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Pet project… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a look at some examples of licensing within the pet accessories category.

The market for pet accessories and petware has always been a tricky one in my experience for licensing.

There seem to be two ongoing challenges in it with regards to getting established with licensed brands. These are the strength of established brands in the market and in some product areas it is a price driven category. There have been some great examples of licensing in the category, but it appears hard to maintain a market position.

The growth in online selling and ecommerce has helped as this gives licensees a route to market they can manage and also a marketing platform to promote their products in an efficient way.

LL1I am currently working with Urban Pup on a range of Wallace & Gromit dog jackets, jumpers and accessories. In turn it has been able to work with Aardman to promote the products and this seems to have helped give it some momentum in the market.

Currently it focuses on direct to consumer sales but there is, of course, a well established retail network in the pet sector.

One of the leading players within it is Pets At Home. It is reported to have around 450 stores and operates on a national basis. It runs a customer loyalty scheme, has its own magazine and also owns veterinary practices that are often co-sited with the pet stores. I popped into one of the branches which is local to me to see how licensing was fairing within Pets at Home. My first impression was that licensing doesn’t have a significant presence in-store.

LL6One licensed range that was in-store and seems to have become well established is a range of aquariums and aquarium accessories featuring SpongeBob SquarePants, PAW Patrol and Elmo’s World. They have a strong presence in-store and are positioned as a kind of starting point for aquariums targeting children. I imagine they have been developed from the US and are distributed internationally. That has probably helped with their longevity – having a big brand and distributor behind a product in this sector is very helpful. I guess they must be selling well as they have been in-store for some time and I imagine Pets At Home monitors sales very closely.

An interesting licensing and partnership theme that runs through Pets At Home are links with charities linked to animals. For example in the bird food category there was a strong presence for RSPB-branded bird food. Pets at Home also carries a small range of books that deal with specific types of pets, dog breeds and pet care. Within this category RSPCA featured with a Pocket Dog Training Guide. One of the authors is Dr Bruce Fogle, a well known vet and media personality.

LL5It was also interesting to see a couple of charity driven promotions in-store. Pets at Home is supporting the Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. It is running a till point counterpack programme featuring a keyring torch costing £2 with proceeds going to the charity, while Butcher’s dog food has an on-pack promotion linked to dog charities with a mechanic that allows consumers to donate Butchers’ product to their chosen charity. Animal related charities obviously resonate among pet owners and lovers – it makes perfect sense to see these kind of promotions in play.

Another example of licensing I spotted was a range of RAC branded dog carriers. The RAC endorsement makes sense in the context of products related to car safety and transport. It is still in a competitive sector, but I imagine the RAC endorsement reassures a lot of consumers.

LL2I mentioned Pets at Home’s customer magazine. In the latest issue there was an advertisement for the film League of Superpets which is running a promotion with Burns, a pet food brand. Interesting to see a film being promoted in this way.

A final observation in Pets At Home was that there could be scope for licensing in a couple of the categories it supports which currently are licensing free zones.


One is greeting cards for pets – Pets at Home has a spinner full of cards for pets – and the other is in a basic category like playballs for dogs. I thought the fixture and the product could work well for licensing. I know that the toy brand NERF has done well with its pet toy range which gives some encouragement that some smart NPD might work in this category – one idea would be featuring sports brands including football clubs and equipment brands.

LL7On the subject of sports and football in particular I am sure there are a number of brands and licensees very pleased that they got involved in women’s football ahead of England’s win in the Euros. It appears this will be a growth area in coming months.

I noticed two pre-existing promotions in the Co-Op: one from Lucozade linked to the @Ultimate football Experience’. This is in partnership with the FA. Meanwhile Cadbury’s has a promotion which is football-themed and offers the chance to meet football star Steph Houghton. While Steph Houghton wasn’t part of the winning England squad she is firmly established as a star of women’s football. It will be interesting to see how licensing embraces women’s football and women’s sport in general going forward. Watching the Commonwealth Games at the moment it is clear to see that there are some fantastic female role models in a range of sports that might have potential in the licensing world.

LL3Finally, and on a personal note, I was really pleased to see Woodmansterne’s Nadiya Hussain greeting cards in a local branch of Between the Lines. The distribution for these cards is growing and building which is good to see. It was also good to see someone buying one of the cards when I was in the shop – and no it wasn’t my mum!

Even after so many years working in licensing you can’t beat the moment you see someone buying one of ‘your’ products. I might have to pop back into Between the Lines soon!

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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