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The changing face of Westfield… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes heads to the Westfield shopping centre in London’s Shepherd’s Bush and finds some licensed apparel highlights.

I made a flying visit to the Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd’s Bush this week. It is probably underselling Westfield to call it a shopping centre, as it is a large scale complex with a significant footprint. It is located in a busy part of London and is certainly part of the landscape. It is very much a local landmark and features prominently on local signage making it easy for drivers to find it. It, of course, has ‘ample parking available’. It is also a destination that is well served by tubes, trains and buses.

The first thing I noticed on my visit was how the make up of the centre seemed to be changing. I remember it being a centre almost entirely occupied by traditional style retailers including many of the big names of the retail world. However, on this visit I noticed several new tenants and activities in the centre which suggest that the traditional shopping mall model is evolving.

LL2There were several car showrooms and dealerships inside the building. There was also a virtual reality attraction focused on dinosaurs targeting the family market. There is also a Disney-branded playroom on site – I think this has been there a while though. Another interesting change of use was Urban Mutts – a dog club and hotel offering grooming, boarding, daycare and some retail. These changes seem to be driven by a slow down in traditional retail and the landlords need to fill space. It also arguably reflects a change in people’s lifestyles and needs. It also underpins the fact that Westfield Shepherds Bush is a destination location and shoppers are actually visitors looking for a broader experience that includes shopping. Other tenants on site include restaurants and operators like Kidzania so there are lots of other things to do beyond shopping. But that said shopping and retailing is at the heart of sites like this and it is a concern if there are issues around retail occupancy. But good to see the landlords are taking an innovative approach to occupancy and usage.

Given I had limited time available – I had a 3 o’clock kick off to make at nearby Loftus Road – I decided to focus on a few shops and specifically concentrate on apparel, which remains a leading light in the licensing locker. I first popped into Next and what struck me there was that licensing is definitely part of the product mix and strategy, but is deployed in a blended way with its own designs. It provides an alternative design option for consumers to consider.

LL5In the boys apparel department, Next grouped the licensed products together in bays under brand signage. Superheroes was one dominant theme with characters like Thor, Captain America and Hulk featuring. Designs were bright and bold with a nod to comic art styling which was a welcome reminder of the origins of these characters. A number of garments featured embellishments like sequins and flocking, giving the designs a point of difference.

Other featured properties included Star Wars. The styling here was quite classic and retro. This seems to be a nod to the brand’s heritage and also the growing move to vintage clothing in the wider market. A similar style was used for the Turtles as well. Also this reflects the cross generational appeal of brands like these ones – parents buying into their own childhood favourites for their children.

LL6Gaming was a significant component of the licensing offer with the likes of Pokémon, Sonic and Super Mario featuring. Another interesting aspect of my visit to Next was the presence of other apparel brands in-store such as Ted Baker and Gap. Not sure of the basis for these deal wise but their presence seems to play to the fact that Next is trying to offer shoppers’ variety but in a focused way. Next has recognised the value of brand identity in the apparel category.

Licensing also featured in the adult men’s department with music being a theme. Featured brands included guitar brand Fender and band Primal Scream. A further indication that music licensing is a growing force in the marketplace.

LL4I also popped into HMV at Westfield. HMV is well focused on fan and pop culture using its buying knowledge of these categories to be on trend. Indeed, helping to shape trends. Apparel has always been a key feature of HMV’s offer with its t-shirt wall being an iconic feature of most of the stores. It is interesting to see its approach to apparel at the moment in Westfield where there is a wall of t-shirts, but also lots of curated areas that include apparel built around themes like anime and manga. But it was also interesting to see some specific apparel offerings and how HMV has adapted things.

It was selling boxed t-shirts featuring brands like Batman and Harry Potter using modern graphic styling coupled with a clever incentive of a free keychain included in the box. This type of presentation works well for gifting and also encourages repeat purchases. The packaging format works well on shelf and is reinforced by a section header All Boxed Up.

LL3Consumers are guided well in-store. HMV also makes good use of exclusive designs and flags this up well in-store. It has a range of Stranger Things t-shirts featuring exclusive designs and it signposts this well. HMV is proud of these type of partnerships and is keen to showcase them in-store. It knows this works for its consumers. It also features t-shirts using Funko Pop! Vinyl designs and these boxed products also include mini Pop! figurines. A great combination.

It was also good to see long-term licensees like greetings card company Hype featuring in-store with a spinner programme – good to see cards featuring in HMV and that it is using the floor space well to include a broad range of product categories. I also like the way that HMV keeps stock fresh and brings in new items regularly. This shows an understanding of how its consumers shop, but also encourages consumers to come back. It has fixtures in-store which call out what is ‘Trending in London’ this week to reinforce this.

LL1As time was running out and kick off was approaching I popped into M&S for a quick recce. A stand out licensing feature in-store at the moment was a Disney feature area centred on Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. This feature was housed under a Disney 100 Years of Wonder banner and tapped into classic artwork. It was centrally positioned in the shop and looked good. Design wise it must be a challenge for a retailer to get an individual look with Disney as the brand is so omnipresent, but this collection seems to achieve that and it reinforces the level of investment Disney seem to make in design. This is arguably one of many reasons it remains such a force in the market.

Like many retailers M&S is running a price promotion at the moment with a 3 for 2 offer in the apparel category. This is a reminder that the retail market is both challenging and competitive at present. Other brands I spotted in store included Pokémon, Among Us, Minecraft and Xbox. Again, reinforcing the growth of gaming. M&S had also invested in design and garment finish with ranges including flocking for example on Batman and Spider-Man garments. I think licensing has definitely traded up in finish and quality terms in recent years in the apparel category. It will be important to hold firm on this approach as price pressures mount – licensing should provide retailers an opportunity to maintain price levels.

All in all a productive trip to Shepherd’s Bush – an educational bit of Looking about, some retail insights and, perhaps most importantly, three points secured for Millwall at Loftus Road.

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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