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From US sports to Denis Compton… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes checks out two key Oxford Street retailers this week, as well as being reminded of just what a long and illustrious history licensing has.

I popped into Primark on Oxford Street this week. The first thing that struck me was how busy it was. It was full of shoppers and they were obviously buying things as most tills had longish queues. I think this reflected the volume of customers rather than slow service.

LL7Because the shop was so busy I confined my looking out to the menswear part of the shop. A standout range and development was the presence of NFL and NBA ranges in-store. Primark has developed branded bays and areas featuring US basketball and football teams such as Chicago Bulls, the New York Knicks and New England Patriots. This really underpins how US sports have become part of the UK fashion scene. It is also quite impressive how Primark and its suppliers have been able to coordinate and develop these ranges. I am sure other sports bodies and clubs are looking at this and thinking about how they can play in Primark.

Despite the commitment to the NFL and the NBA, my snapshot conclusion was that there was less licensing in the menswear section at Primark than I imagined there would be. This may be a reflection of the overall size and scale of the product offering in this large format store, but I did expect to see more licensing on offer. There were, of course, other examples of licensed ranges in-store. These included Ed Sheeran t-shirts. Music appeared elsewhere with ‘classic band’ t-shirts such as Nirvana. Other featured brands included Star Wars. Here it seems Primark is working hard to offer fresh and original designs. I guess it feels its customers will respond well to new designs and that this will be an extra spur to return to the shop.

LL8Interestingly, The Simpsons and Rick & Morty featured in-store, perhaps a recognition that these are now ‘classic’ brands and that demographically there will be an adult audience for them these days.

Sometimes the appeal and reach of a brand evolves and a new consumer market emerges for them. This is also a reflection of the fact that TV programming can be accessed in multiple ways these days and delivered across a range of platforms.

Retailers and licensees need to be tuned into a different ‘television’ landscape these days.

LL3As I beat a retreat from Primark I passed through the homewares department. This was relatively small and I didn’t spot any licensed products but I did see it was selling Nadiya Bakes books alongside the generic bakeware.

It was great to see our client Nadiya Hussain’s books in-store and also good to see Primark selling books. Not sure what other books Primark is selling, but I think a well selected book range could work well for it particularly if the selections reflect other ranges in-store.

LL6Inspired by spotting Nadiya’s book, I popped into the nearby flagship Foyles store. This is one of my favourite shops in London. Foyles is a retail brand with a long history – I remember visiting the original Foyles shop on Charing Cross Road. It was a ‘go to’ bookshop especially for books that were needed for school studies.

Foyles has evolved considerably from the shop I remember in the 1970s and 1980s and the Charing Cross shop is a great example of a specialist retailer offering a premium shopping experience. Set over a number of floors, the shop focuses on selling books and offers a comprehensive selection of titles presented in genres through the store. It has added in other categories such as toys, games, jigsaw puzzles, greeting cards and homewares. It has a lovely café and an exhibition space. It is also air conditioned!

LL5One thing I think Foyles does well is curating product by theme and character. For example it has bays of product for brands like Harry Potter. This allows it to offer books blended with other products such as LEGO sets, plush and jigsaw puzzles. Foyles also mixes in products like greeting cards well using spinners to sell cards alongside books – I am sure this prompts people to add cards to book purchases.

It is also supporting pick up items – products selling for around £5 to £10 which I am guessing work well as gifts or impulse purchase. A good example of this was a range of Natural History Museum products such as torches and projectors from Brainstorm Toys. Licensing is certainly a key element of the Foyles’ product mix and it buys into formats such as puppet books and pocket libraries (mini book sets). It also supports brands in depth as well – for example carrying the complete range of Asterix albums. This gives shoppers confidence that they are likely to find what they want on their visit.

LL4I also noticed how Foyles has expanded the graphic novel department. This has been driven in part by the increased interest in graphic novels and comics particularly around Manga and Anime. It is good to see Foyles supporting this category so well. As well as books it was selling merchandise ranges including action figures, resin figures, board games and puzzles. I can see how this would become a destination for fans of this genre.

It is also interesting to see how publishers are nurturing this category, seemingly recognising the growth in interest in the category. One example of this is the development of more premium, high-end and limited edition products. I noticed Penguin is now publishing a range of Marvel graphic novels under the Penguin Classics imprint. These books are presented in casebound formats with foil printing and look very impressive.

LL2Seeing the Marvel books did remind me that I have been in licensing for over 30 years now – I licensed Marvel material into the publishing category in the 1990s!

I think I would be called an industry veteran these days, but a recent visit to the MCC Museum at Lord’s Cricket Ground gave me some comfort. I saw an officially licensed Denis Compton jigsaw. Compton was a fabulous cricketer and a sporting hero of his day. He played in the 1940s and 1950s – as well as being a cricketing superstar he also played professional football for Arsenal.

Anyway seeing the jigsaw was a good reminder that licensing has a fairly long history. Denis Compton was probably one of the first sportsman to build a successful off field career with licensing and product partnerships. He was the public face of Brylcreem for many years in what was quite a novel promotional partnership at the time.

LL1Compton certainly inspired a generation of sports fans and it was good to see how M&S is using the relationship with The FA and the England football teams in a positive way at the moment.

I noticed that M&S is running a free fresh fruit campaign in-store. The campaign features England footballers and operates under the banner ‘Eat Well Play Well’. This is a good example of how licensing and partnerships can be used to help educate or encourage consumers in a positive way.

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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