Start Licensing’s Ian Downes catches up with the founder and owner of TruffleShuffle to find out the secret behind its success.
This week I caught up with Pat Wood, the owner and founder of TruffleShuffle. I have known Pat and TruffleShuffle since 2005 and in fact sold him his first licence.
Pat was, and is, a Bananaman fan. This spurred him on to seek out the rights to Bananaman to create an apparel range. This approach to seeking out licences encapsulates a lot of TruffleShuffle’s business outlook and model. It creates products for fans developed and designed by fans. The business has grown and evolved significantly since 2005.
As well as selling its own exclusive ranges, TruffleShuffle stocks a broad range of licensed products from other suppliers. It is a go-to ecommerce store for pop culture fans and part of the licensing landscape. It has made a real effort to understand the licensing business and embrace it. It was also an early adopter of social media and recognised how you can reach fans through digital marketing.
Clearly the ecommerce space is moving at fast pace and new competitors are arriving in TruffleShuffle’s space, but it seems its appetite for licensing hasn’t diminished over time. It is good at finding characters and brands that have fan appeal – it also works hard on its own ranges to ensure the design work is original, fresh and fan friendly.
I am currently working with TruffleShuffle and our client Aardman. It is great to see the enthusiasm for things and Pat and the team’s approach to building business. The company’s success and longevity in the market is also a reminder that new companies are the lifeblood of licensing. I am glad I met Pat all those years ago to talk about bananas, licensing and t-shirts. I have been pleased to see TruffleShuffle flourish as a company.
It was great to catch up with Pat and get his insight into the market. Hope you enjoy the Pat Chat.
Can you tell us a bit about the backstory and launch of Truffleshuffle? What inspired you to start the business?
On a drunken night out in 2004, I had loads of people asking where I got my amazing Goonies t-shirt from. Coming from a niche website in America, I realised there was an easy gap in the market for increasing demand for retro licensed t-shirts in the UK from consumers probably not as confident as I was in buying from random websites across the globe (it was 2004, remember!). If they could buy from a more local, safe feeling website in the UK, they would probably be more confident in converting.
Thinking back to the start of the business are there any key learnings you reflect on that might have helped back at the start?
We genuinely thought licensors would be flocking to our door, offering to pay us for selling wearable advertising with their brands a logos on – oh how naïve we were!
Licensing is at the heart of TruffleShuffle’s business – what does featuring licensing and licensed products offer you as a business?
Licensing brings trust and familiarity to our products. Both licensor and licensee work hard on promoting loveable brands and characters. Fans want to be part of the tribe.
If you were promoting Truffleshuffle to a licensor or agent who hasn’t worked with you before what things would you flag up as reasons to work together?
TruffleShuffle has stood out for nearly 20 years as the premium retailer of licensed apparel and gifts in the UK. We cultivate loyal, happy customers and go above and beyond in every situation to ensure that our products are delivering licensors brands to our consumers safely, happily and ethically.
If I remember correctly you started selling t-shirts only, but now the site features a broad sweep of products. When did you decide to stock other products and what drove the change?
There are some phenomenal licensed products out in the market today, and our customers see TruffleShuffle as the go-to shop for carefully curated, well designed, ethically sourced product. The more we offer, the more we sell.
Truffleshuffle develops a lot of its own products with distinctive design styling – how do you approach the design element of licensing. How do you create unique designs and predict trends?
Very simply, we’re all our own target customers. One of our favourite lines is ‘Made for fans, by fans’ – that sums up the TruffleShuffle design ethic perfectly.
I also noticed that your products are often worn by celebrities and influencers. How does this happen?
Believe it or not, the vast majority of our celebrities and influencers are proactive – i.e. it’s them asking us for our products, not us pushing them. We feel this is the best way to ensure the people promoting our products are actually keen on what we’re offering. There’s nothing worse than an unnatural product placement. Just last week we were gift wrapping an order for a very famous TV star. I love it when they don’t ask for freebies or discounts, we feel it really validates us as a premium retailer.
Are there any characters you would like to feature on the site and in your ranges that you haven’t been able to track down or get on board?
As you well know Ian, we do try to persevere. You and I first met after I searched the trademarks database for who owned Bananaman (back in 2005!) and wrote a polite letter asking if I could sell Banamanan t-shirts. We’re constantly harassing studios, rights holders etc to get the edge on those hard-to-find licences.
Finally, as someone who is at the heart of pop culture who are your three favourite characters or properties and why are they your favourites?
Crocodile Dundee – as a director of a niche retailer, I need to always make sure I’m as niche as they come!
Bananaman – the first in-house designed and manufactured TruffleShuffle range.
Top Gun – it’s been a consistent best seller for us over the years, and wearing a Top Gun tee got me high-fived by Tom Cruise!
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.