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Doing things differently and embracing change… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a trip to Shropshire and discovers some ways in which licensing is doing things differently.

In current times we have had to get used to doing things differently and embracing change. Last week I had a week away in Shropshire, taking a holiday that had been postponed earlier in the year. I was told we were staying in a cow shed. In the spirit of the times I went with the flow, raising an eyebrow but no objections. Fortunately the cow shed had changed. It had been converted to a very well appointed holiday cottage. The farmer has embraced change in his business and adapted. More than ever before I think licensing needs to be prepared to do things differently. One aspect of this is thinking about where products are sold.

My trip to Ludlow allowed me to Lookout in a couple of different retail locations that encouraged me that there are opportunities to sell licensed products in a range of areas.

In the early days of lockdown things looked very bleak for the garden centre sector. Garden centres have long been seen as a retail sector moving forward positively and one that is increasingly licensing friendly. So with this in mind, it is good to see garden centres open for business again. Of course, they cover a range of activities these days and for many consumers are destination retailers.

I visited Burford House – part of the British Garden Centres chain – near Ludlow in part to see the gardens, but also to use the café. Cafés and restaurants are a big part of the garden centre mix these days. But it’s also a bonus if a garden centre has a garden as well!

Understandably, RHS is a strong player in licensing in the garden centre sector.
Understandably, RHS is a strong player in licensing in the garden centre sector.

As you might expect, the Royal Horticultural Society (The RHS) features as a strong player licensing wise in this sector. The RHS seems to have developed a very successful licensing programme with a strong focus on its core activities.

On this visit, I saw examples of RHS licensed decorative garden ornaments. The individual products in this range all carried the names of well known RHS gardens such as Wisley, Hyde and Harlow which is a nice touch and a good nod to the RHS’ heritage. These items were retailing for around £500, a further indication of the authority that the RHS brand conveys.

Another category RHS has a strong hand in is across items like gravel. This category is a garden staple and to an extent is price driven. In this context the RHS brand gives consumers reassurance in regards to product choice and selection.

Licensing extends into other decorative categories such as birdfeeders with a range featuring a poppy design under licence from the Royal British Legion still commanding a good amount of retail space. This is a licensed product that has been around for a while and it seems garden centres take a long-term view on product, particularly if it is developed by a trusted supplier. It was also good to see plant companies using brands to help stand out. I have seen a few examples before, but this time a rose named and branded Prince’s Trust caught my eye. An interesting category for charities to be active in.

The 2021 calendar fixture featured a number of licensed brands.
The 2021 calendar fixture featured a number of licensed brands.

There was a 2021 calendar fixture in store which featured a number of licensed brands, while a well stocked greeting cards area included a number of licensed lines. Garden centres go big on gifting and toys. In this particular outlet it was relatively licensing free with categories such as plush featuring generic products.

Garden centres tend to use a lot of table displays for product as this fits their vibe. There is scope here for licensed ranges to be grouped together. Focusing on licensing in this way could be a useful tool for garden centres, particularly when combined with social media campaigns and – in the future – themed events. These could include character visits, but also visits from artists. Our client Julie Dodsworth sells a lot of products in garden centres and it is easy to imagine her running a demo class in garden centres showing how she develops her design work.

On my way back from Ludlow I popped into a motorway service station. This is another business sector that I imagine has been adversely affected by lockdown. Generally service stations feature multiple retail brands coupled with hotels and food outlets. Retail wise there is a focus on ‘travel essentials’, but increasingly other categories are coming to the fore including toys and games.

Well-known brands are a safe bet for the WH Smith outlets at motorway service stations.
Well-known brands are a safe bet for the WH Smith outlets at motorway service stations.

I popped into the on-site WH Smith which has a relatively large toy and games section. Encouragingly, this included a number of licensed lines such as Trolls, Disney and In the Night Garden. I am guessing the retail buyer is trying to use licensing to encourage impulse purchase, but is also wary of going too soon on new properties preferring to support more evergreen brands particularly ones that might resonate with parents and grandparents.

There was also a good representation of licensed brands in the book department, particularly in children’s books. Here again well known brands are safe bets. WH Smith displays these well, with well curated branded spaces for individual brands making ‘quick pick’ purchasing easier. On a personal note it was good to see our client, Nadiya Hussain, featuring in the cook book promotion. I am guessing recipe books do well as they are great gift items for travellers to pick up on their way to visit friends and family.

There was good representation of licensed brands in the book department.
There was good representation of licensed brands in the book department.

WH Smith also had the greeting cards category well covered linking into the gifting theme and assisting with the ‘oh no I forgot to get a card’ moment we have all experienced. Licensing played a good part in this category. It was also interesting to see a place for licensed ranges such as PAW Patrol in the personal care space. Again this adds an attractive option to the travel essentials category and adds variety to the range the retailer is offering.

My sense is that there is more potential for licensed ranges to be part of the product mix in service stations. There were other parts of the service station where licensing featured such as coin-operated rides and AWP machines which demonstrate the consumer appeal of licensing in this retail sector.

I also thought it was good to see the Space Invaders ‘Don’t be a Space Invader’ advert placed in the bathrooms; a well crafted advertisement with a well chosen IP perfectly placed to get noticed and acting as a great reminder about road safety for car drivers (and passengers).

The works of art were setting a good example on face coverings at the Ashmolean.
The works of art were setting a good example on face coverings at the Ashmolean.

Finally, and on the theme of embracing change, I made a visit to the Ashmolean Museum this week – it was great to be back there. It is a very inspiring place and quite uplifting… even wearing a mask.

Good to see many of the works of art joining in. Even statues are having to change their ways!

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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