think for those that can buy in such a curated way it is an advantage.

There was also a number of examples of products featuring heritage brands such as V&A and the British Library. These included books, greetings cards and jigsaw puzzles. Heritage brands are a good fit for bookshops. Greeting cards were a key feature in Foyles with spinners and dedicated space throughout the shop. Other licensed card ranges that caught my eye were Hype’s Mr Men and Little Miss cards. Hype also had some Moomin cards in-store alongside a second range of Moomin cards from another supplier.

Of course, Foyles is first and foremost a bookshop and licensed titles feature throughout the store across different departments. One trend I have noticed recently is that publishers are creating special or limited edition titles. These are generally selling at higher prices and are targeting gift givers, collectors and fans.

LL1Two examples I saw on this visit were quite a contrast subject wise, but in many ways similar in their approach.

There was a range of Dune novels and graphic novels presented with special covers developed to tie in with the release of the Dune movie. The products were housed in a dedicated display. Given the National Film Theatre is on the South Bank I guess there is no surprise that a range like this would be stocked by Foyles.

I also saw a lovely hardback book, How To Be More Paddington – A Book of Kindness. Illustrated by Peggy Fortnum, I imagine this book is developed with gifting in mind. Classic children’s characters were a bit part of Foyles’ offering and it also picked up on the London theming within the children’s book offering with London-themed titles featuring characters like Paddington and Peppa Pig.

LL7Other product areas that Foyles features in depth include plush – characters such as Elmer, Peppa Pig, Mog and The Gruffalo were on sale. It also had a good supply of calendars, many of which featured licensed brands. Another strong category was games and puzzles. Games included boxed board games and card games. Examples included Agatha Christie Death on the Cards, Friends: Trivial Pursuit and The Addams Family board game. This is clearly a strong category for booksellers and one that seems to be growing in popularity.

It also carried a good supply of jigsaw puzzles many of which were licensed ones including ones featuring artists and illustrators such as Angela Harding. A good example of how art licensing is working well in categories like this. Interestingly, this branch of Foyles also carried a small range of giftware including a Gruffalo Bamboo Dining set. The shop was also well stocked with pick up items including items like Harry Potter pin badges and also Sticker Scene sets from Paper Projects featuring licences such as Thomas the Tank Engine. This branch of Foyles uses its space well, with items like the sticker sets located next to relevant books encouraging pick up purchase.

Another point worth noting in Foyles was the dedicated space and promotion given to graphic novels and manga titles. Bookshops have recognised that there is a consumer market for these kind of titles and are supporting them in more depth. This is encouraging from a licensing in and a licensing out perspective.

LL4One of the benefits of taking a stroll between meetings is that I often stumble upon unexpected examples of licensing – back to basics Looking Out!

On my post book shop visit stroll I saw the Peppa Pig Afternoon Tea Routemaster bus. It was parked up on the Embankment waiting to pick up a group of very excited families.

This is a really interesting example of ‘live licensing’ and an IP being used in a new way. Good to see licensing being used in new ways like this.

LL3I also saw the Tatty Devine shop in Seven Dials in Covent Garden and that it featured a range of David Bowie jewellery and accessories. The range looked fabulous and was well displayed. It was a reminder of the importance of attractive and inviting retail displays.

While we have got into the habit of shopping online, I think it is important to remember that licensed products and properties work really well in the ‘real world’ and for retailers they can provide a point of difference but also help get people back into shops. Tatty Devine has used the Bowie licence effectively and is a great example of a licensee adding a fresh creative twist a classic brand.

Here’s to more strolling in the sun and sunny days!

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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