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Retail’s changing shape and form… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes highlights examples of how retailers and retail is changing shape and form to reflect changes in the market.

I popped into a local branch of clothing retailer M&Co this week.

M&Co has around 180 stores and also sells online. Recent times have been tough for it. I recall that it had a number of store closures in 2020, however it has retained a number of good quality high street locations in towns like Petersfield and New Malden. I have probably misdescribed it as a clothing retailer – I think it would call itself a department store as it sells more than apparel.

As a betting man, I had placed a bet with myself that I wouldn’t see much licensing in-store. From the outside M&Co was focused on non-licensed lines and discounts. Not for the first time in life, I lost a bet. A good lesson in licensing is that walking into store can tell another story. And never pre judge a retailer – particularly at the moment. Retailers and retail is changing shape and form to reflect changes in the market.

LL6Within the boys and girls apparel area at M&Co, licensing had a noteworthy presence. There was a strong showing for Disney-owned brands reinforcing Disney’s ongoing strength in the market. Featured characters and designs included Marvel Comics, Captain America, Minnie Mouse and Moana. Disney and its licensees are doing a good job and achieving great coverage at retail. The breadth of characters and brands at its disposal makes it difficult for others to breakthrough.

The Disney portfolio seems to fit with retailer needs and gives the retailer a one-stop solution to licensing. That said, I think retailers realise they still have to look beyond Disney not least to reach and reflect other market trends.

M&Co was also backing gaming properties, with brands such as Minecraft and Xbox featuring. There was also a number of Peppa Pig products in-store confirming Peppa’s ongoing popularity and, in a retail context, reliability. It was also good to see licensing featuring beyond the t-shirt with licensed designs being used on swim wear and sun protection suits. Thinking about the latter categories, it reinforces the need for licensing designs to be topical and seasonal.

LL7As noted in previous Licensing Lookouts, licensing is getting better at developing design work that fits with specific uses, seasons and themes. This approach to design seems to be welcome by retailers and opens up opportunities. That said, it does require extra time and investment from IP owners. There is always a balance around return on investment.

A retail opportunity at the moment is Back to School with a number of retailers focusing on this and curating products to reflect the time of year. This stretches across categories including apparel, stationery and accessories.

LL5It is difficult for licensing to feature in all of these – for example school uniforms – but it was encouraging to see licensed stationery featuring in Waterstones’ Back to School display. Specifically the display featured some David Walliams stationery lines including Gangsta Granny pencil cases. Back to School is a real call to action for consumers and is probably an opportunity that presents new opportunities for licensing.

Waterstones is always an interesting store to visit licensing wise and in a broad sense seems to be a retailer that is licensing friendly. There are always a number of books that are licensed products, especially in categories like children’s books. But licensing isn’t just confined to the children’s category. Increasingly publishers are utilising brand licensing to develop books and book series especially in subject areas where ‘expertise’ is valued.

LL4A great example of this is the gardening category. The RHS has a very strong presence in this category with a range of titles including a DK ‘library’ covering different gardening strands and other titles like the RHS Grow Your Own Veg & Fruit Bible written by TV personality (and gardener) Carol Klein.

This is a good example of author and brand working well together to create a very compelling offer.

LL1Another example of how publishers are using brands well is in the quiz book category.

A great example of this is The Big British Railway Journeys Puzzle Book developed under licence from the National Railway Museum. This really gives the book a strong identity and was I imagine also a gateway to a lot of good content.

LL2It was also good to see Waterstones getting solidly behind manga with a dedicated section.

It also supports graphic novels and comics well. It is also a strong supporter of gaming brands with dedicated space given over to it with featured brands including Pokémon, Roblox and Minecraft.

LL3It was also interesting to see Waterstones amplifying its support of the Children’s Laureate. The current Children’s Laureate is Joseph Coelho who was announced and appointed to the role very recently. Waterstones was promoting this in-store with POS materials and a focus on some of Joseph Coelho’s books.

It is a great example of a retailer delivering a joined up promotion and underpinning their sponsorship in-store. I think this is an interesting model and shows how retailers can activate promotions in-store.

You may also have seen that The Light Fund has announced its first ‘social walk’ scheduled for 26 August. Depending on numbers it may be a guided walk lead by me. This has encouraged me to visit the London section in Waterstones…

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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