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Finding new ways to find new business… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on why we need to collectively think about new business and reflect on new ways licensing might be deployed.

I was very interested and encouraged to read that licensing stalwart Kelvyn Gardner is rebooting his licensing consultancy Asgard Media. Kelvyn mentioned that a key objective for him and Asgard was to introduce the potential of licensing to new companies. Kelvyn highlighted that he would be “… showing that licensing is easy to understand, economical in practice and profitable in outcome”.

It is good to see this focus on attracting new companies to licensing. I have always felt that licensing needs to grow the base of licensees and sectors participating in the industry. The growth in rights available hasn’t been matched by those seeking to use licensing. So it is encouraging that Kelvyn will be banging the licensing drum in this way, or in his case strumming his guitar. I think collectively we need to think about new business and also reflect on new ways licensing might be deployed.

I try to set aside some time each week for new business development. This is tough at the best of times – both in identifying new business and then starting a dialogue. Often you end up selling licensing and then the rights you represent. I often source new companies from retail visits. I am sure I have confused a lot of store detectives. I tend to pick things up, but not pocket them. I am trying to find contact details. Many a store detective has been disappointed I think!

In fact, these research visits were the genesis of the Licensing Lookout. My store visits allowed me to spot a lot of licensed products and gave me the idea to go legit and become a Lookout.

Of course at the moment retail visits have been limited so I have found new ways of researching new business. This week I have been focused on the home and home furnishings area. Thinking about our client The Ashmolean Museum we are keen to develop relationships with the likes of paint companies, sofa manufacturers and soft furnishing suppliers. I bought a number of homes and interiors magazines to carry out my research. As well as sparking lots of ideas for new business calls, the magazines shed some interesting light on some licensed products.

Blinds 2go has a successful partnership with V&A.
Blinds 2go has a successful partnership with V&A.

Before lockdown, it was becoming apparent that online retail and ecommerce was becoming an ever more important part of the retail and licensing mix. In recent months, online retailing has come further into its own and I think there will be more opportunities for licensing in this sector.

I spotted online seller Blinds 2go advertising in a number of the magazines. In Homes & Gardens, it had a full page advertisement showcasing its V&A Collection. The featured product was a Roman Blind using a William Morris Fruit print. Retailers like Blinds 2go can offer a wide range of designs and design options as they print on demand. This should open up more opportunities for brand owners to feature. That said, brand owners need to think about how they can support companies like Blinds 2go in regards to consumer promotion and publicity.

It is good to see the company advertising in titles like Homes & Gardens, but this needs to be supplemented by other marketing support and brand owners need to be ‘game ready’ to help develop this kind of licensing. Blinds 2go has dipped quite heavily into the licensing market as it also carries ranges from Orla Kiely, Cath Kidston, Sanderson and Scion. Of course, there is always a balance for companies like this in regards to taking on more licences: they have to curate their offer and not dilute existing offerings.

Surface View has sourced a number of works from the British Library.
Surface View has sourced a number of works from the British Library.

It was also good to see long-standing licensee Surface View featuring in my couch bound Lookout. Surface View is another online print on demand company. It has a strong hand of licences including many from the heritage sector like the V&A , The Ashmolean Museum and the National Maritime Museum. It offers a custom printing service and can work in large scale. This opens up opportunities beyond single households into areas like hotels and restaurants. It appeals to interior designers. House Beautiful included a lovely shot of a Sunflower blind from Surface View sourced from the British Library Collection. Another facet of this kind of licensing is that retail prices are relatively high as it is a custom service. Of course, volume is lower than mass market retail, but maybe trading up price-wise is something else we should be reflecting on in licensing and finding channels to do this in.

My magazine research also confirmed the ongoing commitment from paint company Little Greene to the National Trust paints range. In a full page advertisement, it focused on ‘green’ as a colour highlighting the authenticity of the collection which includes original shades from the homes of Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw and Beatrix Potter. This partnership seems a very deep and detailed one which has been running for a while. Hopefully this kind of activity motivates other paint companies to think about licensing and how they might be able to get involved.

Holiday packages involving chefs such as Michel Roux Jr are featured in Country Living.
Holiday packages involving chefs such as Michel Roux Jr are featured in Country Living.

Magazines themselves have also looked to licensing to generate additional income and create new platforms to build relationships with readers. This is in part in response to changes in media consumption forcing their hand, but also as they have got better at understanding their readers and their readers interests.

Magazines such as Country Living have extended their brand into areas like holidays and events which tap into readers’ lifestyles. Country Living was showcasing an ‘exclusive tour’ to the Peak District’s stately homes with TV personality Paul Martin. It also has holiday packages involving Prue Leith, Jennie Bond, Michel Roux Jr and Christine Walkden. They cover areas like food, railways and gardening tapping into their readers’ interests forensically. This kind of lifestyle licensing is another area that should see new business opportunities for the licensing industry.

Interestingly, House Beautiful seems to have made a lot of progress in regards to licensing and brand extension. Seemingly it has a number of partnerships in place with interiors companies including DFS, Carpetright, Hillarys and Dreams. It makes sense to build up a collection and a selection of products that can be coordinated by consumers in their homes. House Beautiful is able to support these partnerships editorially and present them in a design context. It can also support partners online, in PR and at events.

The partners like DFS can activate the partnership in-store helping to guide consumer decisions in store. Having a partnership with a brand like House Beautiful adds a voice of authority and gives consumers confidence.

Good Housekeeping kitchen gloves has broadened the brand into new areas.
Good Housekeeping kitchen gloves has broadened the brand into new areas.

I did manage to do some in-store Looking Out this week during my weekly supermarket dash. I veered off piste for a little while and looked in the ‘Homewares and Kitchenware’ aisle at Sainsbury’s.

The magazine theme continued as I noticed a range of Good Housekeeping kitchen gloves. This is probably part of a bigger range, but it shows that magazine brands are active in a range of categories.

Good Housekeeping kind of rides two horses in the brand partnership race as it develops licensed products, but also through the Good Housekeeping Institute it tests products and offers an accreditation scheme. This approval scheme is very robust and well established.

This latter example is more food for thought for how we do business in licensing. Maybe we need to be thinking about different ways of engaging commercially with companies and exploring different business models. Perhaps this ties in with thinking more long-term about partnerships.

Roald Dahl was the only licence that Ian spotted in this Sainsbury's endcap.
Roald Dahl was the only licence that Ian spotted in this Sainsbury's endcap.

While in Sainsbury’s I dwelt momentarily by the mug fixture. It was an endcap. I could only spot one licensed range in the fixture which was Roald Dahl. I remember a time when there was lots more licensing in this category. Using this category as a working model I wondered whether this apparent decline is because the category, like many others, is now price driven or perhaps there was too much licensing in it at one stage.

It may not be a robust example, but it did make me think about certain categories and that licensing needs to work its way back into them. Maybe I need to pass Kelvyn some names of ceramic mug companies!

The Blue Bear Bookshop has a classic book shop style to it with lovely fixtures.
The Blue Bear Bookshop has a classic book shop style to it with lovely fixtures.

Finally I managed to sit inside a coffee shop this week – the first time for many months. I went independent and visited The Blue Bear Bookshop in Farnham. The shop combines being a book shop and a cafe.

After many months away, it was great to be back in a coffee shop and a shop. The Blue Bear is really well set out with lovely fixtures and has a classic book shop style to it. I think it is a great example of an independent retailer, but also an example of a retailer that has worked hard on providing a positive retail experience (even under COVID conditions).

Retail is of course facing significant challenges, but while drinking my coffee I was thinking that another new business opportunity for licensing is working with retail to create more long-term retail ‘experiences’ – looking beyond short-term promotions and dialling up long-term partnerships which tap into the consumer appeal of well established (and loved) brands. I will be Looking Out for more examples over coming weeks.

Happy shopping!

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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