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The Licensing Lookout: Botanical delights

Ian Downes spots some green fingered licensing opportunities at Hampton Court Flower Show.

Sometimes licensing allows you to mix business with pleasure. That’s how I was able to attend the RHS Hampton Court Palace Show. I would describe myself as a light green fingered gardener, more enthusiast than expert, so it was good to be able to attend a show that really inspires. The show itself is a great example of how a brand owner has leveraged its brand equity to create a new activity and revenue stream. The RHS has a suite of shows now including the iconic RHS Chelsea Show. The shows blend signature ‘show’ gardens with celebrity appearances and trade stands.

There were a number of licensing highlights at the show.


It was good to catch up with licensee Robert James Workshop. I first met them when Start Licensing was acting as a consultant to Penguin Ventures. We set up a licence for Robert James to develop high-end, high spec bronze garden statues and water features based on the Flower Fairies. These products are now a core part of the range and looked great on Robert James’ attractive stand. It has extended the licensing portfolio to include an excellent range of Peter Rabbit figures. These are finished with subtle colours and represent the characters really well.

They were displayed on the stand with original books, reinforcing the literary heritage of the products. It is encouraging to see a company like Robert James using licensing to grow its portfolio and extend its product range. It has tapped into people’s love of classic properties and are using literary properties well. This seems to be a good source of good quality licences these days.


Licensing cropped up in different ways in the show – one of the most interesting ones was Edinburgh Gin’s Limited Edition gin product that had been produced with Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Bringing together the natural connection between botany and gin distilling, Edinburgh Gin 1670 is the result of a partnership with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RGBE).

This is a great example of an innovative approach to product development. The link with the Gardens gives the product authenticity in terms of ingredients and recipes – helping it to stand out in a crowded market whilst also leveraging a brand that gives the gin company a great PR story to tell and one that will probably open up some new accounts.

It shows how brands can embrace fast emerging markets in innovative ways and also gives hope to licensing in the sense that there are new types of deals to make. The product also tasted really good – it also looked very prestigious with a beautifully designed label that really conveyed the Botanical heritage effectively. In a market like gin packaging is important and this partnership has created a real point of difference and interest.


Iconic pottery brand Moorcroft was also exhibiting at the show. A number of its ranges have floral, garden and horticultural themes. So the show is a good fit for it. However one range it was promoting was one produced in association with the RSPB – this features birds such as kingfishers and starlings. The range is marketed under the umbrella title of the Art of Ornithology.

The RSPB and Moorcroft have been working together since 2010. A good example of how partnerships can build up over time and how it is important to refuel these partnerships with fresh design and idea. Moorcroft also works with the RHS on a collection themed around Rose Bouquets. Again licensees like Moorcroft demonstrate that licensing deals come in different shapes and sizes – heritage licensing fits well with heritage brands like Moorcroft.

Country Living had a strong presence at the show including a branded marquee which houses a range of vendors selling jewellery, accessories, apparel and giftware. Most of these vendors were selling non-licensed products, but Country Living seems to use the show to reinforce its brand values and to connect with consumers. It was promoting its partnership with DFS which encompasses a range of Country Living sofas – these featured on displays in the marquee. A new piece of branded activity being showcased by Country Living was the move into branded hotels. It has linked up with travel operator Coast & Country launching two hotels initially one in Bath and the other in Harrogate.

This is a further example of the trend towards lifestyle licensing and also a good example of how a strong brand can be used in the experiential sector. Licensing needs to look beyond products and investigate  opportunities like this – in busy market sectors a well defined brand can help operators stand out and assist with targeted marketing campaigns.


A real licensing highlight was the Children with Cancer UK charity garden produced in partnership with Mr Men Little Miss. The garden represented the varying emotions that children and families experience when coping with cancer. The garden is set in Misterland the home of Mr Men and is centred on  a split hill. The garden is well planted but in the middle features classic Mr Men animation and illustrations showcasing the characters well.

While it is commendable to see a popular brand like Mr Men doing good for such a great cause, it was also noteworthy to see how Sanrio was using the garden and the show to engage with consumers.

It was offering a range of personalised products that could be personalised on site – hands on direct selling. Products included mugs and prints combined with a small range of limited edition prints. The garden gives the charity a platform to engage with the public, fundraise and start conversations.

For Sanrio it is a clever visual representation of its characters and a public way of illustrating its commitment to the charity. It added a new dimension to the show and my unscientific eavesdropping suggested it was proving a popular feature with visitors, not least as it provided an instant gift solution for visitors who wanted to take something different home for family members. A percentage of sales flowed back to the charity I believe and this was a great way of a licensor creating their own retail opportunity.


In addition, leading seed company Thompson & Morgan featured on the stand showcasing the new range of Mr Men & Little Miss seeds. It had created some special edition seed packs for the show, as a precursor I believe to a wider range launching in the near future. It is good to see well known and respected brands such as Thompson & Morgan use licensing to develop new products.

The RHS also uses the show to sell products directly to consumers mixing its own ranges with licensed products. Cleverly, it includes special edition show products that consumers can buy into to mark their visit to the show. The RHS live events programme is a tremendous foundation stone for licensees – I am not sure how licensees work with the RHS in this forum, but it is clearly a boost to licensees and I am sure an attractive route to market.

I certainly left Hampton Court with some great inspiration for my garden, but also for my licensing work – a perfect way of spending a day in the sun. While there was much to admire about Robert James’ products and the Mr Men garden the winner of the Ian Downes Licensed Product of the Day was the Edinburgh Gin – it was only a thimble full but it was a winning taste.


Outside of the show a highlight for me this week was spotting a t-shirt in a charity shop window that took me back to my CPLG days c1995. It was a Flintstones t-shirt – it featured a t-shirt slogan that I still regard as one of the most memorable ones of my career – a rather happy with himself Fred Flintstone is booming out ‘I’ll Make Your Bed Rock!’ … not sure this would make the shops in Licensing 2018.

There must have been something in the copywriting air in the mid 1990s. Richard Pink reminded me of his favourite slogan – also a Flintstones one – featuring Barney on a bedrock chopper – the slogan proclaiming Barney as a Rubble Without a Cause! The mid 90s was truly  the Boom Boom Age of Licensing.

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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