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The Licensing Lookout: Optimism in tough times

It’s the week after BLE and Start Licensing’s Ian Downes is just surfacing from the show ‘bubble’.

It doesn’t seem a week ago that we were in the ‘Olympia BLE Bubble’. I am sure like most other exhibitors I have spent a lot of the week trying to read my meeting notes, sort out a pile of business cards and sift through various brochures.

There is certainly a lot to follow up on and I am looking forward to pursuing some interesting opportunities. Although I did chuckle at the first card stapled in my contacts book – it was for a stand design company: a real vote of confidence at 1 minute past 9 in our stand design or rather we met a very confident sales person. For the record I was delighted with our stand and it got a lot of positive feedback.


It was also great to be part of a ‘live event’ at BLE and join Nadiya Hussain on stage for a Licensing Q&A. This event went really well and it was great to hear Nadiya’s enthusiasm for licensing. A real vote of confidence in the business of licensing and a tick in the box for BLE to have support from a personality like Nadiya.

I have left my desk a few times this week – once to pop into Sainsbury’s. As we know retail is tough at the moment and I felt for store staff this week as there was a real crossover of ‘retail events’ colliding. Shelves and posters were proclaiming Halloween products, Christmas gifts, fireworks and Diwali products, plus of course all the ‘normal’ stuff. It must be tough to stock shelves at the moment. I guess another way of looking at it was that there are plenty of chances for smart licensors, agents and licensees to tap into seasonal opportunities.

It is good to see licensees following consumer trends and part of Sainsbury’s Christmas gifting range reflected this with a range from BB Designs featuring the Tour de France brand. Tapping squarely into the cycling trend. Products included a drinks flask , wash bag and cycle record book. The design had a retro feel to it coupled with liberal use of yellow calling out the iconic yellow jersey.

Sainsbury’s also taps well into composite gifting by using high profile alcohol brands such as Bailey’s. Licensees such as Beams are very good at utilising brands like this and refreshing them annually with new NPD and gifting combinations. There was also a reminder that there are classic Christmas characters in the market – a prime example being The Snowman.

Sainsbury’s was carrying Thornton’s chocolate Snowman hollow figures and other lines. I think The Snowman is a really good example of a seasonal brand that has been well managed and nurtured over recent years to giving it an enhanced retail presence. It is also helpful to have a cornerstone range with a big player like Thorntons.


I had a bit of a retro licensing moment this week as well. Many years ago in my CPLG and Fox Kids days I worked on the property Casper. He is a friendly ghost. We did very well with him and I remember he was one of the first characters to have a Glow in the Dark apparel range. I had actually forgotten about Casper but was reminded of him in Poundland.

Rather cleverly Poundland and a licensee have joined forces to create an exclusive range of Halloween confectionery. A smart move and a really good use of a classic character like Casper. I wonder if this was retailer, licensee or licensor lead. It is a good reminder that it is sometimes worth having a look through your rights archive and assessing if there are some properties in there that with a refresh might well have a second life in a retail market that is more seasonally driven.


I also popped into one of my local department stores this week – Bentalls in Kingston. I haven’t been there for a while and it looks like it has been given a really effective makeover. New displays coupled with a new floor layout have freshened it up and made it a more attractive store. What was really nice to see from a licensing perspective was that Bentalls featured a lot of licensed products.

Bentalls has a great toy department which covers a lot of floorspace and is well presented. It has the feel of the old FAO Schwarz in New York. One feature here was how suppliers like LEGO have worked with Bentalls to create fun and eye-catching POS displays. There was a large scale LEGO Hagrid and a Harry Potter. Using characters like this adds an identity to the department and draws customers in.

For Warner Bros. it is great exposure and in the age of social sharing it creates instant social media fodder. Indeed LEGO also had an interactive kiosk that allows consumer ‘to see’ what LEGO character they are.


Bentalls has given a lot of space to calendars and has created dedicated displays for product in the centre of the shop floor. I thought this was good and a vote of confidence in the category.

Many retailers seem to treat calendars as an after thought and don’t display them well. Bentalls cannot be accused of that. It has given a broad range great exposure and really let the calendars covers sell themselves. Some interesting selections included art-based calendars such as Beryl Cook, classics such as Moomin and heritage such as the RHS. Bentalls also stocked some nice licensed diaries such as Emma Bridgewater.


I also spotted the latest Moleskine ‘collab’ with a noteworthy display for a range of Moleskine Barbie products featuring some classic illustration artwork. Moleskine seems well committed to partnerships of this kind and one can only assume that it is a successful formula for it.

Staying with toy brands, I thought that a Hot Wheels Advent Calendar that comes with eight free cars was great. Not sure if this is a licence or a direct bit of business from Mattel, but either way it is a very clever product that I would imagine will do very well.


My visit to Bentalls was a really positive one – a really well presented store with some very appealing products including some high quality licensed products. For Licensing PLC it is really good news to see stylish independent department stores like Bentalls featuring licensed products in their ranges. A cause for optimism in tough times.


BLE was also the launch pad for a new property for us, Claude. Claude is a TV series based on some very successful books by Alex T Smith. Next year, Claude will be one of the World Book Day £1 books.

BLE was a great opportunity to chat Claude to people and we had a great reaction to the property. I felt so on brand with Claude that when I was passing through M&S’ ladies department in Kingston, I had to try on a red beret and pull off my best Claude pose.

I think that was the moment I realised that BLE really is a bubble we all live in for three days… that said I did get some good feedback from fellow shoppers in Kingston. Red really is my colour!

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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