Being a B&LLA: “Our first B&LLA win really raised the profile of our licensing programme”

To mark the closing date (today, 8 March) for entries for this year’s Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Awards, we caught up with RHS licensing manager Cathy Snow to find out about the RHS’ multiple B&LLA wins: for Best Licensed Heritage or Institution Brand in 2017; Best Brand Licensed Adult Apparel Product or Range (for RHS Flora Apparel by Coast) in 2018, and Best Brand Licensed Children’s Product or Range in 2022 for the RHS Collection from George at Asda.

How did it feel to win your first B&LLA in 2017? What impact did it have?

This was the first major award the RHS licensing programme had received, so the win was exceptionally special – and celebrated! We had in fact been a finalist in 2016, and have been every year since our win.

On a personal level, I was very emotional as my small team (my licensing exec at the time, Shereen Llewellin, and I) had worked so hard on building the programme, raising its profile and supporting our fabulous licensees. It was also super-special to get a congratulations text from the RHS director general late that evening. I felt quite giddy.

The win definitely had an impact. Although the RHS had an established licensing programme, not many people knew about it. The win really raised its profile. We had numerous approaches after the awards from potential licensees and retailers. Most notably, perhaps, we had an approach from women’s clothing brand Coast to create an occasionwear collection (which went on to win a B&LLA in 2018).

CathySnow500x500Can you tell us about what’s happened to your licensing programme in the intervening years?

Since the win, we have achieved some major milestones. One of the many highlights for me was hitting the target of delivering of £1 million a year of royalty (that is, profit to the charity) for the first time in 2018, and we stayed above that figure, even during the pandemic. Another high point was signing UK Greetings for greeting cards and social stationery, and Woodlodge for outdoor pots – the RHS’ biggest ever licensing deal. These two licensees produce such amazing RHS products and are a delight to work with.

We also collaborated on apparel with Coast and on three collections with British fashion brand Oasis. In addition, we entered the children’s product category following the launch of our children’s style guide at BLE in 2019. This was a major step for RHS and the collaboration with the George at Asda team was one of my personal highlights. The first collection launched in spring 2021, and the second collection in spring 2022.

I should also mention the support we’ve had from the RHS library team since I first started, pointing me to some fabulous original botanical artwork, which is held in the RHS Lindley Collections. This has helped us to create our popular and successful style guides and is used on many of our licensed products. Finally, I must highlight the RHS Gardening team, especially Matthew Pottage and Peter Jones at RHS Garden Wisley, who helped us with product launches ranging from artisan gin to the RHS Garden Retreat by The Posh Shed Company. We are so lucky to have so much resource to draw on at the RHS.

The RHS collaboration with George @ Asda was one of Cathy's personal highlights.
The RHS collaboration with George @ Asda was one of Cathy's personal highlights.

Do you think the licensing industry has changed since your first win in 2017? Are there opportunities to be tapped?

I have certainly noticed many more heritage organisations and charities trying to launch their own licensing programmes, and many more celebrities and influencers moving into licensing, too.

As online shopping has increased, choice for consumers is broader, so expectations on delivery, quality and value have risen. Brick-and-mortar stores have seen huge challenges over the last few years. We have also seen how important social and digital media channels have become to a product’s launch and continued sales.

Conversely, what challenges are you facing?

We have tried to ensure the RHS stays ahead of the game and does things differently from competing heritage organisations. We have unique assets and a real authority in the gardening world, enabling us to stand out from others in this space. These often give us a clear point of difference, and I have to say our approach seems to be working really well.

Most licensees ask for additional support to promote our licensed products. This can be challenging. We have to balance promoting products and any commercial activity with our charitable objectives. Social media, influencer and ambassador support is often top of our licensees’ request list and possibly the most challenging for us to deliver.

Previously we were a very small team and not as proactive securing new partners as we wanted to be. However, recently the team has doubled in size. We are now in a position to seek more partnerships and will continue to grow our licensing business.

The deal with Woodlodge for outdoor pots was the biggest ever licensing deal for the RHS.
The deal with Woodlodge for outdoor pots was the biggest ever licensing deal for the RHS.

Are you able to share details of your plans for 2023?

We have a clear strategy in place to develop existing product categories, expand into ‘new for the RHS’ product categories, and seek out the very best brands and retailers to work alongside within the UK and across Europe, while also actively expanding our international reach.

We have a stand at BLE this year and will be launching new artwork and initiatives there.

Throughout the year we’ll be announcing a steady stream of exciting new partnerships that will broaden our reach within the home and garden, for families and children (to keep active and well), for entertaining and to help everyone enjoy nature, gardening and to grow their own – no matter the size of their outdoor space or skill level. And that’s not all. I can safely say: “Watch this space!”.

Finally, what qualities do you look for in a licensing partner?

Sustainable and ethical product development has always been important to the RHS licensing programme.

In my experience, from the first time you meet a licensee you can tell if the licensee/licensor relationship is going to be a good one and flourish.

We look for licensees that know and understand the RHS – licensees that care about the environment, that will develop sustainable, ethical products and that are experts in their field. We encourage licensees to be creative with our assets and really enjoy the product design process with us.

Currently, and despite these extremely challenging times, we have many fabulous licensees working exceptionally hard to develop outstanding RHS products. I can honestly say we are delighted to be working with every one of them and very grateful for their support and dedication.

Entries for the B&LLAs 2023 close at midnight tonight, Wednesday 8 March. The awards are FREE to enter and all entries are made digitally. CLICK HERE TO ENTER.

The winners of the awards will be revealed at a lavish afternoon event held at The Royal Lancaster Hotel, Lancaster Terrace, London on Thursday 27 April 2023, that will be attended by over 500 retailers, licensees, brand owners and representatives.

For ticket and table information for The B&LLAs awards event, please click here.

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