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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes finds out how Wilko is embracing licensing this week.

To an extent, one of my local high streets – New Malden – is bucking the retail trend. New shops are opening and there seem to be fewer ‘To Let’ signs. It is an interesting retail mix and one that reveals the changing face of UK retail – a Poundland is situated near to a Waitrose; a Greggs very close to Nando’s; an independent stationers near a WH Smith.

Consumers can pick and choose their shopping price point and it seems a lot of consumers operate a mixed economy. You often see people popping into Waitrose with Poundland bags and vice versa. Recently a brand new Wilko store opened. In itself it tells a UK retail story as it is on a site that was originally a Safeway, then became a Somerfield, which was then a Co-Op and is now back to life as a Wilko.

The Wilko store is really clean, bright and well laid out. Its range includes food, toiletries, stationery, homewares, pet and garden products. I would say price point is low to mid range, offering good quality products including well-known brands at competitive prices. Branded goods are mixed with a strong portfolio of own brand products. Against this background it was encouraging to see licensed products peppered around the store, with licensing featuring prominently in a range of categories.


There was a strong showing in pick-up confectionery including some of my ‘own’ products Tango Sour Blast Blue Raspberry fondant pencils and, from the same supplier, Sunkist Shards – flavoured candy pieces. A reminder that brand licensing is a strong feature in the confectionery category.

In confectionery price is important, but licensed brands and characters create a point of difference and contrast to some of the more established brands.


Licensing was also a strong feature in stationery with ranges featuring Shopkins and Finding Dory. Within the toiletries category highlights included Colgate Minions toothpaste and toothbrushes. Good to see that a top brand such as Colgate is really engaged with licensing.

In situations like this a property has to work across retail sectors and generally internationally – Colgate would want a one-stop licensing shop. Hopefully this will prove to be a successful partnership which will encourage Colgate to carry on using licensing.


The hybrid toy collectable Mashems was also in store in a branded FSDU, with PAW Patrol the strongest part of the product mix. A reminder that collectables and pocket money toys are a good area for licensing and a category where a licensing can really persuade a consumer to purchase in a value environment.


Interestingly, I also saw licensing being used promotionally in Wilko with the kitchen towel brand Plenty using Trolls on its ‘Big One’ product with an on-pack competition and instant win for a Troll doll. This is a reminder that in a price conscious retailer and category that licensing can play an active part. Having a strong eye-catching promotion that consumers think they have a chance of winning really adds value and helps distinguish a product from its competition.

I think in an increasingly price conscious retail world, licensing has great potential to make inroads promotionally – brands in FMCG can’t keep slashing prices to compete. A licensed promotion gives them chance to stand out from competition, engage with consumers and tap into big media budgets.

Wilko is a really good example of a retailer that has recognised that licensed products can make a difference in its stores. It seems to have embraced licensing in a balanced way – not rushing to back one company or property, but leaving the buying to individual buyers to select what they say as the best products for their department. This has meant there is a variety of brands on shelf.

I think Wilko will become an increasingly important retailer for licensing but seems to quite an independent thinker. I can see good scope for companies in categories such as publishing, party and ceramics where they appeared to be licensing light. It is a good reminder that as an industry we need to nurture new retail outlets and provide product solutions that fit into the diversity of retailers that are now in the market. We also need to remember that retailers will want to use licensing in their own way to fit into their strategy.


As we approach Easter it is good to see that manufacturers are using licensing in their ranges. A great example is in WH Smith at the moment from Thornton’s. It is using The Gruffalo for an individual Easter Egg. The packaging makes full use of the brand’s signature art style. The packaging and product have been integrated in a bespoke way and the egg itself is a fantastic example of NPD. Very detailed, on brand and a great representation of the character. It is also keenly priced at £2.99.

A really good example of licensing in a competitive sector and a reminder that we don’t have to rush to the bottom in NPD terms to ‘save money’. You can hit a good price point while delivering a good quality product. A good licence makes a difference.


I was reminded of the importance of design in apparel and the power of Disney this week. I noticed a range of Daisy Duck childrenswear apparel in Next. This is an example of a strong brand owner exploring the breadth of its portfolio and pushing its classic characters into the market. I would expect that Disney quite rightly uses its strong hand at retail to dialogue with buyers to give ‘new’ properties some retail exposure. However, it doesn’t do this in an unstructured way – they invest in design.

The Daisy Duck range is fresh, well designed and works well as a line. Hard to say whether it will work and sell at the rate both parties require, but it has been given the best possible chance with investment in design. It is a reminder to rights owners that they should review their IP portfolio to see if there are new chances from old characters, but only do this if you are prepared to invest in design and take the opportunity seriously. Half hearted commitment won’t work these days.

As an aside I wonder if Disney is thinking of introducing a Donald range in similar handwriting soon… it would score highly on Google searches I imagine.

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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