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Face to face with… Corsair

The Source meets Terry Lamb and Hélène Lens to find out more about the health and beauty licensee’s growth plans.

Corsair International had a phenomenal 2015, with turnover reaching £20 million, 11% more than forecast and a huge 42% increase on 2014.

Business is certainly booming for Corsair, thanks to its continual investment in innovative product development and breaking into new markets. Corsair now claims to be the market-leading distributor of licensed fragrances and toiletries, but 40 years ago when Corsair was established, it was a very different business model.

In the early 1970s Corsair’s business was based predominantly on manufacturing private label fragrances with its own factories in UK, Poland and Brazil. But as the global markets changed, so did business and in the year 2000 Corsair signed its first licensing agreement with Umbro.

“Umbro opened our eyes to the world of licensing,” says Terry Lamb, product development director for Corsair. “It allowed us to diversify our product range and start doing something a little different. It’s been an incredibly successful partnership for us and continues to rank in our top five licences every year.”

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But it was signing with Disney in 2004 that really changed the face of Corsair.

“We started with fragrance ranges for Minnie Mouse, Princesses and Fairies, but when we added Avengers to the portfolio we moved into everyday toiletries, and that’s when we started getting into the major grocers. Disney took us into licensing and licensing took us into mass retail,” says Terry.

Corsair now has a presence in grocers, health and beauty retailers, department stores, specialist stores, discounters and online retailers across the UK and into Europe. As far as top-performing properties, Minions, Avengers and Frozen make up the top three.

“We’re having an amazing time with Minions,” says Hélène Lens, senior brand manager. “When we first saw the characters for Despicable Me, we thought they would be big. Our giggling Minions hand wash was a million unit seller in 2015. That is huge for our category and says a lot about the product and the brand. Minions could actually become an evergreen.”

Avengers is a consistent performer for Corsair with a range targeting teens and men and another for younger boys. Sales of Frozen slightly dipped in 2015, but it still makes the top three.

“We’re very movie-led,” says Hélène. “In the past movies only offered short-term opportunities, but now we get 18-24 months out of a movie-led property, maybe even more if there are sequels. This year is shaping up to be a big year in terms of movies with Batman v Superman, Captain America: Civil War, The Secret Life of Pets and Ice Age 5.”

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Knowing which properties to run with remains one of the biggest challenges according to Terry, as it is to everyone in the industry.

“Some properties you know will be big, such as Star Wars, but a lot of the time, it is taking a gamble. We’ve got great relationships with Disney, Universal and Warner Bros and can talk about films coming up in the next two or three years and plans for them. But we’re also looking at ways we can diversify the business so that we’re not so reliant on movies.”

Over the past year Corsair has been exploring ways of growing the fragrance side of the business.

“Fragrance is our background, it’s our history and where our experience and expertise lie,” says Terry. “We don’t want to be a wholly children’s health and beauty business. At the moment our business is 70% children’s health and beauty and 30% fragrance. We want to balance that out more.”

Corsair already has a number of successful licensed fragrance ranges – namely its Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe ranges which are mainly exported to Europe – and is in discussions with a number of high profile fashion brands.

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Expanding its European presence is also on the agenda for 2016/17 for Corsair, and a more extensive fragrance range should help with this.

Terry says: “Fragrance is big in southern European countries and we’ll be investing in resourcing our mainland European business. There’s a lot of potential over there.”

But this focus on fragrance and Europe doesn’t mean Corsair is taking its eye off its children’s licensing programme. It’s anything but, with the company signing its first preschool property – The Clangers – and the first of many according to Terry: “We knew we had a gap in our children’s range and our customers have been asking for preschool properties. This is a big area of growth for us.”

Corsair’s future not only looks rosy, it smells pretty good too.

This feature originally appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of The Licensing Source Book. Click here to read the full publication.

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