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How the classic Route 66 brand is revving up its UK licensing plans

Synonymous with freedom, the open road and limitless adventure, Route 66 is a slice of Americana that’s recognised the world over. catches up with Job van Dijk, co-founder and managing director of boutique licensing company Tempting Brands – worldwide brand owner for ROUTE 66 – and Rob Corney, group managing director of Bulldog Licensing, about their plans to grow the brand in the UK market.

Can you tell us about the back story of Route 66? When did it become a lifestyle brand?

R66Job500x500Job: It all started back in 1993 when I started a software company with the name ROUTE 66. I was contacted by a Dutchman by the name of Robert Groeneveld, who said that I needed a licence to sell ROUTE 66 software. We struck a licensing deal with him and have stayed in contact ever since. In 2006 – he was in his early sixties then – he asked if we would be interested in running the brand licensing business for ROUTE 66. We agreed, and that is how Tempting Brands was born [in 2008]. As well as ROUTE 66 – which is incredibly well known, whether you ask someone in the UK, in China or India – our brands include Marie-Antoinette and Hi Puppy.

Why do you think Route 66 has such strong potential in the apparel sector? Is there a particular demographic it ‘speaks’ to? What are you looking for in future apparel partners?

Job: ROUTE 66 is a timeless, ageless brand for men and women alike. The versatility of ROUTE 66 assists our licensees in leveraging the consumer audience in a dynamic market where something can become trendy or old-fashioned overnight. Our current partners in Europe, covering products like branded cosmetics, apparel and eyewear, are renowned companies with broad distribution, and well-considered products and marketing strategies. As for our future partners in the UK, we would love to find a strong partner who can bring ROUTE 66 basic clothing items to the UK market. Those products are currently sold by European retailers in millions of units.

The Route 66 brand is just starting its journey in the UK, but it’s been hugely successful elsewhere. Can you tell us a little about your highlights in international markets?

Job: Our longest running ROUTE 66 licensee is Primetta GmbH, a daughter company of Uvex. Primetta is now in its 27th year of ROUTE 66 sunglasses and is still setting record sales year after year. ROUTE 66 sunglasses can be found in any petrol station in Germany. We have another long-lasting partnership for sunglasses and reading glasses that we are very proud of, and which will soon reach its 15th anniversary. FGX, part of EssilorLuxottica, has made available in European petrol stations and retailers a ROUTE 66 eyewear collection designed in Italy.

The ROUTE 66 brand has done extremely well for more than a decade at Kmart in the US, where more than 600 different ROUTE 66 items have been sold. We also currently have great DTR relationships with Woolworth in Germany and with TEDi throughout Europe for a wide range of products. Another highlight is the presence of ROUTE 66 fragrances in personal care retailers like DM, Rossmann, Müller and BIPA in over 20 countries. Together, they provide distribution of the brand to more than 13,000 points-of-sale throughout Europe.

Rob, can you tell us why you think Route 66 is such a powerful brand, and why you wanted to take it on? How does it sit in the Bulldog portfolio? And how do you see it developing in the UK market?

RCorney500x500Rob: Bulldog has always represented a wide range of brands, from our market-leading baby brand That’s Not My… through to brands for all ages such as Care Bears and Sesame Street. On the non-character side of the business, we felt Route 66 had a huge opportunity to establish a permanent space in the UK fashion market before extending across areas including home, stationery, gift, and health and beauty. The brand is already a huge hit in apparel and we’re now expanding into those additional markets.

You’ve recently secured partnerships in the apparel area with licensees including Brand Alliance and Roy Lowe. Can you tell us a little about those deals? And are there any other partnerships in the pipeline you can let us in on?

Rob: The apparel ranges from Brand Alliance have been hugely successful, which is no surprise when you look at the success of ROUTE 66 in other territories. From grocery to high street and fast fashion, we’re seeing huge sales every single quarter and the commitment continues to build, despite the obvious market challenges right now. Roy Lowe are in initial sell-in now but we’re expecting to see similarly great results when their socks hit the market – in Germany alone, the brand sees sales of 7m pairs of socks annually so there’s great potential for this agreement here. Partnerships in other categories are in the works now and we’re in advanced discussions in areas including stationery, home and gift. Watch this space for more announcements soon.

Can you tell us a little about the resources/style guide you have available for the brand?

Job: The ROUTE 66 Style Guide is a 400-page collection of our finest artwork, which we print ourselves and is well known for its breath of material. The guide was first developed in 2008 and is refreshed periodically. We have our own team of designers who work hard to bring together rich content to satisfy all tastes. From hundreds of ROUTE 66 shield variations and sophisticated calligraphic phrases to unique vintage and authentic compositions, every style is in there! To include the latest trends and keep up the hype, we update our comprehensive guides every two years and provide access not just to the last style guide but also to every previous guide that we’ve published.

R66500x500The next year is going to be tricky for manufacturers/suppliers/retailers. Are you adopting any strategies in the face of economic uncertainty?

Job: Our strategy for dealing with these challenging circumstances was set in motion early on during the pandemic. We are seeking distribution of non-food items with food retailers to make sure that distribution is uninterrupted by lockdowns. We’re also well underway to signing up DTRs with mass-market retailers for not just one product category but a wide range of product categories. This way, we become less vulnerable to lockdowns and ups and downs in particular product categories.

Another step we’ve already taken is to improve the overall flow of our licensing activities. Product approvals, artwork deliveries and product concept development are all handled with the goal of reducing time to market, which makes us a responsive and flexible licensor.

Rob: Undoubtedly there are significant headwinds going into 2023, but despite this, brands with a strong track record will always bring with them opportunities. Our ROUTE 66 ranges so far have proven to be phenomenally popular with both men and women and, while we can see that the market generally is likely to see some contraction in the next year, ROUTE 66 provides a safe opportunity for buyers to back, so we are expecting to see continued growth on this brand.

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