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A nod to the specialists… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes checks out the licensed offer from specialist retailers F.Hinds, Waterstones and Squires Garden Centres this week.

It is encouraging to see that retail is getting unlocked and things are returning to a semblance of normality.

That said we are still in strange times and shopping while wearing a mask is still difficult. I have heard from a number of licensees that they are still finding it tough to get product into retail, especially new launches as retailers are still working their way through stock they have in hand or in the distribution chain. This will, of course, impact new licensing launches and in turn could slowdown the uptake of new properties.

Further to this I also think that launching new IP has become tougher in recent times anyway. There seems to be more new IP being launched into the licensing market and the market seems increasingly competitive. Against this backdrop I think it is vital that new retail channels are nurtured for licensing. Long-term supporters of licensing like the supermarkets have finite shelf space and for the future growth of licensing at retail it will be important to see other retail sectors develop.

Of course, online sales and ecommerce have been a welcome boost in recent times and the signs look like this trend will continue, but a vital cog of the licensing wheel is visibility at retail I think – IP owners want to see their products in shops and on shelves. Not least as licensed products can help promote events linked to IP whether that is a TV channel, a film release or a sports tournament.

So with this thought in mind it is good to see retailers such as F.Hinds the jewellers, Waterstones and Squires Garden Centres supporting licensing. My looking out was a little bit eclectic this week!

Being visible in a store like F.Hinds is a great way for Britto to pick up new collectors.
Being visible in a store like F.Hinds is a great way for Britto to pick up new collectors.

F.Hinds the jewellers has high street locations and is well established. It offers a full range of jewellery including earrings, rings and watches. Many of its products are, as you would expect, traditional options for occasions such as weddings or gift purchases. It seems to develop its own product ranges, but also features jewellery and watch brands such as Anne Klein, Citizen, Seiko and Fiorelli.

Interestingly, it still distributes a glossy catalogue from dispensers at the front of the store offering consumers the chance to browse the ranges at their leisure at home. Also giving people the chance to leave the brochure lying around strategically opened at the page they are keen for others to see. We all need a gifting hint sometimes!

In the jewellery and watch category it is not always clear what is a licensed range. I sense some products like watches are produced under licence, but it is not a category that is easy to research in-store. I suspect ranges like Radley are licensed ones. A more obvious example of licensing is the Disney Britto figurine range. This was given feature space in the shop window and in the brochure. It seems to be a range that has longevity and I am guessing relies on collectors. Being visible in a shop like F.Hinds is a great way for Britto to pick up new collectors, remind existing collectors that new lines are in the range and to have a focused outlet for the range as a whole. This is the sort of product that benefits from having a physical presence on the high street.

David Walliams' bestselling books were accompanied by stationery lines from Blueprint in Waterstones.
David Walliams' bestselling books were accompanied by stationery lines from Blueprint in Waterstones.

As an avid reader and a ‘publishing veteran’, I am particularly pleased to be able to be able to shop in bookshops again. Waterstones is a bookseller that has evolved in recent times to retail more than books, recognising that its stores can be hubs for pop culture fans and that there are significant cross selling opportunities around books and book series.

A great example of this in action was a display of David Walliams books. This was a tabletop display packed with a number of David’s bestselling books, but it was also accompanied by some stationery lines developed by Blueprint Collections. Blending books with other products makes sense and encourages consumers to trade up purchase wise. There was a similar set up for Harry Potter.

Waterstones was a big supporter of board games and jigsaws even pre-pandemic.
Waterstones was a big supporter of board games and jigsaws even pre-pandemic.

This sort of retailing is a good model for others to look at and is encouraging for the future. Waterstones has also been very good at spotting emerging and growing categories. It was on to the board gaming and jigsaw puzzle trend before lockdown and invested in both categories, but is now well placed to build on the popularity of both categories post lockdown.

Within the board game offer there were several licensed products. Interestingly a number of these were licensed special edition versions of classic boardgames – in itself a trend within board games. Products I spotted included Scrabble – Harry Potter Edition; Trivial Pursuit – Harry Potter Edition and Labyrinth – Star Wars Edition. Waterstones’ was also carrying products such as Richard Osman’s House of Games and a range of MENSA branded puzzle packs.

It was encouraging for Ian to see Waterstones supporting brands such as Matt Sewell's I Like Birds with gifting.
It was encouraging for Ian to see Waterstones supporting brands such as Matt Sewell's I Like Birds with gifting.

The trend for special editions of classic games is an interesting one – retail-wise it is probably a safe bet, but it could also be a trend that is stifling creativity in terms of new games and licences.

It was also encouraging to see Waterstones supporting brands such as the V&A – it had a range of V&A Alice in Wonderland gift lines and it was also good to see that Matt Sewell’s Birds are still in-store. Matt started life as a street artist and now has a thriving licensing business featuring his distinctive artwork. A great example of the fact that licensing opportunities can emerge from diverse sources.

Another retail sector that appears to be blooming are garden centres. Again rather like Waterstones they have adapted their retailing model to embrace products beyond their traditional core. My local branch of Squires in Frensham is a great example of this. While it has a solid gardening offer, it has topped this up with other products such as cookware, books, cards and giftware. In a sense it has become a destination retailer. In normal times most garden centres have popular restaurant spaces as well.

Making gardening more accessible to more consumers is aided by products such as 'oh sow simple' seed boxes.
Making gardening more accessible to more consumers is aided by products such as 'oh sow simple' seed boxes.

In the context of garden centres it is no surprise to see that the Royal Horticultural Society features prominently. On my most recent visit I spotted a couple of ‘new to me’ RHS licensed ranges.

One of these was from seed company Mr Fothergills. It has developed a range of ‘oh sow simple’ seed boxes with pre-mixed seeds that are Flowers for Birds and Flowers for Wildlife. This range was presented in a branded FSDU and seems to be pitched at those new to gardening or those looking for help with their product choices. There was a big emphasise on the ease of use of the product.

For the RHS I guess this is an attractive way of making gardening more accessible to more consumers and demystifying some aspects of it. In a competitive category like seed packs it was good to see licensing being a spur for some new product development and innovation.

Heathcote & Ivory's RHS ranges were also prominently displayed.
Heathcote & Ivory's RHS ranges were also prominently displayed.

The other RHS range I spotted was a personal care one from Heathcote & Ivory. Again, this was attractively packaged and merchandised featuring some lovely artwork. The range was presented as the Home Grown range. Seemingly the RHS is pushing its licensing on with fresh design updates and working with licensees to develop bespoke looks. Having a company like Heathcote & Ivory on board as a licensee is a good vote of confidence in the programme.

So in challenging times it is encouraging to see a variety of retailers featuring licensed products. Hopefully these more specialist retailers will continue to thrive and we will get back into the habit of shopping in shops.

Finally I wanted to highlight that there is a TV show on this weekend that should be worth watching from a licensing point of view. Channel 4 is broadcasting a ‘history of’ the Mr Men documentary on Sunday. I provided a small amount of help to the programme makers by providing some contacts and a few anecdotes they could follow up.

I loved working on the Mr Men and Little Miss during my time at CPL. A fabulous set of characters and it was a pleasure working with Adam Hargreaves. I also got to be Mr Happy for the day donning the costume at a charity event. I made the national newspapers, but of course it wasn’t me in the photos it was Mr Happy…

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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