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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes highlights some spots from his ‘comp shopping’ in Vegas.

One of the downsides of transatlantic travel can be jet lag especially after a week in the 24 hour city of Las Vegas.

Fortunately my recovery from Licensing Expo has been good this year and I’ve been jet lag free physically. That said, I do have a bit of a ‘Lookout Lag’ as there were a couple of product ranges I spotted in Vegas last week that merit comment on.

Las Vegas is a great retail hub as well as a gambling centre: for many of the UK licensing visitors a bonus of the trip is some shopping. Some of this is billed as ‘comp shopping’ while for others it is for their own benefit.

One very interesting product that I saw thanks to a tip off from IMG’s Simon Gresswell was a range of Peter Rabbit Organic Fruit snacks. These products, produced by US licensee Pumpkin Tree, are sold in stylish on the go squeezable pouches. I saw them in Starbucks. The product was available in two flavour variants: strawberry and banana plus pea, spinach and apple. The product stood out for me because of its organic status and the use of a classic licence like Peter Rabbit on a food product – it seems like a good fit from a design and marketing point of view.

In addition, it was good to see a licensed product being used in tandem with a very innovative piece of packaging. Also having a licensed product featured in Starbucks was a new one on me. A good example of licensing reaching into new parts of the retail market. Something I think is an important drive for the industry: we need too spread the reach of licensing. Products like this will help with this as they appeal to a broad base of retailers.


I also spotted some fantastic licensed handbags in one of the fashion boutiques in the Mandalay Bay complex. They were produced by Loungefly. The handbags and holdalls featured brands such as Star Wars, classic Disney, My Little Pony and Hello Kitty. The design was fresh and bold. The bags were high-end, but very much trend-based in fashion terms.

My instinct is they are targetting a 20-something audience trading on their desire to be fashionable, original but also still in touch with ‘pop culture’ and in love with the favourite childhood characters. It was an impressive range. It occurred to me the retailer could have made more of the fact that Licensing Expo was on with window displays and maybe even a ‘show offer’ for all those licensing people who were out comp shopping.

In the departure lounge of Las Vegas airport, one of the stand out products I saw in Duty Free was a range of children’s headphones featuring Minnie and Mickey Mouse. The thing that stood out for me was the clever design – the manufacturer had used the character design in tandem with the product itself to create a very impactful pack design.

It was a very effective use of licence and a good case study of licensing design work.


Back in Blighty, it is hard to think of summer products when we are in the mist of grey skies and rain, but I was very impressed by a number of products that have been developed for the swimming and beach market. Leading brand Zoggs has licences with Peppa Pig and Finding Dory. The latter a particularly apt choice.

The range covers items such as armbands, goggles and swim floats. Rather like the organic fruit pouches, one of the encouraging things about this range is that it sees licensing in a new product sector with a very credible partner. Zoggs is a well-known and trusted brand in the swimming sector. It is good to see licences being used to add further appeal in such a category and is a good endorsement for licensing. I spotted these ranges in Garson’s Farm, a garden centre in Esher.

Another example of the growing opportunity that garden centres provide for licensing, Garson’s has just had a makeover and increased its retail floorspace including an increased commitment to toys and gifts.

As well as the Zoggs range, I also spotted a swimming pool inflatable toy based on the Star Wars X-Fighter. This falls into the ‘I didn’t expect to see that’ category but I thought it was a fun way of using the Star Wars licence and another good example of licensing being used in a more innovative way than a simple label slapping exercise.

I was also impressed by the exclusive range of stationery and accessories on offer in Paperchase using the A-Z maps licence. Paperchase has a lot of branches in and around London with many in high footfall areas for tourists and also with branches within other retailers. Using the iconic A-Z maps of London on an exclusive basis is a smart move. It gives them access to a very appropriate licence and allows them to create a product range that will stand out in the ‘souvenir’ market as original. That said the product and licence will appeal beyond the tourist market and I am sure it will be popular among resident Londoners.

Having an official range in the market will also cut down on people using A-Z graphics without permission in marketplaces like Etsy and in the artisan crafters’ market. It is always good to see brands being used to develop unique and original products by craftspeople, but there is a point where you have to be wary of things moving from one-off small scale product ranges to more advanced product ranges where fairly significant numbers are produced.

Finally, the prize for best business card received during my Vegas trip must go to Hilary Plummer of LEGO. I have known Hilary for a number of years and she is a fantastic brand ambassador for LEGO. However, I never imagined her as a LEGO mini figure, so I was pleasantly surprised to get her business card which was in fact a LEGO mini figure – it does have an uncanny resemblance to Hilary and wins the prize hands down!


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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