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The Licensing Lookout: Making the most of your network

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes enlists some Lockdown Lookout help from Half Moon Bay, Star Editions, Boat Rocker Studios, Dreamtex and Indiego.

As I did earlier in the lockdown I invited some licensing colleagues to help me with this week’s Lookout.

On the basis that licensing is a network business I thought it was time to tap up my network again. I asked two questions – one was to identify a product from their own business that they are particularly pleased with and to highlight another product that they weren’t involved in that has caught their eye and stands out as an interesting example of licensing.

Once again this process has helped shine a light on some products I may well have missed. It is a good lesson in the benefits of keeping in touch, chatting and talking to people. As I noted licensing is a network business – though the word network sounds rather mechanical and clinical – I like to think of it as a community. We are all part of the community and now more than ever it is good to talk to others within the community. Why not book a call or a Zoom with an industry friend to check in with the ‘agenda’ of exchanging ideas and highlighting any interesting new deals or partnerships. Please feel free to pass any interesting stuff onto me – I am always happy to hear from people.

Half Moon Bay's Harry Potter Build Your Own Mechanical Model has been a favourite of lockdown.
Half Moon Bay's Harry Potter Build Your Own Mechanical Model has been a favourite of lockdown.

My first helper is Iain Wakefield, head of licensing and business development at Half Moon Bay. The company has become one of the leading licensees in the giftware category and always seem to have a good handle on pop culture, fandom and a flair for design. I would say it is a licensing success story – a company that has harnessed the selling power of licensing effectively and built up a really strong distribution.

Iain reports that his favourite Half Moon Bay product is “… currently our Harry Potter, Build Your Own Mechanical Model. It’s a great example of cardboard engineering genius. No glue or cutting required, when the model is complete the front wheel turns to activate the cog machinery and every part moves independently. It’s been a firm favourite while we’ve all had to stay at home and has given my whole family a lot of pleasure”.

He went on to say that: “while in lockdown my daughter has really enjoyed the Mad Beauty Disney range – she used it herself and given as gifts to friends she hasn’t seen in a while. The product is a lot of fun and the packaging very attractive and clever.”

Mad Beauty is a great example of a company that has embraced licensing really proactively. It is a relatively new to licensing company but seems to have grown into it in a controlled and focused way. Working with Disney can be very rewarding but, of course, comes with some challenges in terms of remaining fresh design wise and showing a commitment to NPD. It appears Mad Beauty has risen to these challenges well.

Star Editions has teamed with Sanrio on a new ecommerce site.
Star Editions has teamed with Sanrio on a new ecommerce site.

Will Marston – ceo of Star Editions – pointed me to this exciting new development with Sanrio: “a new partnership I’m really excited about is the direct-to-consumer e-commerce site we’re about to launch with Sanrio. It’ll be the first in Europe, selling exclusive collections by Sanrio and a host of amazing artists and collaborators. Featuring Hello Kitty and other popular characters, like Gudetama and Aggretsuko it’ll be the go-to online store for fans of the brand.”

This is a really good example of how licensors are evolving their approach to retail and product development. This movement was underway prior to lockdown, but one of the outcomes of lockdown in licensing will I think be a reworking of the route to consumer market and how retailing is approached. I expect to see more examples like this Sanrio one with rights holders working with custom manufacturers like Star Editions to develop product collections that are unique and original. This will be underpinned by a move to more direct to consumer selling with rights holders developing their knowledge and links to their fans.

Will went on to say: “It’s been a difficult period for all. At Star Editions, we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been able to navigate through the COVID crisis. With all of our procedures and safety measures in place, we are now in the perfect position to launch the Sanrio shop, and we cannot wait.”

It is encouraging to hear of developments like this still going ahead in these challenging times and it will be interesting to see how this performs for Sanrio and Star Editions. Both should be applauded for trying something different. It is easy to get complacent in tough times and walkaway from new ideas.

I also asked Will to flag up a product that he wasn’t directly involved in that he has been impressed by. He said: “I’ve been super impressed with the Miffy plush from Bon Bon Toys and the 65th Miffy anniversary range looks like being its best yet. Working closely with Mercis B.V they had the great idea to ask design students from around the globe from five leading design academies to enter a competition to celebrate Miffy. The Original Miffy Design Collection features the best 12 designs from the students, which incorporate simplification, sustainability and creativity. Boxed, all limited editions and out in shops in October, I expect these will be a huge hit with Miffy fans and an even wider audience.”

This is a great example of a licensor and licensee thinking in a fresh way and engaging with a wider group of people to inspire new design thinking. By working with students there is also the added advantage of bringing Miffy back onto their radar.

Dreamtex's Nat Geo collab is engineered using recycled plastic bottles.
Dreamtex's Nat Geo collab is engineered using recycled plastic bottles.

Andy Downie from bedding company Dreamtex alerted me to its National Geographic product, which sounds like it is definitely a product of the moment and one that should resonate with consumers. It is a great example of thinking differently about product sourcing and manufacturing. It is a reminder to us all that our industry needs to start thinking more deeply about the where, what, how and when of product development.

Andy said: “The Dreamtex range of National Geographic bedding is one that we are particularly proud of as it is engineered using recycled plastic bottles that would otherwise end up in landfill or the ocean. We felt National Geographic was a perfect fit for such a range as it is one of the most recognised and respected scientific and educational organisations in the world and a leading body in consumer engagement around urgent and global issues including ocean plastic waste.

“Our entire range is made using recycled plastic bottles which are spun into fibres and then blended with cotton to produce the base fabrics. There are up to 12 plastic bottles used in every  single size duvet set and up to 18 used for a double size set.”

Andy continued: “There were challenges along the way, but we feel they were more than worth it as the response from consumers has been phenomenal and we are hopefully in our small way helping to reduce the billions of plastic bottles that go into landfills or the ocean every year.”

Wow Stuff's Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak is a great example of an innovative and creative approach to a licence.
Wow Stuff's Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak is a great example of an innovative and creative approach to a licence.

Andy then highlighted a very innovative product from Wow Stuff as his ‘pick’ from another licensee. Andy selected Wow Stuff’s Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak. This is a fresh example of the innovative and creative approach Wow Stuff bring to licensing.

Andy commented: “The Wow Stuff Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak is a stand out item for me, primarily because it looks lots of fun and makes me smile. However, from a licensing point of view I think it is a great example of a licensee/licensor partnership using technology in an innovative way to deliver the magic and DNA of the Harry Potter brand to fans around the world.”

I suspect Andy has an Invisibility Cloak and why not – it sounds like a great product. I agree wholeheartedly with Andy’s observation about the product capturing the brand DNA. This is such an important point and one that too often is overlooked in licensing. Given the maturity of the Harry Potter brand, it is refreshing to see companies like Wow Stuff still working hard to bring new life to NPD and also pushing the design envelope. I am sure the brand owners and fans really appreciate this approach to licensing.

Cult film Zombieland was first released in 2009 and remains popular today.
Cult film Zombieland was first released in 2009 and remains popular today.

Indiego Distribution is an apparel specialist which has built up its business around distribution of apparel including products sourced from other companies, but in recent years it has developed its own licensed lines.

However, recognising the challenges faced in securing distribution it has made an effort to focus on fan driven properties as Indiego md Graham Waters explained. “At Indiego, we like to find niche properties that complement our customer base and one of these is our licence for Zombieland. This cult film was first released in 2009 – just at the time when zombies first started to become trendy – and still making it popular today. 10 years on, Indiego has released a range of t-shirts which have been selected by online fashion retailers, independent shops, European store groups and entertainment chains.”

It is great to see licensees searching out and recognising properties that have a fan following. New routes to market including social media open up new opportunities to connect with fans and provide opportunities to sell outside mainstream retail. It is also interesting to hear a UK licensee looking beyond the UK for sales. I see this as an important trend in licensing.

Licensees need to look beyond the UK for sales and rights holders have to embrace this thinking. Graham also provided a very interesting example of licensing that he had noticed in the adjacent footwear market. “I was very impressed with the Star Wars and Adidas limited sneaker collaboration,  which is a great idea because you always see apparel, paper products, dressing up but not footwear for adults. I can see more entertainment franchises being used this way, maybe Marvel or anime, and people starting to collect these products.”

It is good to see a global brand like Adidas embrace licensing and this is a great case study to point to. I am sure Graham is right. Consumers will wear these for sure, but I suspect there are a fair few pairs in display cabinets as well.

The deal with Golden Bear for Love Monster was signed at BLE last year.
The deal with Golden Bear for Love Monster was signed at BLE last year.

Caroline High, director of licensing at Boat Rocker Media, provided a great example of how trade shows can help sell licenses. Caroline described how a deal for the property Love Monster with Golden Bear came about. “Signed on the stand at Brand Licensing Europe 2019, this was a very exciting deal for us,” she said. “Having such an expert partner as Golden Bear, with their outstanding reputation for producing high quality preschool toys and dynamic retail strategy, is a fantastic testament to the brand’s appeal that also helps in creating wider brand strategy opportunities.

“Their gorgeous launch range comprises of figurines and assorted plush, including the adorable ‘Giggle & Hug’ feature plush which has a tickly tummy that activates six different silly giggles. It also plays the heart-warming theme tune and fun phrases. The launch range totally captures the endearing charm of Love Monster and his cute fluffy friends. They have been forging ahead with product development and securing retail plans over the past few months to ensure an exciting consumer offering. Love Monster is set to launch in the UK from Q4 2020 and from Q2 2021 in Australia.”

While trade shows have been off limits recently and we have turned to Zoom (and other platforms) to keep in touch, this sort of feedback reaffirms that the ‘face to face’ nature of trade shows still has a part to play in sales and marketing. I am guessing in the future we will see a hybrid version of trade shows where there are pre-show ‘get togethers’ done virtually, more educational streams running in parallel with the main show and maybe smaller more focused shows.

Caroline leant on family experience for her choice of another deal, selecting the Blippi Ball Pit Surprise from Jazwares. She commented: “My son was a big fan of Blippi and I was thrilled to meet him at NYC toy fair thanks to Jazwares. I like the way their Blippi range which launched earlier this year, brings Blippi’s popular style of ‘edutainment’ to real life in a way that resonates with both kids and parents. Their Blippi Ball Pit Surprise caught my eye as not only is it colourful and impactful, but teaches children a different letter and word as well as containing a Blippi figure.”

That is the kind of feedback people like to get!

Thanks to all my Lookout recruits this week. I think it has been really good to get other people’s thoughts and recommendations. Again it reminds me that we are a community and it is important to stay connected in the community. I remember when Twitter first started that every Friday people would do a ‘Follow Friday’ thing where they would highlight some of their followers to others.

In the spirit of Follow Friday, I would suggest we have Fone Friday in licensing – give someone a call this Friday who you haven’t chatted to recently and have a chat. At the moment it is more important than ever to be part of a community and to support each other. I think it is always worthwhile getting someone else’s news and views. Happy chatting!

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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