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The Licensing Lookout

It’s a tale of two trade shows for Start Licensing’s Ian Downes this week.

It was a tale of two trade shows for me this week. Quite contrasting ones as well. I spent Monday and Tuesday at the genteel Top Drawer, while on Thursday I experienced the cacophony of noise that comes along with the EAG International show.

Top Drawer is a show catering for the gift trade and features products such as stationery, greetings cards, ceramics and food. It is a mid to upscale show, with exhibitors to match. The mood of the show is set as you enter Olympia via a dimly lit tunnel to the sound of very relaxing music – it really is the most relaxing of trade shows, nicely set out with clearly defined feature areas and well presented stands.

It is a show that was traditionally thin on the ground for licensing. However in recent years, and in particular this year, there seemed to be more examples of licensed product on show. The key is that in most cases the licensed properties are used in clever and original ways with an emphasis on good quality design.

CardCracker

A good example of this is My Design Company‘s use of Beano – they have taken the Beano licence and fused it with their innovative Cracker Card product. Cracker cards are greetings cards that look like flat ‘crackers’ containing the bang of a cracker along with a keepsake and joke. It is a neat product that is proving very popular.

Beano fits well with the format and the licensee has made good use of the humour aspect of the brand. This is a good example of a licensee using a licence to build on a good idea, but also selecting the design and content elements from the licence carefully to use in an appropriate way.

Hype

Another greetings card licensee at Top Drawer that regularly flies the flag for licensing is Hype Cards. They offer a broad range of licences including Morph, Beano, Moomins, Peter Rabbit and Pusheen. They have created a house style for their cards – bright colourways combined with well chosen character images. They literally have a wall of character cards – for retailers this is a chance to select characters that suit their shop and location.

Hype do well in independents, galleries, museums and non-traditional card retailers. They are a good example of a licensee that offers rights holders a different route to market and also one that chooses licences carefully, favouring properties with a heritage, a distinct personality and a good bank of design work.

LAshley

Long-term licensees Portico and Wild & Wolf were at the show – I presume for them they see Top Drawer as a rewarding route to market. I think in the case of Portico I think their presence is also a sign of a slight shift in focus for them with a move towards more brand and design properties rather than focusing 100% on character-based properties.

The highlight of Portico’s very impressive stand was their stationery range using the Laura Ashley brand – this is a brand that brings a strong identity, but also delivers attractive design work. Portico have harnessed both well to create a very appealing range.

StanleyWW

Wild & Wolf have also diversified a bit in recent years, seeming to pursue more international brands and also ones that you could describe as lifestyle brands. What remains a constant is their commitment to high quality product, introducing new products and a commitment to innovative design. Their portfolio includes Happy Jackson, Tatty Devine and Stanley.

Their Stanley range offers a new design take on the classic tool brand and uses a design style that allows them to develop products such as wallets and bags. It has elevated Stanley into a new market position and gives Wild & Wolf access to a brand that is international and distinctive.

Crackers

It was also good to see a new to licensing company at Top Drawer. Nancy & Betty Studio were showing Christmas crackers using The Snowman and Paddington licences. They have used classics which are safe bets and also properties that independent retailers would see as suitable for them – well known but not overexposed and accompanied by stylish artwork. For a first time licensee I think they have chosen well. They have made good use of these licences and presented them well at the show.

After two days at Top Drawer, I arrived at EAG at Excel very relaxed and dare I say chilled out… This didn’t last long – imagine having a meeting in a supersized amusement arcade accompanied by noise, lights, excited chatter, high score beeps and blips, then you are at EAG! Thankfully smoking is now banned – it used to be probably Britain’s smokiest show.

PAWrideon

It is a fantastic show with numerous examples of licensing. It can be confusing as you often see the same product on two or three stands as many exhibitors are distributors, however it is a good reminder that licensing can exist in all shapes and sizes, and that as a licensing agent or licensor you should look in all commercial corners.

A couple of products that caught my eye at EAG were a children’s ride-on coin operated ride from Kiddy Rides featuring PAW Patrol. It was a really good representation of this popular show and you can imagine the impact it will have on consumers when in the market. Ride-ons are great showcases for properties – new technology means that rides can make more use of sounds, music and film from a property. They are great representations of licensed properties.

Kiddy Rides also presented the ride really well with a specially designed area on their stand – this attention to detail is welcome and from a licensor/agent viewpoint it is good to see a licensee using a licence in a proactive and responsible fashion. Licensees have a duty of care in terms of brand management and it is good to see good practice in the market.

Transrideon

At the other end of the ride-on spectrum was a supersized Transformers motion ride (I am no expert so forgive me if I have mislabelled this one). The Transformers ride was a great representation of the brand and one can imagine it dominating an amusement arcade or venue. This is clearly an expensive to produce product and, as such, has to work on a global basis meaning only certain licences will be suitable. Furthermore, the licence has to have elements that suit the format – a property like Transformers brings lots with it in terms of plot, storylines, sounds, effects and action. It was great to see licensing being used at this scale and with the level of investment a product likes this obviously needs.

So a week of contrasts for me, but a reminder that licensing is a diverse business, but one that has lots of potential for companies if used in the right way.

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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