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The Licensing Lookout

Licensing blossoms at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for Start Licensing’s Ian Downes this week.

Viva Las Chelsea. That is the Flower Show not the football team.

While a lot of the licensing community was in Las Vegas, I took myself off to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. In itself I don’t believe the show is operated under licence – I think it is a direct enterprise of the RHS, but it did feature a lot of commercial activity including some good examples of licensing.


One interesting partnership was a ‘pop up’ tea room operated under The Dorchester banner. Visitors could book afternoon tea at The Dorchester but remain in the grounds of the Flower Show. The restaurant was staffed by genuine Dorchester staff and the afternoon tea was prepared by one of The Dorchester’s chefs.

This was broadly speaking a ‘good’ experience – I am not entirely sure what the ‘deal’ was but it is a good example of a growing trend for experiences and a signpost for licensing.

As retail space gets more difficult to secure there is a lot of licensing to go for in the lifestyle, experiential sector. Brand owners and agents should be exploring this kind of licensing and partnership as there should be some good opportunities to extend brands. It is not a new area for licensing, but is one I think that has growth potential. And not just at Flower Shows.


The RHS has a thriving licensing programme – indeed it picked up an award at the recent B&LLAs recognising the success of the programme. Shows like Chelsea provide a platform for it and the licensees to meet consumers and create a network of new opportunities.

There is a very well populated retail village at the show. Some of the companies are also RHS licensees. The licensing range in this context is quite broad and diverse.

One licensed range that caught my eye was from Sitting Spiritually. It has produced rope swings under licence from the RHS – the range also includes garden benches and bench swings. I am guessing in the context of products like these the RHS licence gives the licensee a sense of authority, a strong opening with retailers and of course a platform to sell at shows like Chelsea (although I expect they would be treated like any other trader in terms of cost of space, etc).


A short time ago Start Licensing carried out a consultancy project for Penguin Ventures. One of our tasks was to licence the classic Flower Fairies. As part of this I approached Robert James to pitch the Flower Fairies licensing opportunity. It produces bronze garden sculptures – I had first spotted them at RHS Wisley… new business opportunities can be found in the most charming of locations sometimes. So I was delighted to see the fabulous range of bronze Flower Fairies on display and on sale at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

It is always rewarding to see your efforts in new business pay off – a feeling I think we all share but I was particularly pleased to see this deal come to life as it seemed such a good fit for the brand and the licensee.

It is also a reminder to me that licensing and perhaps agents in particular have to be alive to new opportunities, new markets and new ways of licensing. Judging by the reaction at the show the bronzes should sell through well – although don’t expect to see them in the goodie bags at the Licensing Awards. They are heavy and quite high-end price wise.


It has been a good week for me in terms of spotting licenses and licensed products I am directly involved in. Still a great moment to see your products on shelf or better still in the window. Our US based designer client Kendra Dandy‘s ‘collab’ with VANS went live in May and was sitting proudly in shop windows globally including in the Carnaby Street store.

The collab route is one being taken frequently these day – these can pop up and pop back down quite quickly, but in the case of an artist such as Kendra a partnership of this kind really elevates her work and is a defined part of her licensing strategy. There have been previous licensing partnerships with Bobbi Brown and Anthropologie. When used tactically these sort of partnerships can kick start other activity and encourage other licensees to engage with a brand.

My concern with the growing use of collabs is that they are losing a raison d’etre beyond creating a short lived buzz and some headlines. I think there needs to be some momentum created by them that leaves a legacy. In Kendra’s case I am confident it has and it will – we have had approaches from other licensees which have seen the VANS range. The product range itself is fantastic and quite broad. While it may only be in store for around four weeks which suits VANS and its customers, the range has been developed in a broad way covering footwear, socks, caps and t shirts – a real collection.

I also visited Distoy this week – this is a toy show aimed at international toy distributors and toy companies. Based in London, it has grown in size over recent years and I think is well regarded as a trading forum in the industry.

From a licensing perspective it is a good place to meet licensees, distributors, inventors and factories. In some cases it is a way of creating new opportunities by using licensing IP to develop new product ideas with inventors or manufacturers. Starting deals in this way may need to become more of the norm for licensors looking to break into the toy sector. It is also a good place to spot toy formats and concepts that could be enhanced by the application of a well chosen licence.

It is also an opportunity to put distributors together from different markets to create a network to distribute existing products and ranges. In many ways it is the engine room of the toy trade.


One licensing highlight for me at Distoy was the Kids@Play JCB ride on range.

It is clear that the licensee and licensor have worked very closely together to develop the best possible product. From a child’s point of view the product has great play value and from an adult’s point of view it is robust and authentic in terms of its representation of the brand. It shows how licensing has evolved and is moving away from label slapping designs onto existing product formats. Kids@Play has managed to produce a kid version of a JCB and has done it really well.

I also liked the fact that Malcolm Evans from Kids@Play showed me how sturdy the JCB hard hat was by standing on it! It was a new way of showing the strength of a product but a very effective one.

JCB is having good success in licensing in a range of categories which I think is largely due to careful selection of those categories, a focused approach to on-brand NPD and proactive management of the programme. I think it has recognised the values and value of the brand well with an emphasis on being active in categories that it can make a difference in.

A good lesson here is that sometimes it is better to direct your efforts in market sectors that you can make a real impression in. JCB and RHS are good examples of brands and brand owners that have found success by building programmes in categories that are close to home for them or ones that their values can make a difference in.

Sometimes it is more productive to dig your own garden!

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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