From page to stage… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes checks out Foyles book shop in Waterloo station to see how it is continuing to build on its books+ offer using licences.

One thing I have enjoyed over recent weeks is the chance to pop back into retailers, browse and buy on impulse.

A particular favourite sector of retail for me are book shops and book retailing. This may be a legacy of having worked in and with the publishing business for a number of years but I think it is more about the ‘bookshop vibe’. They are great places to shop, there is a lot to see and they are very relaxing places generally.

With this in mind I popped into the Foyles bookshop in Waterloo Station earlier this week. Interestingly the shop is situated in what was once a ticket booking hall. There are still some original elements of the booking hall visible and indeed Foyles has used some aspects of the original set up for product displays – these include some of what I think were the original ticket booths. I am old enough to remember the ticket hall being there, but am a bit sketchy on fine details.

The Foyles shop is built on two floors with a large ground floor and a smaller upper floor. The shop manages to be relatively relaxed even though it is situated on a busy station. Indeed in many ways it is an oasis of calm, so much so I wonder how many people have missed their train while browsing in Foyles!

Foyles book shop in Waterloo station has kept some of the original elements from the ticket hall that it used to be.
Foyles book shop in Waterloo station has kept some of the original elements from the ticket hall that it used to be.

I am guessing that the Waterloo Station branch of Foyles was opened as part of a wider retail strategy that encompassed having station outlets as part of the retail estate, with the thought process of engaging with consumers on the go and being a go to store in that context.

Of course with the changes in travel habits and routines experienced during Covid-19, having shops at stations has undoubtedly been a challenge for Foyles. That said the Waterloo Station branch had a good buzz around it this week, shelves were well stocked, the store looked bright and people were shopping. It is certainly a well presented shop. It would be easy for retailers and shop staff to become disillusioned in the current climate and let standards slip in regards to store presentation, but in this case that clearly hasn’t happened.

There is a dedicated display for plush toys in the children's book area.
There is a dedicated display for plush toys in the children's book area.

Like most bookshops these days, Foyles is a book plus retailer but naturally books are at the heart of its offer.

One thing I noticed in this branch of Foyles was the use of display cases, spinners and FSDUs – it used space well and created engaging displays throughout the store. One good example of this was a dedicated display for plush toys within the children’s book area. The range combined generic products with and not unexpectedly licensed characters including those with a publishing heritage or a strong publishing programme.

This included Moomins, Paddington, Peppa Pig and Elmer. In a relatively small space Foyles had created a very eye-catching plush display. It is easy to imagine consumers buying a plush to accompany a book purchase or indeed as an extra treat featuring a child’s favourite character.

Elmer plush was also being sold next to the original picture book.
Elmer plush was also being sold next to the original picture book.

Foyles further developed this by stocking plush on the book shelves next to books featuring the same character. Good for upselling but also a simple but effective way of creating effective retail displays.

A good example of this was a Tiger Who Came to Tea plush sitting alongside the classic book. Likewise Elmer plush was sold next to the original Elmer picturebook. Very hard to resist buying the plush and book together!

It was also no surprise to see Foyles selling a good range of book accessories like bookmarks, again on a dedicated spinner. The offering here included licensed ranges such as Dr Seuss bookmarks. A bookmark is of course a practical purchase, but is also a relatively low cost trade up item for gifting.

The George's Train Ride book was a natural fit for this branch of Foyles.
The George's Train Ride book was a natural fit for this branch of Foyles.

Given the station location I imagine the buying team have some latitude to make individual buying decisions based on the shop’s location and profile. Hence there is a well stocked section for books on London, targeting visitors to the capital.

This specific buying also extends into choice of certain books and formats in regards to licensing. I noticed a Peppa Pig book, George’s Train Ride – part of the Ladybird range, this was a shaped book with train wheels. A natural for this branch, but also a good example of how a publisher has invested in a new format to help the book series grow and also a nod to the crossover between books and toys. For younger readers there is scope to introduce book formats that have in-built play value.

It was also no surprise to see the commitment this branch of Foyles has to greeting cards and there is a strong card presence in-store, again using spinners. Within the card offering there were a number of licensed ranges including Mr Men and Little Miss cards from Hype, coupled with a strong presence for cards featuring heritage licences such as museums or art collections.

A Museums & Galleries display case included a number of heritage brands.
A Museums & Galleries display case included a number of heritage brands.

A good example of this was a Royal Academy of Arts card range from Art Press. I can imagine some consumers regarding Foyles at Waterloo as a convenient card shop rather than a book shop. Of course once in-store Foyles’ displays and offers may encourage consumers to trade up. This branch also has a good selection of jigsaws, notebooks and board games, many of which are licensed. Again fairly typical of contemporary bookshops.

But it is good to see that the book theme follows through even in these categories with the store stocking a range of notebooks featuring designs from the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library for example. As noted, it uses display well in this store and seem to work with suppliers on this as well – there was a Museums & Galleries display case full of branded notebooks featuring brands such as The British Museum and the V&A.

Foyles was also offering strong support for manga and graphic novels.
Foyles was also offering strong support for manga and graphic novels.

It is also worth noting how certain authors seem to be ‘must haves’ in book stores. This cuts across genres – here for example there was a dedicated J. K Rowling Harry Potter section while there was a ready supply of Jamie Oliver’s 7 Ways cook book.

Foyles has a broad and diverse book offer which is one of its strengths, but it also needs to deliver the blockbusters and have them available in good numbers. The importance of bestsellers to book shops cannot be under estimated.

As noted Foyles has a very broad cross section of books on offer and within this context it was great to see the level of support it is giving to manga and graphic novels. Many of the featured characters in these genres feature in licensing campaigns. It is good to see Foyles giving so much space to this category of publishing. It wasn’t always so in book shops, but it is a measure of how popular some of the characters from this genres are that a shop like Foyles carries so much from the category.

Zog is just one of the licensed characters which has made the jump from page to stage.
Zog is just one of the licensed characters which has made the jump from page to stage.

Outside Foyles and on my tube journey it was good to see so many posters promoting live events and theatre shows. This was a good indication that things may actually be ‘opening up’ again and a semblance of normality returning.

As we know licensing has a strong role to play in the live sector and it was no surprise to see a licensed production among those being advertised. I noticed a poster for the stage show of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Zog which is on stage in August in London.

Described by one critic as “… a rip roaring song-filled fun fest” it is good to see live events are back and the Zog musical is a good reminder of how publishing characters can move from page to stage.

It's a measure of the popularity of a character brand to see it featured in a Leake Street artwork!
It's a measure of the popularity of a character brand to see it featured in a Leake Street artwork!

Finally, while in Waterloo it is mandatory for me to visit the Leake Street Arches. Leake Street is an epicentre for street art in London. Definitely worth a visit. As previously reported street art can lean quite heavily on pop culture and it is not uncommon to see well known characters being featured in street art compositions.

On this visit I noticed a Star Wars inspired piece of art badged Space Trash – looking at the portrayal of characters such as R2-D2 and C-3PO it is unlikely this piece of street art will be inspiring a new creative direction for Disney any day soon.

But that said it is a measure of the popularity of a character brand to see it featured in a Leake Street artwork – a badge of urban honour!

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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