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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at licensed retail activity outside of bricks and mortar.

Getting product onto retail shelves is one of the key challenges in licensing. Retail listings are a key to success – at the moment things are tough with retail buyers reducing their supplier base and in general terms creating tighter product ranges. However, there are opportunities outside of bricks and mortar retail that provide avenues for licensing.

I was reminded of one of those this week when I spotted a full page ad for a Thomas Kinkade ‘light up’ collectable Christmas tree. This was an off the page direct response ad from The Bradford Exchange. Companies such as The Bradford Exchange and Danbury Mint are very active licensees, albeit that a lot of their activity goes unnoticed in the public domain as their business model is based on direct selling via off the page offers, direct mail and website selling.

They are ultra efficient licensees who rely heavily on testing the potential for products before launching them and making great use of their sophisticated databases.


Thomas Kinkade – Painter of Light has a very active art licensing programme, some of which has been driven by direct selling – companies such as Bradford Exchange are able to contact consumers who have bought similar products before and ‘crossmatch’ their customer databases to find new consumers who might be persuaded to respond to offers.

Their challenge is refreshing and renewing their databases, but these licensees offer licensing an alternative to conventional retail.


In my own work I have experienced a similar alternative retail market via our work with personalised products company Signature Gifts. It creates ranges of personalised products with a heavy emphasis on personalised books. We have worked with the company for over ten years on Beano.

When you have worked with a licensee for a long period, it is easy for both sides to be complacent and carry on doing the same thing, with few changes to product and design. However we have spiced things up with Signature Gifts by introducing a new opportunity this year – with the recently launched Beano personalised annual.

For the first time consumers can buy a personalised version of the latest annual – this is an added value for consumers which shouldn’t detract from the conventional annual or retail. This is a really good example of direct selling and personalisation creating a new opportunity for licensing. It has provided Beano with a new way of growing the already strong Beano annual universe and also gives fans a new product experience.


I spotted an interesting product in Iceland stores this week – a really good example of how FMCG companies are using licensing to extend their brands in new ways. In this case Oreo has extended into frozen desserts with an Oreo Cookies & Cream Cake.

This kind of licensing allows brands like Oreo to enter new categories and develop retail listings which bolster its core offering. Food brands like Oreo trade a lot on their distinct flavour, ingredients and taste experience – licensed products provide opportunities for brand owners to develop this aspect of their brand. For retailers like Iceland listing branded products from the likes of Oreo allows it to tap into the brand value and appeal providing its consumers with interesting new products and accessing innovation that it may not prioritise itself.

I would also applaud Iceland again for the success of its Slimming World range – this range of ready meals and desserts is signposted in-store and has grown into a significant range. I believe it is an exclusive deal with Iceland and is a great example of how a focused approach to a licensing partnership can pay off.

In this case Slimming World has decided to develop its business via one retailer and concentrate its efforts in that retailer. This may be a business model others may follow in the future.


Finally, I continued my street art tours this week and spotted another well known character depicted in street art style in Waterloo.

Shaggy from Scooby Doo looked good in the Leake Street tunnel – there certainly seems to be a strong affinity between well known characters and street artists.

Maybe BLE should have a street art gallery – I wonder what Olympia would make of that!

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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