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John Lewis shows its mettle… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a look at how John Lewis is using lifestyle and heritage brands to create a point of difference this week.

I am pleased to say there is still a feel good factor in seeing your ‘own’ products in retail.

This week I popped into the John Lewis branch in Kingston primarily to check out the new products that have been added to Bliss’ already successful Nadiya Hussain Make Life Colourful homewares range.

Bliss has added a number of new products to its range and these were developed during lockdown. We had a number of Zoom calls involving Nadiya to talk through product ideas, design ideas and shapes. It was definitely a boost to see the products in-store and in such a prominent display.

Bliss had been busy working on the new Nadiya collection during lockdown.
Bliss had been busy working on the new Nadiya collection during lockdown.

John Lewis is like most retailers facing unexpected challenges and is re-shaping its business. Against this backdrop it was good to see the Kingston branch was fairly busy and that the store had a real buzz about it.

I imagine it would be easy for staff to lose some enthusiasm in the current climate, but I was asked politely if I needed help by a staff member who greeted me with a warm smile. Good to see and a positive customer experience. Indeed I bought some of the Nadiya product and the staff at the till were equally upbeat.

The Rick Stein range has been inspired by Cornwall.
The Rick Stein range has been inspired by Cornwall.

John Lewis seems to be backing brands in the homewares department. As well as the Nadiya range I spotted another Bliss range – this is one it has developed with TV chef Rick Stein. The range features bold blue designs influenced by locations from Rick’s native Cornwall. Interestingly the designs emerged from a competition that Rick ran with students at Falmouth University.

This is a great example of a person with influence creating an opportunity for the next generation. Of course, an upside of this kind of partnership is that it unlocks new talent and fresh thinking while creating a strong PR story for ongoing promotion.

The range looks really strong and visually appealing. Featured locations include Harlyn Bay, Hawker’s Cove and Porthilly Cove. I don’t think Carbis Bay features… yet.

John Lewis also featured a Joules-branded homewares range.
John Lewis also featured a Joules-branded homewares range.

John Lewis was also featuring homewares ranges based on the Leon and Joules brands. Both of these are interesting examples of brand licensing, being a restaurant and retailer respectively. In both cases I am guessing they are being treated as lifestyle brands and ones that consumers have a familiarity with.

I expect over the next few months we will see more examples of retailers working collaboratively with other retailers as they look to find innovative ways of appealing to consumers and driving footfall. Indeed it has already been reported that John Lewis is to open concessions within Waitrose.

John Lewis’ use of licensing wasn’t confined to the homewares and kitchenware category. Within the drinkware category, it featured a Disney range of drink bottles under the Sip by Swell branding using a classic Minnie Mouse design – this product designed to appeal to an adult consumer rather than children. There was also a significant range of Emma Bridgewater Chilly’s drinks bottles.

The Van Gogh Museum range is a further reminder that art and heritage are increasingly part of the mainstream in licensing.
The Van Gogh Museum range is a further reminder that art and heritage are increasingly part of the mainstream in licensing.

Elsewhere in-store there was a range of Van Gogh Museum stationery, bags and accessories. Given its own space the range featured Van Gogh himself and the iconic Sunflowers.

This was a further reminder that art and heritage licensing are increasingly part of the mainstream in licensing. A licence like this sits well within John Lewis. One would expect John Lewis to look further at opportunities from the art and heritage sectors. It already works with a number of suppliers which know that world well.

There was strong in-store messaging for Father's Day gifting.
There was strong in-store messaging for Father's Day gifting.

Other noteworthy licensing features included a range of Harry Potter confectionery in the food gifting area.

Father’s Day was also a big feature for John Lewis with strong in-store messaging and features flagging it up. As part of the gift offering the retailer was selling some Quentin Blake mugs from McClaggan Smith and it also had a feature display of cards which included Emma Bridgewater. Both examples of art and illustration licensing succeeding.

John Lewis was also backing board games and jigsaw puzzles in the Father’s Day offering. Interestingly, within the board games licensing featured prominently with board games including Jaws, Jurassic Park and Top Gun. Iconic movies which will appeal to a certain generation of dads. The space given to board games and jigsaws on the main shopfloor was a great indication of the growing popularity of these products and the momentum they have gained during lockdown.

The Minions and Soltan suncream promotion is running once more in Boots.
The Minions and Soltan suncream promotion is running once more in Boots.

Beyond John Lewis I spotted a returning promotion in Boots this week. It had a FSDU for the Soltan suncream brand featuring a Minions promotion. A free Minions water bottle on offer with purchase. I believe this is the second or third year for this promotion. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it I guess or the result of a long term deal. Either way it is a good example of how character brands can be used in retail promotions.

This is a useful case study to point to and, again thinking about the future of retail, this sort of ‘exclusive’ promotion is something that other retailers are probably taking note of. It creates a point of difference, is a call to action and allows a retailer to tap into a bigger programme of activity.

The message from Scribbler is one that is worth noting.
The message from Scribbler is one that is worth noting.

Finally, and with thanks to Tim Collins at The Brand Director for sending me a photo of a blackboard he saw outside a branch of Scribbler. The message is one that is worth noting. High street shops need customers and footfall. Licensing is a world that is interlocked with retail. Hopefully we can all do our bit to help and buy some stuff this weekend. My advice is to buy useful stuff though!

Maybe send a greeting card to a friend, colleague or family member. It is a good time to keep in touch.

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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