Heritage heroes… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes finds some examples of how heritage sites and their retail outlets are increasingly on the radar of licensees this week.

Last week’s announcement of the nominations in the Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Awards certainly caused a lot of excitement in the licensing community and people were quite rightly sharing their success in being nominated. Including myself!

An interesting feature of the nominations was what seems like an increased presence for heritage brands and their licensees across the product categories. In my own work our client The Ashmolean received two nominations in the product categories – one for an apparel range and the other for a tea collection. Heritage brands such as the National Trust, the Natural History Museum and the RHS all featured prominently.

This is a firm sign that heritage licensing is very much on the licensing radar. Indeed my looking out this week suggests that this isn’t the complete story. Seemingly heritage sites and their retail outlets are increasingly on the retail radar of licensees and seen as welcome outlets for licensed product beyond their own brand.

LL8The morning after The Light Fund Quiz in Manchester I decided to pay a quick visit to the IWM Manchester. It is a very interesting museum housed in a modern building which, unsurprisingly, has a well curated retail space. The majority of product on sale in the shop was own brand developments highlighting key themes from the museum or generic products selected to suit the museum. It is worth noting that the shop had a very well stocked book section which included a broad range of titles and genres.

Brand wise the range that stood out was a selection of Airfix construction kits that included a Red Arrows branded RAF Red Arrows Hawk. Within the category of military model making kits arguably Airfix is the brand and when it is coupled with a classic RAF brand it is a compelling combination.

LL6Interestingly the shop was also selling alcohol ranges including its own Churchill War Rooms blended scotch whiskey and a Dam Raider Gin from a supplier (guess this is a nod to the Dam Busters). Branded collections in the alcohol category seem to be ‘in demand’. It is a fast developing trend and it seems to be a category that holds good potential for licensing.

I also visited Winchester Cathedral’s gift shop this week and it was interesting to note a good presence for licensed products in the shop which stocked a lot of Cathedral specific gifts. A stand out range was Signare’s range of Paddington tapestry bags and purses. I saw these at the Spring Fair on Signare’s stand and it is good to see this range reaching retail now. The shop was also selling a range of Kind Bags developed with the William Morris Gallery.

There was also a good presence for printmaker Angela Harding – her prints are inspired by the natural world and are well suited to a location like Winchester. The shop was stocking one of her jigsaw puzzles. The shop also had a good selection of children’s books including a number of Peter Rabbit formats. While these aren’t licensed per se, it does show how classic book brands can operate outside the core book trade particularly when developed into formats such as puppet books which have potential for gifting and suit other retail channels.

LL5I also popped into Waterstones in Winchester and this visit confirmed the growing relevance of the heritage licensing sector. A large part of the greetings card selection was made up of heritage brands such as the V&A, the Royal Academy of Arts and the British Library. Interestingly Angela Harding’s jigsaws also featured in Waterstones. It was good to see that Waterstones is still supporting board games, card games and jigsaw puzzles. It has become an important retailer for these product categories in recent years.

There have been some interesting innovations in these categories – for example I noticed a range of Star Wars double-sided jigsaws from Ridley’s in-store and these were being sold in cardboard tubes rather than the traditional jigsaw box format.

LL2Heritage brands also had a strong presence in categories like stationery with examples on shelf including V&A and British Library notecard sets.

Heritage brands are also active in book publishing – sometimes with their own imprints but also through licensing tie ups. One book that caught my eye was an English Heritage book in the recipe book section – How to Cook The Victorian Way.

Heritage brands are well placed to develop publishing deals as they have such rich archives and collections.

LL4It was also good to see Waterstones supporting the children’s publishing industry via its Children’s Book Prize. It was promoting this year’s winner, Nadia Makail and her book The Cats We Meet Along the Way. The book was given a very prominent promotion in-store and I am sure it is a very welcome showcase. This is a good example of a retailer taking a proactive approach to supporting its partners and nurturing new talent.

It is also a scheme that generates interest and publicity beyond Waterstones itself and shows the potential that this kind of competition has in regards to creating awareness.

LL3Related to this it was also good to see Waterstones continuing to support classic children’s characters in-store – a number of characters have dedicated product bays in-store featuring books, plush, gift lines and toys. In this context Waterstones is a destination store for those looking to buy products featuring classic characters. Featured characters included Paddington, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Elmer. It shows the potential of how character merchandise can be sold as a collection and also the value in IP owners coordinating design across categories.

It is also good to see Waterstones supporting graphic novels as a category and also stocking comic albums such as Asterix in depth. This strategy works in regards to building up loyalty from customers who know that a shop like Waterstones is likely to stock the albums they are looking for.

LL1My trip to Winchester also reminded me how the licensing world and the pop culture world collide sometimes and some interesting stuff emerges. There is an independent restaurant café called Piecaramba! in Winchester. Its windows are decorated with Spider-Man images and its windows full of action figures. Sadly it was closed on my visit but it looks like a fun place to dine – I think restaurant critic Jay Rayner gave it a favourable review. Dishes on offer included Mac to the Future, Chick Norris and The Woolverine. This is a great example of how fan culture is becoming everyday culture and, of course, how theming has potential in categories such as restaurants.

Good luck to all the companies nominated in The Bellas – it is set to be an interesting afternoon and one that will help confirm the growing strength of heritage licensing in the industry.

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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