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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes heads to Birmingham and Autumn Fair this week.

Like many of my licensing colleagues, I spent the first part of this week at the Autumn Gift Fair in Birmingham. The show was confined to five halls which in comparison to past years made it seem small – but on the plus side it means the show is more focused, easier to walk and perhaps better ‘themed’ with blocks of companies grouped together.

Licensed products and companies using licensing were peppered around the halls, but I wouldn’t say licensing was a dominant theme. From talking to some of the exhibitors, those that use licences and those that don’t, it seemed that retail is ‘tough’ at the moment with ‘supplier consolidation’ being a topic mentioned on more than one occasion.

That said suppliers seem to remain optimistic and reported that orders were being placed. Indeed on one stand that I visited I actually saw a retailer who owns about 10 shops placing an order for a range of products including a licensed range. As I said to the exhibitor it was great to see a ‘trade show’ working.


Some of the highlights from the show for me were:

You can’t beat seeing your ‘own’ products being launched and at the NEC it was good to see Noveltex launching their Rachael Hale bedding. Bedding is a tough category to sell licensing into – relatively speaking there are only a few licensed suppliers and retailers are quite circumspect about taking new properties onto shelf. It is a relatively conservative category. With this in mind it is nice to see a company like Noveltex prepared to back a licence and give licensing a go. I wish them well with the product. Not sure me posing with their range will help sales though!

Seeing Wild & Wolf’s Tatty Devine range on their stand. Tatty Devine is a brand that I have followed for a while. It is quirky, original and news worthy. Good attributes for licensing. As is the fact that it has a loyal following and good consumer awareness. Wild & Wolf’s initial range of accessories seems to have captured the brand well. The product stood out on the stand and seemed to be attracting good retail interest. It will be interesting to see if the brand can support different products, different prices and retailing. I think Wild & Wolf and Tatty Devine are a good match, so I think it will work.

Wow Stuff are recognised as one of the most innovative companies in licensing and their MD Richard North as one of the most straight talking executives in the business. It is always an interesting stand to visit and you are sure to see something new. This time Wow Stuff were launching a VR headset, following a deal with Google to design and manufacture a low-priced cardboard virtual reality headset which works with smartphones. They have brokered a deal with Disney to use Star Wars and also have the Minions licence. It seemed a good marriage of technology, branding and licensing.


It is always good to see new companies in licensing. So with this in mind I would applaud Coolabi and Apples to Pears on their Clangers product range. They have developed a range of craft and activity kits under the banner of Gift in a Tin including Make Your Own Clanger kits. The product was well displayed and portrayed the brand well.

From a Licensing PLC point of view it would be good to see Apples to Pears make a success of this range and become a firm convert to licensing. I also thought West 11 Group’s range of vintage and retro board games was noteworthy. Their range includes Thunderbirds and The Magic Roundabout board games based on original formats. I think there is real merit to dipping into the nostalgia market in this way and it gives brands a second market to engage with.


As mentioned before, I think it is vital that companies commit to progressive NPD and adding value when using licences. It is easy to take the low cost route and produce a basic product.

Puzzle company Kidicraft have a great range of National Geographic jigsaw puzzles including lenticular ones. This style of puzzle really suited the licence and make great use of the photographic archive that comes with it. Kidicraft have created a stand out range that was clearly attracting retail interest. Likewise Fizz Creations’ range of Volkswagen gifts including toasters are great examples of licensed products that have been designed in a bespoke way with real attention to detail and an emphasis on design excellence.


I also thought that PMS/Gosh’s range of Crufts pet toys was a clever way of using an iconic brand. The Crufts name brings credibility and recognition. It is a heritage brand, but also a brand that has ‘annual’ exposure allowing retailers to plan ahead and leverage the licence. Rather like the bedding, I hope my product photo doesn’t hinder sales.

The other plus point of a licence like this is that it ranges well and is a good range from a display point of view. You can imagine pet stores, garden centres and independents making this work visually at retail.


It was also interesting to see ranges from the likes of Imperial War Museum at the show. Lagoon Games have a new range of IWM products including a Poster Paper Planes kit. It was a good reminder that licensing opportunities can come from a diverse mix of sources and that we might expect to see more activity from sectors such as heritage.

Another sector that seems to be growing as a source of licences is publishing. It has always been a fertile ground, but there seems to be more campaigns based on successful book series now. One standout example was Vintage Ladybird which had a good presence at the show. I was also pleased to see Paul Lamond’s Jacqueline Wilson range of puzzles and games. This rise in use of publishing properties is partly explained by the changing face of book selling – books are sold in more diverse retailers now while traditional booksellers are diversifying their product mix. This has meant publishing brands have more potential at retail.

Finally, I would like to wish good luck to all those nominated for awards next week at the Licensing Awards. It looks set to be another fun night.

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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