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From Father’s Day to home furnishings… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes makes some notes on how licensed products are emerging once more across Sainsbury’s aisles.

While we are a long way from business as usual, I was able to return to more conventional Looking Out this week. My weekly retail visit has been to my local Sainsbury’s store and, as mentioned before, I have been shopping for my 79 year old mum. That has thrown up some shopping dilemmas for me – who knew there were so many different types of seeded loaves or so many varieties of honey. Broadly speaking I have done okay on fulfilling her order but occasionally I have to slip in some substitute items. These seem to have been accepted and no complaints have been sent to senior management.

Anyway this Monday morning Sainsbury’s felt a little less frenetic and a little less locked down. I didn’t have to queue to get in and in another sign of the times it had removed the cleaning station that was positioned by the door. We have been encouraged to clean our trollies before entering the store. This week this wasn’t required – maybe another small step back to normal shopping routines. Anyway I felt I could dwell a little longer and look around the store… and take some photos.

There was a licensing presence in the apparel section at Sainsbury's.
There was a licensing presence in the apparel section at Sainsbury's.

It seems that there has been some stock rotation and new stock has been delivered into store in the non-food aisles. In one part of the store Sainsbury’s has turned space over to Father’s Day and it is selling products such as games, DVDs and books under a Father’s Day banner. These are supplemented by a lot of alcohol gift sets aka boxes of beer and lager.

There didn’t seem to be a lot of licensed lines in this offering, but there were some classic TV brands in the DVD offer such as Dad’s Army and Only Fools and Horses.

Thinking ahead to 2021, there may be opportunities for licensing to play more of a part in Father’s Day 2021. Of course, it is hard to make an impact retail wise for such a time sensitive event as Father’s Day, but my view is that licensing companies on both sides need to be more tuned into the opportunity that these kind of retail events provide.

A VW Camper t-shirt was on display in the adult clothing department.
A VW Camper t-shirt was on display in the adult clothing department.

That said within the apparel section at Sainsbury’s there was a licensing presence in the Father’s Day offer. It was featuring Marvel Comics’ PJ Sets and Sock giftsets. These featured classic comic art. They were featured in a Father’s Day end cap which also included non-licensed product. Maybe in better times the whole end cap would have been filled with licensed products. But it was good to see licensing featured and also to see Sainsbury’s being prepared to back a retail event like Father’s Day.

It was also good to see a VW Camper t-shirt on display in the adult clothing department. Seemed like a strong design to me and a reminder that adult apparel is a good home for licensed brands. Design wise this is a great example of how well developed design can help keep a brand alive in apparel. It seems more vital than ever for brand owners to invest in design and to keep refreshing their design assets.

There is still commitment to a strong design vision on toddler and babywear.
There is still commitment to a strong design vision on toddler and babywear.

Sainsburys and TU have always impressed me with their toddler and babywear. I think they have worked hard on developing product that is good quality and represents good value for money. Part of this is centred on the quality of garments, the embellishments and the design vision.

With this in mind it was good to see that this commitment is still there exemplified by some great licensed products featuring Paddington, Spot and Elmer. When I think back to licensed apparel of 20 years ago – which generally featured a single image on a garment – there really is no comparison now. Licensed apparel stands comparison to other brands and I think this is in part due to licensors investing in design. Of course, it also needs licensees to invest in product development and retailers to push things forward.

Looking ahead I am hoping the industry keeps standards high and recognises that the ‘added value’ element of licensing is a strength which helps consumer engagement and creates a commercial edge for retailers.

Part of my shopping brief this week was to buy a greetings card on behalf of my mum. She wanted a card for ‘A 2 year old. Girl. Nice message’. Quite a tight brief.

In the end I played safe and went to the licensed cards – I bought into The Gruffalo range. While in the card section I also saw a familiar card. It is a photographic card from Woodmansterne featuring George Best leaping to make a header. It is a Manchester United v. Arsenal match. The card was in three pockets in Sainsbury’s. I have actually bought this card at least five times for football fan friends. It set me to thinking, has there been a more successful football-themed greeting card?

Are there more opportunities for sports brands in the greeting cards category?
Are there more opportunities for sports brands in the greeting cards category?

Football, and sport in general, is hard to make work in a category like cards not least because of issues such as regionality, but thinking about events like Father’s Day I was surprised not to see more football and sports-themed cards on sale. I did spot a Subbuteo card which taps into football nostalgia. I know in my own work we recently licensed Hype to develop Roy of the Rovers greeting cards which seem to be being well received by independent retailers.

Thinking of the George Best card, I wonder if there are more opportunities for sports brands in the card category – I know club themed cards are popular in the children’s card section, but maybe there are further opportunities in other card categories.

Likewise I noticed in the sports supplement fixture which features products such as protein shakes, isotonic drinks and supplements from companies like SIS (Science in Sport) and Maximuscle that there were no sports brands or personalities featured.

This got me thinking whether this category represents an opportunity for licensing? Or indeed whether brands like Maximuscle might be thinking about licensing as a way of expanding the brand reach. I didn’t dwell too long at this fixture as muscle building compounds don’t feature on my mum’s shopping list and it would have been a rather off of me to substitute dried apricots for Maximuscle Protein Powder!

The Morris & Co brand had a wide range of product in beauty gifting.
The Morris & Co brand had a wide range of product in beauty gifting.

My final licensing spot on this trip to Sainsbury’s was a range of Morris & Co in beauty gifting. There was a wide range of product on sale and it was a great representation of the distinctive Morris & Co brand. It was a great representation of art and heritage licensing.

Licensee Heathcote & Ivory has developed a broad range of products and seems to have added new lines outside of the personal care category such as gift teas. But all products make effective use of Morris’ patterns and heritage. This is a good example of the ‘nurture a licensee’ approach to licensing. Traditionally licensing programmes were often judged by the number of licensees on board. I think in future it will be more normal to judge programmes on more qualitative criteria and how relationships with licensees have been nurtured to grow the licensee’s range and with an eye on longevity.

In last week’s Lookout I elicited some support from some licensing friends and I asked them to nominate their favourite current deal from their own portfolio and to highlight a deal from the wider industry they thought noteworthy. I closed my book a little early and missed one contribution. So I am including observations from Teri Niadna, md of Brandgenuity, this week.

Brandgenuity has grown the Hawaiian Tropic line with new travel bags.
Brandgenuity has grown the Hawaiian Tropic line with new travel bags.

Teri highlighted a deal for Brandgenuity client Hawaiian Tropic: “We’re really proud of the Hawaiian Tropic fragrance mists, which we’ve greatly expanded this year in partnership with our licensee, Designer Parfums. We’ve launched two new products: a shimmer spray collection, building on the core range with new scents and shimmer, and a collection of three vibrant travel bags containing Hawaiian Tropic mini size spray mists and a suncare sample. These extensions build on the brand’s promise of a naturally radiant glow and an exotic escape for the senses. They can be found in Superdrug, Boots, and World Duty Free, and we’ll be expanding to more countries this year.”

This again speaks to the value in building partnerships and growing licensed ranges steadily with a licensee.

Teri pointed to a heritage licence for her deal from another company, highlighting a Transport for London home furnishings deal.

Kirkby Designs has cleverly adapted the TfL licence into home furnishings.
Kirkby Designs has cleverly adapted the TfL licence into home furnishings.

“With all the recent focus on homewares, we’ve been looking at the category and admiring the Kirkby Designs collaboration with Transport for London. The range offers a fresh, modern approach to the well-known and loved upholstery designs, leveraging several iconic patterns dating from the 1930’s to 1970’s. So many brands and institutions have amazing archives, and there’s loads of great design in the TFL system that we commuters often take for granted. This such a sophisticated interpretation, and encourages us look at those everyday design elements with new appreciation.”

This is a great example of heritage licensing and an authenticity in licensing. The latter point is a welcome reminder that it is important to remain focused in licensing and to place a value on NPD that reflects a brand’s heritage accurately.

I have to applaud Teri for her selection. These products from Kirkby Designs are very stylish and am tempted to add one or two to my home furnishings. That said, I am also wondering if it is worth lobbying TfL to run a special tube carriage with these seats fitted to the carriage. That may be falling into the fantasy licensing category!

Finally, I wanted to give a shout out to a company called Cow Corner Events, an events business run by ex-cricketer Fabian Cowdrey. Faced with the challenges of COVID-19 and a lockdown in the events world, Cow Corner has adapted its model and has curated a series of Zoom-based events.

Marketed as free to attend events, it has hosted a series of sports events with Fabian’s father, Chris Cowdrey, acting as host and interviewer. I have Zoomed into chats with cricketers Ian Bell and Simon Jones. Both events made compelling viewing. It is a really good example of a company adapting and building up goodwill for the future. But it is also a reminder of the pulling power of sports and sporting heroes. It has set my mind thinking about other sports and other commercial possibilities for events of these kind.

I am looking forward to the next Cow Corner cricket event which features Shaun Pollock. Thanks to Fabian and Cow Corner – a really great example of a company adapting and investing in the future.

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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