Start Licensing’s Ian Downes heads to Birmingham NEC to check out the return of Autumn Fair this week.
The trade show circuit is well and truly back up and running. I was able to attend one of the signature shows of the licensing circuit this week namely the Autumn Fair at the NEC in Birmingham.
Autumn Fair and its Spring Fair companion have always been a core part of the licensing calendar and are shows where a lot of licensing is featured. Trade shows in my view are not all about the product though. A key element is meeting friends and colleagues, often by chance in the aisles and catching up. News, ideas and opportunities are exchanged. This is an element of the licensing business I have been missing and it was lovely to meet so many licensing friends in the aisles this week.
The show itself has always been smaller than Spring Fair and understandably this year it seemed smaller still, but the organisers and exhibitors should be praised for putting a show on and helping to get business going again.
Licensing featured throughout the show – reassuringly in some cases it seemed not much had changed while, encouragingly, I did spot some new things.
Here are a few of my observations from the NEC:
Seeing Puckator’s Solar Pals range which features an array of licensed characters such as Mr Bean, Shaun the Sheep, Wallace and Gromit is a reminder of how licensees can use licensing to build a range of products and create unique products that develop into successful ranges. The Solar Pals range is a long-running one and it seems to be one that independent gift retailers in particular buy into. The products display well and are good ones to demo in-store encouraging consumer pick up. The licensed characters in the range add value and are instantly recognisable.
Puckator has used licensing to accelerate the growth of the Solar Pals range and it is a great example of how licensing can help licensees create market presence. Watching the Solar Pals collection moving, nodding and bowing in unison is always strangely calming at Autumn Fair so it was good to see them back on show for that reason alone.
One development I have noticed over recent years has been how different genres of licensing are breaking through into the mainstream and featuring alongside the more established character licensing strand. Autumn Fair demonstrated this again.
One of the emerging genres is music and within that The Beatles is one of the leading brands. Paul Lamond Games had a full range of jigsaw puzzles featuring The Beatles for example. Another emerging category is licensing associated with charities and in turn charities looking at licensing as another revenue stream for them.
A good example of this development was on the Half Moon Bay stand where it had a lovely range of RSPB shaped mugs. The Puffin particularly caught my eye – the range is a high quality one with great detailing, bold colours and a bright finish.
It was also interesting to see sports licensing featuring. Of course, football has had a strong presence in the gift market for many years but it seems other sports are starting to breakthrough. In the Sand Golf was showcasing The Open gift range it has developed. Products include cards, coasters and tumblers. Interestingly the products feature courses used to stage The Open and also one aspect of the design is to use the shape of the sand traps on courses to spell out letters. I believe it is new to licensing, but it had certainly given itself and the range a great chance of succeeding with a well positioned stand and by advertising in the show directory.
There seems to be no slowing down in the rise of fan merchandise based on genres such as anime and manga. Companies like Abysse have focused on delivering the ‘fan experience’ and are bringing ready to sell ranges forward across the genres. Often they are offering these ranges in FSDUs that are branded and ready to use in-store. They have also invested in other forms of display that allow retailers to offer a mixed range of IP and products depending on their store profile.
With retailers like HMV investing in new store formats and more ecommerce sites springing up servicing the fan community, it will not be a surprise to see this category of licensing growing further. However like many genres of licensing it needs to be well managed and properties chosen carefully. It helps that Abysse can lean on its experience from France where the manga and anime markets are longer established.
Staying with the theme of being retail ready, I noticed a Little Miss Sunshine CAREX photo opportunity board on one of the wholesalers stands. It stood out well as I am sure it would in-store.
This is a reminder that licensing and licensed properties can help retailers in-store in terms of creating displays and catching the consumer’s eye. Rather like Abysse’s approach to FSDUs, I think licensing has a proactive role to play in retail displays and promotions. I think this is a good card for licensing to play.
It is always good to see a company grow and succeed through the use of licensing. Mad Beauty is a good example of this. It specialises in personal care and toiletries. I believe it started off its licensing journey with a Kellogg’s licence and it now has licences with Disney and Warner Bros. It recently picked up an award at the Licensing International Excellence Awards for its Friends range which it was proudly showing on the stand.
It has a substantial Disney range which encompasses a number of films and franchises. Seemingly, it is working with Disney in a focused and segmented way to cover all retail bases and relevant demographics. It is a well thought out programme. It even makes use of brands such as Tim Burton’s Night Before Christmas. The styling of these products opens up opportunities to sell into non-traditional outlets and follow in the footsteps of the likes of Abysse.
One thing that really impressed me about Mad Beauty was the commitment to NPD and design development. The Disney range featured a number of really clever product formats.
These included Hunny pot shaped Winnie the Pooh bath fizzers and lip balms. This commitment to bespoke and on brand NPD is good to see and I am sure impressed Disney. Mad Beauty has made the most of the opportunity that licensing has given it and has brought some fresh thinking to the category.
Another trend that seems to be in growth is that of personalisation. Again licensing has a good opportunity here.
One range that stood out featured well known confectionery brands such as Maynards Wine Gums with personalised packaging options and dedicated FSDUs. While this may not be a licensed range per se, it was a reminder of how personalised products are becoming more common and again showed the importance of display in the gift trade.
The show was a real boost for me on a number of levels including the aisle asides and meetings, but it was also great to meet up with licensees and see ranges that I have been involved in developing in the virtual world on show in the real world.
Half Moon Bay’s Aardman products were a particular highlight. New products had been developed during lockdown and the range had been expanded. It was great to see it on show and people taking an interest in it. Hopefully other licensing colleagues who made it to the NEC felt the same way and got a welcome lift from seeing their work coming to fruition.
It was well worth making the trip and the show was really well presented. Well done to all concerned and great to see business getting back on track.
Finally, a quick thank you to everyone who sponsored me, Simon Gresswell and Chris Isitt for our March for Men which we undertook on Saturday. It was a fundraiser for Prostate Cancer. We walked 26.3 miles from Millwall FC to Tottenham Hostpur FC. The March is TV presenter Jeff Stelling’s idea and he was also taking part. I bored him for about 40 minutes but he took my non-stop chat in good spirit; a true professional. We also got to meet a true footballing legend in Matthew Le Tissier. Thanks for your support.
It was all for a great cause and one that we should all be aware of. Check out The Prostate Cancer Charity’s website for advice about the condition and how to spot the symptoms.
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.