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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes moves seamlessly from the aisles of BLE to the Kent coast this week.

I thought this was going to be the shortest ever edition of the Licensing Lookout. Last week my licensing lookout was like most licensing professionals confined to the halls of Olympia and the surrounding streets – more specifically in my case I was looking out all week on the emoji stand and a large portrait of Joe Wicks. I can say with confidence that I never knew there were so many emojis – seemingly one for every occasion and in the words of Morrissey, Joe Wicks is certainly a Handsome Devil!

Beyond this, my early take on BLE is that we seemed to have come out of it in credit – some really interesting new conversations and sales opportunities, primarily from ‘new’ areas of licensing such as collectables and live events.

We did less well from what I would call the top 50 licensees – my pet theory is that they spend a lot of time at presentations and also catching up with existing business contacts: if you are not working with them it is difficult to get to see them at BLE.

I only had one moment this year which I describe as my Apprentice moment – when someone pops onto the stand and asks me to tell them what I do … sell to me … then can’t explain what their business is and when asked for a card they hand over a Limited Edition Prontaprint card (buy ten business cards for a £1).

Sounds harsh – we really do like talking to new companies and companies about to start licensing but Sir Alan’s show has had some unexpected consequences!

Another lighthearted highlight for me was actually doing a deal in an aisle. I managed to get the fastest man in licensing, Andy Oddie from Funko, to slow down and stop for a moment – we were able to confirm a renewal (subject to contract) for Asterix Funko figurines; advance, guarantee, term, territories all sorted in a minute.

I guess that is one of the strengths of BLE – it really is a forum to network with the industry and gives you the chance to do business in a focused way, even if I did my best deal in an aisle not on my stand! I think if Andy was ever asked ‘if you were a character who would you be?’, he should say Billy Whizz. The world’s fastest licensee…


To switch off from BLE I took myself off to the Kent coast and spent a few days in the lovely town of Whitstable. After the big show business of Olympia it was nice to be in the quiet calm of Whitstable. It was also a timely reminder that the retail landscape is diverse and that there are licensing opportunities outside of the mainstream.

Whitstable is by no means bereft of big name retailers – Co-Op and Sainsbury’s being two names on the High Street – but it does have a significant percentage of independents and smaller retailers.  It is a town that attracts visitors and some of the shops reflect this, along with a healthy mix of galleries and coffee shops.

One of the independent shop highlights was the Toys n Trends toy shop. Nicely positioned on the high street, it offered a good mix of traditional toys and licensed ranges with an emphasis on pocket money and pick up items. It was well set out and made good use of brands such as LEGO and Peppa Pig. One particular highlight was the fact that it was selling Topps’ Match Attax cards and this was signalled via a window poster.


I guess the Match Attax cards which use the Premier League licence are a perennial collectable – as an independent if you can become a destination for a collectable range like this it is good business and a great way of drawing customers into store.

Topps’ has recognised that it needs a broad base of distribution because wide and early availability is essential to ensure as many people start the collection as possible. It is good to see it supporting the independent trade and, in turn, an independent toy retailer being prepared to stock an item that was traditionally a news trade item.

I think Topps’ efforts in adding game play to collecting has made the product more relevant to the toy trade as well. Topps’ has also embraced new media and supports the collection online – an increasingly important part of the marketing mix for collectable ranges.


Given that Whitstable has tourist appeal it was no surprise to see a number of gift licensees’ ranges on sale in the gift and housewares department store. I spotted some great displays from Stow Green of the Peter Rabbit range including a shelf ready display box for Peter Rabbit Tea Bag Tidies. The range featured a number of designs and was keenly priced at £3. The display encouraged pick up. So much so that my desk will now be Tea Bag Tidy…

It is clear that Stow Green has thought about building a range that fits into the independents,  is set at price points that encourage product pick up and repeat purchase. It is encouraging to see licensing playing a part in the independent trade.

Other licensees such as The Wooden Postcard Company had invested in counter displays to encourage retailers to stock the products and then have used licensing in a targeted way to create location specific ranges. For example, using the classic Ladybird books such as The Sailor and The Lifeboatman to provide a seaside friendly product offer. Again great pick up and souvenir items.

Whitstable also has a lovely independent book shop Harbour Books – the ranges included a mix of adult and children’s books including licensed ranges. The shop also sold greetings cards and giftwrap – an indication of how bookshops have evolved to offer more to their consumers in a logical way.


It is interesting to see how they work to compete with bigger retailers and online retailers. One tactic seems to be selling signed books and running author events. When I visited it was publicising a forthcoming book signing and visit from children’s author Lucy Strange. This kind of marketing seems to be an effective way of book shops competing and building up a rapport with the local community.

I know publishers work proactively with independents and I think in licensing terms this is probably an area that has growth potential – author visits and costume appearances being obvious candidates for partnerships.

Interestingly, the JoJo Maman Bebe branch in Whitstable was running a campaign called Once Upon a Time showcasing books and related product including licensed plush such as Paddington. Clearly there is a commercial value in publishing properties and publishers are getting better in developing character-based campaigns.


A trip to the seaside wouldn’t be complete for me without a trip to the amusements and playing the crane machines. I used up a lot of old pounds at the weekend.

Rather like my optimistic approach to BLE I take an optimistic approach to crane machines… however despite my best efforts I didn’t ‘win’ a Smurf or Peppa Pig but I hope I will be more successful in the BLE follow up race…

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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