During a turbulent few years for all businesses, Character.com, like most others, has had to be reactive during the challenges bought about by the pandemic. But following a recent investment, there are big plans to grow the company from its already strong position as a key retailer in the licensed preschool space. LicensingSource sits down with buying director Karen Hewitt, to find out more.
While being an online retailer may have stood Character.com in good stead in terms of the volume of sales during the Covid lockdowns and high street closures, the last year has been far from a straightforward period of business for the Swansea-based company.
Karen Hewitt, buying director, recalls: “The most apt description would be a rollercoaster ride. The effects of Covid and Brexit have made running a business harder than ever before and it seems that every vertical, in every industry has been affected in one way or another.
“That’s meant a year being more reactive that we’d have liked, where some plans were put on hold and others put to the top of the priority list.”
Its lack of bricks and mortar stores meant that Character.com’s sales were strong during lockdown. Karen tells us: “As an online retailer we saw that huge spike of demand from the first lockdown onwards and that has really continued up until the last few months, where we are seeing a more expected increase in demand. The logistical challenges everyone has faced though has made it an extremely tough year to continue with our growth plans.”
While the number of products being sold hit a high during lockdown, the trends in products was entirely different to usual expectations, as Karen explains: “During spring/summer 2020, we saw the usual demand for things like swimwear and backpacks drop off, but this was replaced by a demand for nightwear and lounge wear.
“This continued into early 2021 with the next lockdown and since we started to revert to a ‘new normal’, we have definitely seen a much more normal buying pattern return during the last few months. Events such as back to school and travel have driven the demand for accessories and August 2021 was at far more normal levels.”
As business and life in general begins to tentatively return to normal, Character.com is making big plans for growth over the coming years. Earlier this year, the retailer secured a multi-million pound investment from BGF which acquired a 23% stake in the award-winning retailer. Prior to the investment, Character.com’s figures were already impressive with a growth in revenue from less that £10 million in FYE Jul-17, to over £50 million in FYE Jul-21.
Karen says: “We really see so much opportunity for Character.com in the years ahead that to really continue our aggressive growth plan meant we needed a partner to bring additional working capital into the business. We are now really well placed to keep expanding our ranges and marketing activations and cement Character.com’s reputation as the number one destination for character clothing.”
Those plans include licences old and new, with the most recent additions to the preschool portfolio, CoComelon and Blippi, both outperforming expectations. Meanwhile Character.com’s first ever preschool licence, Thomas & Friends, has also seen some steady growth over the past year. And good old Peppa continues her reign as the queen of preschool, as Karen tells us: “Our best selling preschool licence is definitely Peppa Pig and it continues to retain its position as such year on year.”
Key to promoting these brands is a diverse marketing strategy. Karen explains: “We want to be wherever a customer is looking for a product, whether that be on social media, search engines, marketplace, or retail partners. You can’t always rely on customers seeking you out – you need to find a way to reach them wherever they want to buy.”
When Character.com reaches that consumer, the team are doing a great job of engaging with them. The Facebook page boasts almost 76,000 followers, while 9,000 follow the retailer on Instagram.
Karen furthers: “Facebook is still key for us, but we are growing every day on Instagram and looking at new channels like TikTok. The main thing for us is being able to have a conversation with customers and building a sense of community about the brands and characters we all love.”
That great conversation, combined with solid investment, popular brands, and strong plans for growth, means Character.com is definitely one to watch in the licensed preschool space.
Sustainability is a key focus for Character.com and the company has a sustainability road map up to 2025 with plans to continue to build on it.
Karen explains: “I think our approach is definitely a one step at a time model, to ensure that what we do is meaningful. We have recently become a member of the Better Cotton Platform and will be launching our first range on BCI cotton in early 2022.
“We have changed all of our packaging to ensure it is made from at least 30% recyclable materials. Some great charity partnerships mean we can donate our returns and samples to worthy causes to ensure they don’t go to waste.”