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Pushing the envelope… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a trip to London Stationery Show this week and finds an enhanced presence for licensing on the show floor.

I’m sure the majority of the licensing community’s eyes are firmly fixed on one trade show at the moment, that being the forthcoming Las Vegas Licensing Show. However the trade show circuit is a varied one and other shows are available. I took the opportunity to visit one of those this week, namely the London Stationery Show.

It is a show I have visited quite a few times before and always found to be worthwhile, not least because it is a well curated and focused show. The show was recently acquired by Max Publishing and this was its first outing under new ownership. I am pleased to report it has lost none of the qualities I admired before, but Max Publishing has managed to add to things by bringing in some new exhibitors, as well as adding some additional content. It seems to have built well on a successful show.

One thing I noticed was that there seemed to be an enhanced presence for licensing at the show, reflecting Max’s knowledge of that sector, but perhaps also the importance of the stationery category to licensing and vice versa. I think this addition has added to rather than detracted from the show.

LL5The Stationery Awards run alongside the show and there is a category within the awards for licensed stationery. The shortlisted products provide a good reflection of the different ways licensing features in the category and the breadth of brands being used by manufacturers. Featured brands included Moulin Rouge, Squishmallows, Sara Miller, the National Railway Museum and LEGO. The overall winner was a Harry Potter LEGO product from Manuscript Brands. It has developed a range of products including pens, diaries and activity sets which use the LEGO brand effectively and are very much ‘on brand’. It also manages to blend in licences like Harry Potter which adds another layer of complexity to a deal, but means it can deliver products that reflect the high points of the wider LEGO range while providing retailers with products that can be sold alongside relevant core LEGO products. Like many licensees, Manuscript is also very good at getting the most out of licences by developing retailer friendly items like branded FSDUs; this sort of thing helps retailers with display and maximises their space.

Stalwart licensee Blueprint Collections was exhibiting at the show. One of its strengths is to alight on brands like Squishmallow and develop them effectively for the stationery category through innovative design coupled with well chosen formats. A reminder that a well chosen licensee can enhance the brand experience through thoughtful product development and investing a little bit more in materials or finishes to deliver a product that resonates with fans.

Talking of materials, it was good to see a range of products featuring Harris Tweed. Britton Scotland has developed a range of make your own kits that use Harris Tweed material and branding – a good example of an integrated approach to product development and the value of using authentic materials with a proven heritage. I think licensing and partnerships are a good area for producers like Harris Tweed to develop further – licensing style deals can extend their reach while licensees get to access brands ‘in the round’ which are very authentic.

LL3Licensees like Puckator have been very good at spotting consumer trends and translating these into stationery ranges. A good example of this is Puckator’s Minecraft range. Furthermore Puckator is a licensee which is prepared to build a range in depth and at different price points allowing a variety of retailers to tap into a licensed range.

It was also good to see Robert Frederick at the show and, in a similar way to Puckator, developing a broad but focused product range for brands like Paddington. Its range includes crafting lines which reflects the fact that retailers selling stationery are also looking for other types of products with crafting being a good cross over category for them.

LL4With this in mind it was good to see leading arts and crafts brand Crayola at the show. It runs a mixed economy licensing-wise, mixing its own brand developments with licensed lines such as Harry Potter and L.O.L. and developing categories like publishing with licensees. In the latter category it is working with Centum on a well crafted range of colouring and activity books. These featured on a ready to go FSDU on the Crayola stand – a great example of a brand owner proactively supporting a licensee and integrating their products into their business.

The Crayola stand was really busy when I visited and felt like a real hub for the brand; a reminder that trade shows create a forum for business but also an opportunity to coordinate efforts jointly. Further to this it was also good to see Crayola present at the show giving insights into aspects of its business such as licensing. It’s good to see brands being open about their approach to business and also a smart move by show organisers to add this sort of content to trade shows. It really adds to the value of a trade show for visitors.

LL7Although it isn’t strictly a licensing deal it was also good to see Paper Blanks showcasing its Asterix range on its stand.

Paper Blanks is part of Hachette UK and in turn Asterix is published by a Hachette imprint. This is a good example of how large scale businesses like Hachette are taking a more coordinated approach to developing the IP assets they own and, in the case of publishers, a realisation that they can build on their core publishing ranges with products like notebooks.

Ultimately this also helps the licensing programme for brands like Asterix as there is more product in the marketplace and further opportunities for coordination across the licensing programme at retail but also in regards to design.

LL2Outside the world of brand characters, it is worth remembering that there is a close relationship between greetings cards and stationery.

This is something that the Hooli Mooli Trading Company has recognised in its development of a stationery programme featuring art from Wendy Jones-Blackett’ card ranges. This opens up more opportunities for both parties, not least as it gives retailers the chance to buy into a coordinated range of products that they can merchandise side by side in their stores.

LL1It was also good to see heritage brands featuring through the show – a further reminder of the growing importance of this category in licensing and a wider acceptance of its potential for licensing. A good example of this was Coach House Partners’ London Transport Museum jigsaw range. This product has been developed directly with the Museum and reflects the understanding of the collection combined with their consumer insight. Heritage brands have great knowledge to share and I think licensees are growing to recognise that this can be a very valuable asset to them.

All in all a very worthwhile trip to Islington. While it may not have the glitz and glamour of Vegas, my trip to the Business Design Centre underpinned the value of trade shows not least in delivering a focused and curated take on an industry. Well done to Max Publishing on delivering a great show, but also on retaining the show’s unique feel and identity while adding to it in a progressive way.

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