Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a trip to RHS Wisley this week.
I took a pit stop between meetings at RHS Wisley this week. This is one of the jewels in the Royal Horticultural Society’s rather splendid crown of gardens. It is worth breaking your routine sometimes so I swapped a cafe coffee for a garden stroll.
The RHS is a growing force in licensing and has developed a wide-reaching licensing programme. Its market position as noted experts in its category and having a rich heritage legacy helps, of course, but it also operates in a fiercely competitive category within which it is hard to stand out. I imagine it also has to operate within a set of corporate standards that don’t apply to some of its competitors.
As an organisation, the RHS seems to operate a mixed economy blending prestigious garden sites with a portfolio of high profile shows like the Chelsea Flower Show and newer events like the RHS Chatsworth Show. These events appeal to RHS members and a wider consumer base. They are also events which garner substantial media coverage and are broadcast on TV. This activity is blended with a strong retail programme which includes on-site shops, pop up retailing at events and mail order. This, of course, sits alongside the RHS licensing programme. The RHS is a really good example of the developing strength of heritage brands in licensing.
With this in mind I broke off from my garden stroll to take a turn round Wisley’s shop and garden centre. These are two separate units, but located near each other at the entrance to the gardens. I believe these may soon be expanded as there is a programme of works underway on site. This in itself suggests retailing is going well for the RHS.
Within the garden centre, a particular licensing highlight was the use of a variety of brands on seed packet products. There are some well established brands in this category, like Suttons and Mr Fothergill’s, but I imagine it is a tough category to stand out in.
Licensing adds an additional dimension. The RHS had its own licensed range which sat well in-store and I imagine works well with the RHS retail platform. Celebrated gardener Sarah Raven also has a branded range as does Jekka McVicar. Jekka’s range seems to focus on herbs and is leveraging her particular expertise. In this context licensing well-known personalities makes sense as established brands can build on their own reputation with a qualified celebrity endorsement. I am guessing, like a lot of industries and product categories, an ongoing concern is how to bring younger consumers on board.
With this in mind it was interesting to see a FSDU featuring seed packs tied into BBC Children in Need and Pudsey. Products from Mr Fothergill’s included sunflower seeds and were presented in bright attractive packaging.
The charity angle also adds a further layer of consumer appeal to the product.
The RHS is also active in garden hardware and accessories; for example it has a range of pots and planters from Apta – these were well displayed at Wisley. Being at Wisley is in many ways a vote of confidence for suppliers and a showcase they can reference in terms of other retail outlets. I am sure an order from the RHS to supply their shops also helps build confidence for licensees in developing a range.
The retail shop carries products such as books, greetings cards, food, giftware and accessories. Unsurprisingly, RHS branded products including licensed lines feature prominently throughout the shop.
There were a number of ‘exclusive’ RHS gifting ranges based on designs sourced from the archives including special edition ranges such as a collection of Alphabet mugs. This sort of approach allows the RHS to test designs and explore new themes. It is a useful tool in retail and licensing terms.
The RHS is a strong player in publishing with a range of books published by third parties. It leverages its reputation, expertise and market position effectively with many reference titles that are ‘classic’ works and remain in print constantly.
This is a good bedrock for the RHS I imagine. It is also using its heritage well, both in packaging and product theming terms – a good example of this was the chocolate and confectionery range which uses horticultural flavours, themes and packaging. I imagine this range would work well in general retail, but also in specialist outlets like garden centres and farm shops.
There were a number of other brands featured in the shop. Of course carefully chosen to fit in well with the consumer profile and gardening theme.
One good example was a broad range of William Morris gifts including toiletries. Design-wise, the classic surface patterns fitted in well. The shop has a substantial space for greetings cards and stocks a wide selection.
One range that had dedicated space and caught the eye was Woodmansterne’s range featuring Quentin Blake’s illustrations. Seems to suit this retail location well. As an aside I spotted the range included a card for a 100th birthday. Gives me something to look forward to! The RHS seems to be getting stronger in licensing and retail terms. It is a good example of how a focused approach can pay off, especially when you are selling to a well defined and passionate consumer group.
Reflecting on the changing face of retail, I was interested to see that within a convenience store at the revamped London Bridge station, that bookseller Foyles had a presence as the store’s branded bookseller, with Foyles curating the book selection. I guess this works well for both parties and this kind of shared space may be a style of retailing others might need to consider.
Indeed it seems that retailing at station concourses is on an upward curve with a broad selection of well known retailers now station tenants. The retail choice is now extensive and certainly light years away from the 1970s and 1980s when station retail was strictly papers, pens and pork pies. I remember the excitement in 1980s Waterloo when a burger joint opened on the station. It was a revelation. The chain was called Casey Jones in honour of the star character of a TV series set in the Wild West. I think. Maybe my Casey Cheeseburger started me on my licensing journey all those years ago!
Finally, well done to Max Publishing for hosting another memorable Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Awards. Well done to all the winners and it was very satisfying to be one – BlissHome’s Nadiya Hussain homewares range was a winner. Special mention to Lauren Sizeland winner of the Brand Ambassador Award. Thoroughly deserved for her work with the V&A. She has really helped put heritage licensing on the map.
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.