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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes ponders on new channels of distribution this week.

One of the biggest changes that I have seen in licensing since I first joined CPLG some 20 plus years ago is the increased emphasis on Retail and building a relationship with retail buyers.

Brand Licensing Europe has a Retail Buyer’s lounge and mentoring programme for new buyers – an illustration of the industry focus on retail. Whilst this focus is a good thing it has meant we are all more ‘retail aware’ and competition at retail for licensing companies is more intense than ever. In simple terms it is hard to get on shelf.

That’s why I am always impressed when I see licensing companies developing new channels of distribution for their licensed products. This week I ventured out to the Odeon Cinema to see Our Kind of Traitor. A good film albeit a little slow in places but engaging and well acted in case you wanted to know.


In the cinema foyer I saw a dumpbin for posters and a FSDU filled with stationery and giftware. These were filled with Marvel products supplied by Pyramid Posters I believe. I am not a regular cinema goer so can’t vouch for how long this type of distribution has been in place but it was new to me – I think it is a good move not least because it shows that licensees are making an effort to develop new distribution channels.

There may be some barriers not to buy product on a cinema trip, but I think it is worth exploring as a distribution channel. I can imagine post film cinema goers especially younger ones being keen to add a product buy to their film watching experience – it is certainly an immediate purchasing opportunity. I think this enterprise should be applauded and stand as a good example of the potential in finding ‘new’ distribution.

It reminds me of when I saw a branded Peppa Pig dispenser filled with swimming accessories at the local sports centre – it is good to fish where the fish swim.

On a related point, I visited the National Media Museum in Bradford this week. One aspect of their collection is a gallery that celebrates the history of computer games which includes original arcade games such as Space Invaders and Defender. The museum has a small but well stocked shop.

Licensee Paladone has managed to establish a partnership with them and a number of their licensed products based on ‘retro’ computer games were on sale there. An obvious thing to do you might think, but importantly it has been done and the licensee has leveraged a specific sales opportunity.

Paladone have also developed products appropriate to the consumers who will remember the original games and they dial into the nostalgic appeal of the games. Examples include Pac Man lights and pint glasses. This is a good example of distribution, product and brand combining well.


Paladone seem to be a company that works hard to find properties that they can develop as ranges in a relatively deep way and that also resonate with a broad church of retailers. It is right that we are focused on retail, but I think it is equally important that we look to open up new channels – maybe also work backwards by looking at retail opportunities and thinking what licences would work in them rather than forcing less appropriate products onto shelf.

The shop also had a very good range of Super Mario products using a pixellated design style which was very effective – this tied in with the exhibition but is also a good example of design focus being important.

It is important to push on with design and have a range of designs available under one licence – this will help with retail engagement but can also broaden a brand’s appeal.


As we know licensing is a very diverse industry embracing a variety of properties and products. I spotted a couple of  products this week that speak to this point.

Firstly, the Mary Berry licensing programme seems to be growing further. I bought a Mary Berry Luxury Summer Fruit Pudding in Waitrose. It was a chilled product produced by Hain Daniels. It was well presented using Mary’s image and signature with a contemporary branding style. It looked good on shelf and there was a definite ‘buy me’ value in the use of Mary Berry on the product – she is well known, well recognised and trusted – a good combination for licensing.

As the saying goes the proof of the pudding is in the eating… I can vouch for the quality of the product. It tasted fresh, tasty and certainly delivered on the product promise.


The other product I saw that I thought was a very clever one was a shaped insulated lunch bag using the Gilbert Rugby ball licence in tandem with England Rugby. A clever idea and innovative in a category that is a very busy one.

I can see this product working at a consumer level, but a challenge may be securing mass market distribution. I saw it on sale in an independent gift shop but haven’t seen it elsewhere. Gaining traction with new products is always a challenge but at least in the case of this product it has an originality and will ‘deliver’ a rugby audience which has retail merit to it.


On the theme of creating your own ‘retail channel’ I passed by the Harry Potter feature area and shop at King’s Cross this week. It looked very busy with consumers queuing to take their photos next to Platfom 9 & three-quarters. Next to the photo opportunity is a fully branded and well stocked retail unit. A proper Harry Potter destination shop. I would imagine this retail unit does very well – a great example of creating a retail opportunity in a new way and a good ‘case study’ for other licensors to consider.

It also comes at a time where the retail environment at major train stations is changing. More good quality retail spaces are being developed at stations such as Waterloo and Euston as the station owners look to maximise revenues – this could present further opportunities to the licensing community as these locations could be great places for other themed shops and feature areas.

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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