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The Licensing Lookout: A tale of two trade shows

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes picks his highlights from Top Drawer and EAG this week.

It was a tale of two trade shows for me this week.

Like London buses, trade shows tend to arrive at the same time and that was the case this week.

My first trade show of the year was Top Drawer. As I have observed before, Top Drawer is possibly the most relaxed and chilled out of all trade shows. Hosted at Olympia, it is a showcase for ‘design lead’ products. Indeed the show director, Alejandra Campos described Top Drawer as  “… the bi-annual meeting place for those for whom design is in their DNA”. There is no doubt it is a stylish show and one where it is possible to spot trends. As a factfinding show it has a great value. At first glance it is easy to think it is a licensing lite show, but in fact there are some great examples of licensing to be seen and Top Drawer is a great window on some new approaches to licensing.

Leading giftware licensees Portico and Wild & Wolf both have a strong presence at Top Drawer. They both have really well presented stands that showcase their products well. Both are experienced licensees. They both take a very focused approach to licensing and are selective in their choices. Further, they both look at licensing from a design perspective and apply their handwriting to licensed ranges.

Two highlights on the Wild & Wolf stand were gifting/homewares ranges using the Ted Baker and Orla Kiely brands. Both have been in the portfolio for a while and have been nurtured carefully. These are two good examples of brands that have now become established as lifestyle brands and ones where licensing helps to reenergise the core brands.

Emily Brooks has enjoyed success with her designs in the greeting cards space.
Emily Brooks has enjoyed success with her designs in the greeting cards space.

Portico takes a similar approach and seems to be enjoying great success with the retail brand Joules. This range had a strong presence on Portico’s stand. Portico also featured a range developed in association with Emily Brooks.

Emily Brooks has had success with her designs in the greetings cards space and is, I believe, working with licensees such as Portico to spread her reach and product range. Portico’s range included glasses cases, lunch boxes and drinkware. The range was bright, colourful and on trend. Portico has a good eye for design and designers. It seems to have recognised that it can help designers grow their businesses with well thought through licensing programmes and is prepared to invest in this kind of licensing over the long-term. Portico and Wild & Wolf are good examples of licensees that seem to actively avoid licences built around a fad and are more attracted to brands and designers that have longer potential. It is time consuming and expensive to develop a new range, so it is no surprise that licensees favour opportunities that hold longer potential for them.

Portico hasn’t neglected one of its staple areas which is dated product and was showcasing a nice range of calendars which included a Joules calendar, plus an in-house brand Go Green – Fun Ways to Reduce Plastic. I believe this is an in-house development, but one with an eye on future licensing potential and it is, of course, one that is responding to current concerns around sustainability and re-use/recycling.

Indeed one of the themes running through Top Drawer this year was one of sustainability with a number of products highlighted for their sustainability credentials.

Hype launched a range of Roy of the Rovers greeting cards.
Hype launched a range of Roy of the Rovers greeting cards.

Top Drawer also gave me the opportunity to connect with a couple of product ranges I have been personally involved with, namely Roy of the Rovers greetings cards. Hype launched a range of cards at the show making great use of the Roy of the Rovers comic art archive. In itself this is a reminder of the appeal and value of comic art.

For me it was lovely to see one of my favourite comic characters featured on a card range – a lot of my football loving friends will be in receipt of a Roy of the Rovers card now.

BlissHome launched new lines with Nadiya Hussain at Top Drawer.
BlissHome launched new lines with Nadiya Hussain at Top Drawer.

It was also good to see BlissHome launching some new lines with Nadiya Hussain. This is a good example of a long-term approach to licensing and a genuine partnership. Nadiya works with Bliss on choosing designs, colours and products. The range is enjoying increasing retail distribution including listings in the likes of John Lewis.

BlissHome also launched a new range at Top Drawer featuring designer Laura Slater. Rather like Portico, BlissHome has got a good eye on design and designers. It is good to see companies giving designers an opportunity to take their designs into new categories and, of course, it helps keep companies’ products on trend. It is a reminder that licensing is a way designers can grow their businesses more rapidly than trying to do everything in-house.

Copenhagen Design made good use of the Pantone colour of the year - Classic Blue.
Copenhagen Design made good use of the Pantone colour of the year - Classic Blue.

It was also good to see how the Pantone brand is being used in the ceramics category. Licensee Copenhagen Design was showcasing a range featuring the Pantone colour of the year 2020 – Classic Blue. I also really liked its Rainbow product range. This is a licensed range I much admire, not least because it is a simple idea that is very well executed – of course the magic is in the fact that someone recognised that Pantone could have a second life in licensing. It is a great case study of what licensing can do to help re-cast a brand.

Similarly it was good to see how Infinity Brands has used the iconic London Underground licence to create a food gifting line. A particular highlight was its cookie tin shaped like a tube train. An ideal item for the tourist, heritage and independent gift trades.

I was also pleased to see a range of ‘sustainable’ drinks bottles from Corkcicle featuring artwork from street artist Keith Haring. As a street art fan – and specifically a fan of Keith Haring – it is good to see the medium making the jump into licensed products and it seems, judging by these products, careful choices are being made as to how the Haring art legacy is used in licensing.

The art of Keith Haring featured on sustainable drinks bottles from Corkcicle.
The art of Keith Haring featured on sustainable drinks bottles from Corkcicle.

I also thought it was interesting to see plush and gift licensee Rainbow Designs at Top Drawer. I think this was its first time at the show for something like 14 years.

It was showcasing some classic brands such as Peter Rabbit and Miffy. Indeed there was a new design option for Peter Rabbit – the Signature Collection. A motivator for Rainbow to be at the show was to secure some new retail accounts and to diversify its distribution. I think this is something to be applauded and a good nudge to other licensees.

It is important to try to find new places to sell and new markets to operate in. Licensed products do appeal to a wide base of retailers, but have to be presented in a way that fits a particular retail channel and of course you have to find a way to engage with those retailers.

Rainbow Designs introduced a new design option for Peter Rabbit - the Signature Collection.
Rainbow Designs introduced a new design option for Peter Rabbit - the Signature Collection.

Now to the second show of my week and what a contrast it is to Top Drawer. I journeyed to ExCel to visit the EAG – Entertainment, Attractions & Gaming International Expo. Here gaming, amusements and having fun are in the show’s DNA. I have been attending the show for a long time and it has had a number of formats, I think but in summary it is the trade show for leisure parks, arcades, resorts and tourist attractions.

It encompasses items like coin operated rides, crane machines, plush through to gaming machines and simulator rides. In contrast to Top Drawer it is fast and furious but is a good snapshot of the industry. It seems smaller than in years gone by but is still very relevant from a licensing point of view.

The Kiddy Rides brand has properties including PJ Masks in its portfolio.
The Kiddy Rides brand has properties including PJ Masks in its portfolio.

Stalwart licensees such as Northern Leisure Group operating under the Kiddy Rides brand are heavy users of licensing with brands such as PJ Masks, Peppa Pig and PAW Patrol featuring in its portfolio. New technology means that these coin operated rides can deliver more ‘experience’ with rides featuring theme tunes, light shows, voices from the shows and other features such as push button sound effects.

Generally EAG is about ‘having a go’ and trying the products, but the Kiddy Rides stand is one best experienced by looking not riding… I’m not sure ‘Licensing Executive Gets Stuck in PJ Masks Ride’ is the right sort of PR…

The Original Stormtrooper brand starred as plush on the PMS stand at EAG.
The Original Stormtrooper brand starred as plush on the PMS stand at EAG.

Plush and related products that are used as prizes within certain amusement machines are a big feature of EAG, with licensees such as PMS and Whitehouse Leisure being leading players in the category.

PMS was showcasing a new range of plush toys based on The Original Stormtrooper licence. Not a brand you would immediately associate with the category, but PMS has done a great job of bringing the property alive in the category. I can imagine the range appealing to trade buyers, but also making a strong impact in the market with consumers. Of course, this is a key feature of the category – product has to appeal to the public and persuade them to have a go at winning a prize.

I also liked how Whitehouse Leisure had used the classic movie licence Rocky. The range was not entirely based on plush figures, but included things like branded boxing gloves. A clever use of the licence and an effective way of offering something new to the category.

Toy and game brands such as Hot Wheels have been re-imagined in the arcade game sector.
Toy and game brands such as Hot Wheels have been re-imagined in the arcade game sector.

Another highlight for me at EAG was how toy and game brands such as Connect 4, Hot Wheels, Monopoly and Nerf had been re-imagined in the arcade game sector. Monopoly I guess unsurprisingly features in categories such as push machines, but it was interesting to see brands like Hot Wheels being used in arcade games.

It makes perfect sense for popular toy brands to make the stretch into arcade games and amusements. They have proven gameplay, are family favourites and are timeless. Companies can feel reassured that their development time and costs won’t be wasted. For companies like Mattel and Hasbro, it literally allows them to play in a new sector and at a supersized scale. It was also good to see licensing playing a part in some classic categories such as pinball machines.

I thought it was interesting to see The Beatles pinball side by side with a Stranger Things pinball machine. Clearly the licensees are tuned into new brands, but also realise there is a value in classic properties like The Beatles.

Contrasting trade shows, but both equally worthwhile from a licensing point of view and also a reminder that licensing’s DNA can be found in a range of business sectors. I have placed a bet on a Pantone Pinball Machine being launched in 2021 and I will redeem my prize tickets from winning the bet in exchange for a pink Original Stormtrooper plush! Anything is possible in licensing.

David Cardwell

I would also like to highlight the fact that this week a number of us from the wider licensing community met to celebrate the life of the late David Cardwell.

David passed away last year and was one of the co-founders of Copyright Promotions along with Richard Culley. Richard and a number of others coordinated a drinks evening which saw a number of the extended ‘past and present’ CPL family meeting up, along with a number of David’s industry friends.

We gathered to remember David and times past in licensing. It was a great tribute to David. Kelvyn Gardner from Licensing International UK delivered a fine tribute to David, who was a licensing pioneer and someone a lot of us owe our ‘start’ in licensing to. I have fond memories of David and it was lovely to share those with former colleagues.

The gathering was also a reminder of the value of friendship in the licensing industry and the fact that sometimes we all need a friend to turn to in the business. David was a friend to many.

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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