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The Licensing Lookout: Dutch masters

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes his Looking Out on tour to Amsterdam this week.

In the spirit of ‘live licensing’ and the rise in experiential licensing, The Licensing Lookout went On Tour this week to Amsterdam.

The Harry Potter Shop at Heathrow's Terminal 5 has international appeal.
The Harry Potter Shop at Heathrow's Terminal 5 has international appeal.

My looking out started early on tour as I spotted an official Harry Potter shop in the departure lounge of Heathrow’s swish Terminal 5. I am assuming this operates under a licensing style agreement. It is a further example of how a strong brand – especially one with international appeal – can play at retail with a well curated shop. A key here is that the shop is well presented and delivers a brand experience. Of course, it has to sell as well and generally stores of this kind offer a blend of hand picked licensed lines mixed with bespoke items developed exclusively for the shop.

While in Heathrow I popped into WH Smith and had chance to see a great range of LEGO-branded books. I think the majority of these were published by Dorling Kindersley. LEGO seems to have created its own category in publishing with a focus of the range built around books plus formats with LEGO bricks coupled with the books. These books work well as self purchase but also gifts, plus they have broad international appeal which is a real upside for a publisher.

Tom Kerridge's range of pies will arrive on November 1.
Tom Kerridge's range of pies will arrive on November 1.

On board my plane I went, into Lookout flight mode as I noticed British Airways’ in-flight food and drink menu was presented by M&S featuring a ‘best of’ M&S food offering. There was a licensing aspect to this with two food ranges presented by chefs.

One was a tapas selection by ‘Tapas King’ Jose Pizarro featuring an exclusive meal box coupled with a wine offer (the wine is normally only available in Jose’s restaurant). The other featured chef was Tom Kerridge. His range of pies launches on November 1 – something to look forward to. Both pies are ale-based ones including one that features Rebellion Ale. This is a good example of how brewers and food producers are joining forces to create unique food products.

For BA, working with chefs and M&S allows it to tap into expertise and create a more distinct on board offer. For M&S, it is good additional business which allows it to reach an international audience.

Miffy was ever present during Ian's trip to Amsterdam!
Miffy was ever present during Ian's trip to Amsterdam!

On arrival in Amsterdam it became clear that a constant Lookout theme would be spotting Miffy. Maybe my eye was tuned into Miffy but it is clear that Amsterdam and the Netherlands have taken Miffy to their hearts. I spotted standard plush, giant Miffy plush, knitted toys, ceramic versions, a tribute statue outside the Diamond Museum, plenty of books and ‘shop in shop’ displays supported by POS materials including illuminated signs. Miffy is obviously a good seller in Amsterdam and this is a good example of how targeted store-by-store distribution can work for licensees. It speaks to the point that old fashioned ‘direct selling’ by sales reps visiting stores can work and that consumers can be persuaded to buy on impulse in shops with compelling products, good displays and well merchandised windows.

During my stay I managed to visit the excellent Van Gogh Museum – a very welcome return visit. A measure of the museum’s popularity is that you have to pre-book timed entry tickets and indeed on the day I visited, the museum had ‘sold out’. It is a pay to visit museum so visitor numbers are regulated to make sure it is never overcrowded, but it certainly felt like a very popular place.

The Van Gogh Museum has a separate Boutique shop allowing it to explore more premium products.
The Van Gogh Museum has a separate Boutique shop allowing it to explore more premium products.

The museum had a well stocked museum shop and a separate book shop. Furthermore it had segmented its retail offer, with more upscale products being sold in a separate Boutique shop. The products on offer featured standard museum fare blended with some very interesting licensed products and bespoke lines.

Design wise, products featured the expected classic paintings such as Sunflowers and Irises, but did explore a wider representation of Van Gogh’s work.

Many products in the Van Gogh Museum shop featured the artist's classic paintings.
Many products in the Van Gogh Museum shop featured the artist's classic paintings.

When you have such an iconic art collection it is tough to innovate and freshen things up. Licensees and licensing can help with this. Some good examples of this were a range of skateboard decks and a very well developed bedding collection. The latter was given a lot of display space and showed how a traditional licensing category can work with art and heritage.

Tapping into a category like skateboard decks opens up the art to a new and younger audience, while outside the museum shop the skate decks may well deliver the museum some new distribution and connect it with new consumers. The separate Boutique concept allows it to explore more premium products such as watches and ceramics which I guess acts as a test-bed for new categories while accessing higher spend from visitors. It is probably a nod to overseas visitors as well.

A well developed bedding collection was a licensed highlight for the museum.
A well developed bedding collection was a licensed highlight for the museum.

Even at the Van Gogh Museum I couldn’t escape the gaze of Miffy. The shop carried a Miffy Van Gogh plush: an example of how two brands can combine forces to develop a product, particularly when there is ready made distribution. This reminded me of Aardman’s Isambard Kingdom Gromit – a plush Gromit sold exclusively at Bristol’s SS Great Britain. This sort of link can work well for museum shops.

The Van Gogh Museum is located in Amsterdam’s vibrant Museum Quarter which includes the Rijks Museum. There is a museum store in the Quarter which features products from a number of the museums and is a destination store of a kind. Furthermore, the Rijks Museum has a dedicated shop at Amsterdam Airport. Museums are using a lot of different techniques to extend their reach.

I was in Amsterdam to see my son, Daniel, run the Amsterdam Marathon. Despite a knee injury he completed the marathon and ran well. While looking out for him, it occurred to me there is probably an opportunity for more licensing in the running world. Most runners wear club or charity vests which may limit opportunities, but I think there is scope for some licensing here.

Companies like Foska are tapping into it, but I only saw a handful of licensed vests most notably one worn by a runner I called ‘Um Bongo Man’ as he was wearing an Um Bongo fruit juice branded top. I saw Um Bongo Man a few times. Rather surprisingly there were no Miffy ones on show! My suggestion would be a Road Runner vest – maybe in tandem with a charity.

I also noticed there were virtually no runners dressed in fancy dress. Maybe one for Rubie’s and Smiffys to investigate. I look forward to seeing a giant Miffy running next year…

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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