‘Consumers want to be wowed’

Penguin Venture’s head of licensing and CP Susan Bolsover on Peter Rabbit, The Snowman plans and diversity in the preschool arena.

What were your big successes in 2015?

From a licensing perspective Peter Rabbit has continued to perform amazingly well in the preschool and infant space, both here in the UK and internationally. Along with Silvergate Media we’ve worked really hard to position Peter as the ‘go-to’ baby and infant brand and we are really starting to see that strategy working. We’ve extended our licensee base in the UK and have also looked how our top performing licensees translate to other international markets, most notably Australia and the US. Internationally we’ve worked with Haven in Australia especially to place Peter into key retailers in the territory most notably Myers who were a brilliant supporter of the brand in 2015.

What are your big properties within the preschool space for 2016?

This year is of course Beatrix Potter’s 150th anniversary and so for us that’s another great reason to celebrate Peter Rabbit so you can certainly expect much more. In particular our retail partnership with Mothercare will be a real showcase for both existing licensees as well as new partners and we are really looking forward to seeing how this will all come together in-store.

We are also implementing a new initiative for our classic seasonal property, The Snowman and The Snowdog with a ‘My First Christmas’ initiative for the 2016 festive season. We’ve noticed ‘My First’ as a key theme growing at retail over the past couple of years and feel that now is the right time to introduce arguably the UKs best-known Christmas characters into the mix. Again we will be working with both existing partners, as well as new licensees to bring the concept to retail and have a new style guide with a refreshed creative look and feel to give it a point of difference from our existing programme.

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What was the biggest change in the preschool environment in 2015?

I think in some areas the market is extremely crowded, but I don’t think this is necessarily anything new. What I have been most interested in however, is just how buoyant the independent retail sector is in the baby/infant and preschool space and that licensors and licensees can really benefit from working more collaboratively with this sector, many of whom have a wonderfully loyal consumer base and who can really stock and support a brand in terms of range and depth.

Just how competitive is the licensed preschool sector at the moment? What is the main challenge for you as a brand owner?

I think preschool is always the most competitive sector from a licensing perspective and so I would say that the main challenge is getting cut-through. There are some wonderful properties out there and it’s always such a shock to see just how many don’t make the cut. I think the key is building your audience and following and gaining the trust of parents as well as the seal of approval from kids. Once you understand and can engage with your audience the conversation around the brand becomes easier and the proposition clearer. Hopefully that then translates to sales success and brand longevity.

How is the retail environment for preschool properties currently? Are retailers willing to take a risk on newer brands or is it hard with so many classic brands still performing so well to get a break?

Penguin Ventures is all about classic brands and as such I think we are in a very lucky position in being able to show to licensees and retailers a track record of success. Also, as we own our brands and continue to print and innovate in the publishing sector it gives a certain confidence that we too believe in our brands and therefore you can trust us in working with them too. That said, I think it would be an incredible shame if the sector only supported classic brands as it stifles innovation and fresh blood from entering the market. I think it’s a fine balance for retailers between giving consumers something new and giving them something that they know and trust already. I’d like to hope that retailers continue to support classics, but leave room for new and innovative as well.

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Do you think that the consumer is much more savvy now as to what they will buy? What do you think they look for?

I think the UK have some of the most sophisticated consumers in the world! I think the British consumer is incredibly savvy in how they shop which is why it’s so difficult to pigeon-hole a consumer to buying from a particular store, or only buying certain brands and products. I think what consumers want is to be wowed! They are happy to see classic brands, but I think they increasingly want to see them in new and surprising ways. I think they look for products that are unique and interesting while also being price conscious.

Is having a link with the parents vital? For example, older brands – such as Teletubbies and The Clangers – might have more resonance because they watched them/played with the toys growing up?

I think it can help, but I don’t think it’s vital. Also, I think there is really only the preschool area where this happens – after all past a certain age children really don’t want to be associated with liking something their parents like. I think there is also a big difference between what I would term ‘retro’ and ‘classic’ so I think programme makers, licensing professionals, licensees and retailers shouldn’t over-egg the pudding and assume a parental link means instant success.

Do you see any major trends emerging for 2016?

I think it’s a very diverse and fragmented landscape and as such it will be interesting to see which brands make it through into 2016 bigger and better and which may not resurface.

What would you most like to see happen within the licensed preschool market in 2016?

If I had one wish it would be for there to be more diversity in the types or properties that find a place in the preschool market. I think we are used to film and TV properties still being so dominant, but I’d like to think great properties and products come from other sources too and ones where parents and children are connecting such as publishing – after all one thing we aren’t spoilt for is choice.

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