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The Licensing Lookout

‘You can’t stand still in licensing’ – Start Licensing’s Ian Downes offers his observations from this week.

We are still in the middle of trade fair season – many people who spent the week at the Olympia Toy Fair last week are now over in Nuremberg at the Toy Fair there. Next week is Spring Fair in Birmingham – I think once that show is over the business of licensing in 2017 can start!

However, time spent at trade shows is not wasted and is a vital part of the licensing business. The breadth of trade shows that licensing professionals attend is a reflection of the diversity of the business and the fact that as a licensing agent you can’t afford to focus on one sector alone. Trade fairs are also a good source of new contacts for new business.

Over the coming months I will be attending food industry shows, a specialist stationery and a greetings cards shows – partly to service existing business and in part to develop new contacts.


I reflected on a few of the licensing spots I made at the London Toy Fair last week. I only really scratched the surface. It was a show where licensing played a significant role – one of the products I didn’t mention last week included Underground Toy’s Darth Vader oven gloves.

As a company they moved into gifting, bakeware and kitchenware some time ago to complement their toy and collectibles offerings. I think this strategy has worked for them and maybe helped persuade Funko that Underground Toys were a good acquisition. I think this acquisition is also a big tick in the box for licensing and the commercial success licensing can bring.

I suspect the ‘new’ Underground Toys will naturally be increasingly focused on and slipstreamed with Funko, but I hope they don’t lose their innovative approach to NPD. Products like the Darth Vader gloves show licensing in a good light – novelty but practical and a really strong gifting proposition. Who wouldn’t want to be Darth Vader in the kitchen?


I also noted at the London Toy Fair that Flair’s range of PJ Masks Beanies won an award for Best New Toy in the Preschool Character category. The product was neat and well presented, but relatively standard for a standard category – I think the award was more driven by the anticipation behind the property.

Not that I have my ear firmly to the ground in terms of spotting the next big thing in preschool, but I did hear several sage observers highlighting PJ Masks as the one to follow in preschool at the moment – will be interesting to see how this optimism turns out.

Preschool is a very competitive area in licensing terms – there are lots of players in it jostling for position – the prize available is a significant one. Key attributes for success are TV scheduling, storylines, the strength of the characters, marketing support and the ability of the ‘early adopter’ licensees to drive a property. Based on these formlines and the early win of an industry award, ‘team PJ Masks’ are probably cautiously optimistic about their future prospects.


Outside of the trade show world – yes there is one – I was interested to see a nail care product from O.P.I. featuring Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Audrey Hepburn. I thought the packaging was really good – can’t offer an opinion on the product itself as I am not a nailcare kind of guy, but I thought it was a really good example of how film and celebrity licensing can play a role in markets such as personal care, fragrances and toiletries.

I imagine this product has been developed after commercial conversations with the film company and the estate of Audrey Hepburn. They have used a classic image and typeface – designwise it works really well.

I expect to see more examples of this kind of licensing, as companies and film company/estates recognise the potential that this kind of endorsement offers them. It really is a unique way of marketing products and leveraging the value behind these kind of properties – a key here is that less is more: I think rights like these have to be well managed in a strategic and sensitive way. Protecting the heritage in all senses of the word ‘protecting. The O.P.I. product does that well I think.


Finally, it is always good to see a company you saw as a start up going from strength to strength. Children’s apparel licensee Fabric Flavours focus on mid to high-end retailers and use characters in slightly different ways from a design point of view. I liked their take on Superman which I saw this week – taking the classic brand logo and developing it into a repeat pattern with ‘new’ colourways.

I think they set out to design with characters to reflect wider fashion trends and reflect what is going on in the general adult fashion market. I worked with them when they launched, selling them their first licence I believe – which was The Beano. I see their product in department stores and it is always well designed, sometimes with added value elements and details.

They are a Licensing Award winner and I think Fabric Flavours, rather like Underground Toys, show what licensing can do for a company particularly when used in a focused way with an emphasis on original design, specific NPD and hard work at retail – using good licences to open up retail accounts.

I am off to a trade show now to find the next Underground Toys and Fabric Flavours… you can’t stand still in licensing!

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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