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Centre of attention… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes highlights some of the opportunities for licensing with shopping centre owners, while taking a whistlestop tour of the Ashley Centre.

I popped into the Ashley Centre in Epsom last week. The Ashley Centre is a multi-retailer shopping centre located on the high street in Epsom. It was opened in 1984 by The Queen. I like to think she made the most of her trip to Epsom by popping along to the nearby racecourse after opening the shopping centre! The Ashley Centre is a ‘typical’ town shopping centre blending shops, cafes and pop up retailers. It has a mix of large and smaller units. Tenants include the likes of Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Boots.

There have been a number of big names that have come and gone from the Ashley Centre. One of the major losses was the closure of House of Fraser. The ebb and flow of retail is quite hard to follow and manage – shopping centres have to be quite agile and flexible in responding to changes in the market.

I noticed that the Ashley Centre had organised a pop up art gallery featuring local artists in one of the vacant shop units. Shopping centres also develop PR and promotional programmes to drive footfall including events such as costume character appearances, but there is no doubt it is tough going at the moment and the shopping centre owners will be looking at new ways of managing and utilising their real estate. This could, of course, be an opportunity for the licensing industry.

LL2I took the opportunity while at the Ashley Centre to do a whistlestop Licensing Lookout tour – given the mix of retailers in the Ashley Centre I was curious to see how licensing featured. Toy Barnhaus – which is part of the Toymaster group – was particularly busy which was good to see. I was there on a Saturday morning and the store was full of families and there was actually a queue of people buying toys. My assessment was that a lot of people were buying gifts for birthday parties that children were attending.

Toy Barnhaus is a very welcoming shop – it is part of a mini chain and my sense is that it has a good understanding of its customers with product mix reflecting that. Selling opportunities like people buying gifts for birthday parties are well catered for with. Indeed Toy Barnhaus operates a price match policy: it will not be ‘beaten on price on the high street’. At a local level this sort of initiative works well and sends out a good message cementing its position as a ‘local’ retailer.

LL7There were some interesting examples of licensing in-store particularly in the arts, crafts and activity category. This is clearly a strong category for Toy Barnhaus. Ranges on sale included My Living World’s Nick Baker products including a Bug Safari. Nick Baker is a naturalist who has appeared on shows like The Really Wild Show.

It was also interesting to see how Play-Doh is using licensing to develop products with licensed sets featuring the likes of PAW Patrol. Peppa Pig also has a strong presence in arts and crafts with products such as a Paint Your Own Boot planter kit. With price points around £10, these kind of products are good rainy day purchases and also suit people looking for a pick up present for parties.

Similarly to Play-Doh, Fuzzy Felt is using PAW Patrol within its range. I think these kind of licensed products which are co-branded are really good examples of licensing and also good ‘adverts’ for the power of licensing. It was also good to see a traditional brand like Airfix also featuring prominently in the arts and crafts sector. A reminder that brands like Airfix have longstanding and cross generational appeal.

LL3I moved on from Toy Barnhaus to Next. Next is a long-term supporter of licensing but takes a very focused approach to it. Licensing features in categories like children’s apparel but in a controlled way. There were some good examples of licensing in the boys’ department with gaming being a strong theme. Featured characters include Super Mario, Xbox, Mario Kart and Sonic the Hedgehog. A strong indicator of the strength of gaming brands in this category. Other featured brands included Spider-Man and Batman.

With evergreen brands like this, it is clear there is an ongoing commitment to providing contemporary ‘on trend’ design. This keeps things fresh and from a consumer point of view gives a new reason to purchase. It is worth noting that while licensing is featured in Next, overall I would estimate it is no more than 5 to 10% of its product mix. Disney characters featured in younger years product including Toy Story and Mickey Mouse. Mickey was featured with a rainbow design – I am guessing this is a nod to Pride.

LL4My next port of call was Card Factory. A stand out feature here was the display of giftable Cadbury chocolate bars. A great example of the gift trend towards branded products being coupled with gifting themes – in this case the product features slogans like Special Hubby, Get Well Soon and No 1 Mum.

For Cadbury’s this puts its product in a new retail channel and creates a new ‘buying occasion’ for it. Card Factory is able to tap into a much loved and well recognised brand. The product was sold in a branded FSDU – encouraging impulse purchase. I expect to see more brands working in this way to extend their reach and add new distribution. Retailers like Card Factory will, I am sure, recognise the value brands like Cadbury’s can bring especially with a product offer developed to suit their channel.

LL5Of course, shopping centres are quite competitive retail spaces, with retailers competing side by side with each other.

Within this context window displays and promotions are an important tool and a way of engaging with consumers. The Works has recognised this and had developed a dinosaur-themed window display. This featured Jurassic World product and visuals coupled with its own dinosaur character Dex which appears to be targeting a younger audience than Jurassic World. The Jurassic World products included items such as Excavation Sets and Kits – it is nice to see NPD like this associated with a movie franchise and is a good use of the film’s themes. Overall the window display was very effective and stood out in a busy shopping environment. It is a good example of how a retailer can tap into the appeal and strength of an established licensing brand.

LL6My final visit was to a Clintons store. Clintons has around 240 stores nationally – its focus is on gifting, greetings and occasions. The Epsom store is very well presented and laid out in a very contemporary way. Of course, greeting cards are a core part of the product mix. Front of store were graduation cards, congratulation cards and cards for teachers. Licensing featured in these categories including brands such as Happy Jackson.

Retailers like Clintons are good at identifying and tapping into ‘new’ occasions and building ranges around these occasions. But this also presents a challenge in terms of supply and stock management. Timing is key here. Clintons also sells confectionery and in this category Minions featured alongside brands such as Maynards and Ferrero Rocher. Gift and novelty confectionery seems to be a growing area.

LL1Like Next, Clintons was also tapping into the gaming trend and had a range of Minecraft giftware prominently displayed. It was good to see it grouping product together and giving it dedicated space.

Overall it felt like The Ashley Centre was doing well – it was a busy Saturday morning and there were plenty of shoppers about. Hopefully this translates to sales. The Ashley Centre management has maintained the centre well and despite some churn over of retailers it remains a popular place to visit.

Centres like The Ashley Centre work best when there is a variety of retailers in them encompassing nationally recognised retailers, independents like Toy Barnhaus and specialist retailers – the challenge is to maintain this mix and also to give consumers other reasons to visit. A good supply of cafés and restaurants is one strand of this strategy. The Ashley Centre also has a theatre in the complex which helps with footfall, but there is probably a role for licensing to play in shopping centres in terms of retail activations, events and promotions. It was good to see licensing featured in a variety of the stores. I expect there were more examples to be seen.

Finally it has also been good to see a lot of promotional activity starting around the Women’s Euro Football Championships. So far I have seen Pandora launching a jewellery range, Lucozade Sport teaming up with the England team and that Pepsico is running a cross category promotional campaign. It definitely seems that the UEFA Women’s Euros is now on another level in commercial, event and broadcast terms.

It will be good to see how this pans out from a wider licensing perspective, but it is a good example of how licensing and licensing opportunities are developing and changing. As an industry we have to be more aware of a breadth of opportunities and also be tuned into how there are shifts in society which impact consumer decisions.

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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