The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes is impressed by HMV’s growth in the licensing space.

I popped into my local HMV this week to try to buy some vinyl to top up my growing collection of LPs. I am taking part in my own retro campaign as many of my vinyl albums are drawn from my original 1980s collection (temporarily housed in my mum’s shed – she is pleased I have gone retro).


While I was thwarted in my ambition of buying The Specials album, it was good to see how licensing and licensed products are a key feature of HMV’s offer. The first sighting was actually in the vinyl section with a range of record cases produced under the GPO brand. My eye was particularly attracted to a record box featuring artwork licensed from Horace Panter.

Horace is The Specials’ bassist, but has a successful second career as an artist. Sadly I couldn’t do the double by buying the record and putting it into Horace’s charming record case, but it was good to see licensing tapping into the vinyl trend. There may be more opportunities for licensing to get involved with the vinyl collecting trend.


Indeed a major part of HMV’s licensed product offering is its wall of t-shirts. The range is a mixed bag of pop culture blending films, TV, comics and music. T-shirts on offer included The Cure, Rolling Stones, Star Wars and DC Comics. Interesting to see 1980s music acts like The Cure featuring and I guess this is a category that vinyl sales might influence in the future. HMV can presumably track sales from vinyl and use this as an influencer in the t-shirt aisle and vice versa.

I look forward to seeing The Specials in its record and t-shirt selection soon. I can guarantee at least one sale.

Licensees like GB Eye and Pyramid have done a great job of bringing merchandise offers alive in retailers like HMV, tapping into pop culture well and recognising that there is licensing business to be won outside of the ‘big’ entertainment brands.

Events like Comic-Com and the success of TV shows like Breaking Bad have underlined that there is a growing community of consumers who want to buy into good quality merchandise to celebrate their fandom.


In the HMV I visited, GBEye had invested in retail display units selling products such as button badges and mugs including a number of exclusive to HMV products.

I expect to see more licensees investing in retail display and units to help push sales – in this case consumers can make selections from a well stocked range and probably enjoy viewing the ranges. In this kind of market sector it is important to know your audience and also respect them – while they are passionate fans, they are also discerning consumers who know their subject. It would be easy to misunderstand this and alienate them.


It was also good to see Ryman showcasing licensed products in its windows as part of the Back to School offering – although Back to School offers seem to start earlier and earlier these days; haven’t schools only just broken up? If I was a 10 year old I think it might be nice to get a few weeks off before I have to start thinking about going back to school. Anyway, Ryman is tapping into this market well.

Blueprint Collections has gone retro and developed a line of FMCG brand pencil cases – with a nod to Woolworths of the ’90s these cases are shaped with the initial range featuring can shaped Coca-Cola and Fanta products, plus the iconic Pringles can. Eye-catching and functional products. A good use of appropriate licences.


Staying with Blueprint Collections, I noticed its range of Mickey Mouse stationery in John Lewis. I believe this is a new design palette and certainly offers a fresh feel for a classic character. It was a good reminder of the importance for licensees and licensors to be tuned into sector trends – focusing on things like patterns, colours, finishes and formats reflecting these in licensing design. Licensing needs to be relevant to a category and not an outlier. Design needs to be undertaken alongside sector trends and predictions.

This Mickey Mouse range is a good example of this and I think Blueprint Collections is an example of a licensee that is very much ‘on trend’. Also the space given to the range in the John Lewis Home branch I visited was impressive and really allowed it to sell itself well.

I am now off to my garden shed to listen to The Smiths and am looking forward to the Morrissey biopic film that is released in August. But I won’t be wearing my vintage Queen is Dead t-shirt. Some things can’t be revived. I have accepted that I have to select L or XL shirts these days even if the bands on them are from the 1980s…

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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