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The Licensing Lookout: Reinforcing the value of licensing

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes finds out how brands are creating a point of difference in Oxford.

I was in Oxford this week and made my way through the high street. Oxford is a lovely place to visit even on a rainy day. I noticed that Back to School promotions were in full flow and, of course, in a city like Oxford this is an important retail event and shops were really pushing their promotions.

On one stretch of the street Paperchase, Ryman and The Works were side by side – very different retailers but at the same time similar in terms of product mix. What struck me was that all of them were focusing on price offers. Making it even harder to differentiate them in many ways. Seeing these offers and their proximity to each other, it really struck me how hard it is to be a high steet retailer at the moment.

Scanning other shops it was difficult to see one without a price driven offer. This was at all levels of retail. Maybe August is a time for promotions, but to me it seemed that the current promotions were more aggressive than ever and totally price driven. It clearly is tough out there.

Back to School promotions are currently in full flow.
Back to School promotions are currently in full flow.

When retail catches a cold licensing sneezes. So as an industry we need to be concerned when large parts of the high street are running price promotions. It is difficult to prevent licensed products being wrapped up in price promotions and in some instances featuring in this kind of activity can drive volume, but I think as an industry we need to be mindful of how licensed brands are being traded at the moment and also portrayed at retail.

In a competitive and challenging retail marketplace it may be time to reinforce the value of licensing and licences. Licensing can add value and is a way of connecting with consumers by tapping into their love of a particular IP. My hunch is consumers are seeking out value, but also experiences and uniqueness.

Licensed products that are well designed, perhaps including some added value elements, can really stand out and provide a product experience that goes beyond price. Indeed maybe retailers can think of theming some of their Back to School activity around licensed themes and bring some theatre into store.

The official Paddington shop in Oxford appears to be thriving.
The official Paddington shop in Oxford appears to be thriving.

On the theme of licensing and brands helping to create a point of difference, my journey to Oxford provided a reminder of the potential and possibilities that exist in themed shops.

An official Paddington shop seems to be thriving at the station where it all begun. The shop is well laid out and welcoming. There is a good mix of products, from high end to pocket money prices. For example, it carries a great range of Steiff bears while also selling souvenir keyrings.

The product mix taps into the London location and Paddington’s Britishness with products featuring London scenes and the Union Jack. These are particularly appealing to overseas visitors. Indeed the shop has become a destination for fans.

The shop offers a good mix of products from high-end Steiff bears through to souvenir keyrings.
The shop offers a good mix of products from high-end Steiff bears through to souvenir keyrings.

On my visit a few shoppers were having photos taken with displays and, cleverly the shop has a Paddington statue that was part of an art trail a few years ago.

An observation here is that a shop can help create a shopping experience by its design, layout and features. This sort of retailing may not be scaleable, but there are elements of it that provide good ideas for other retailers and reinforce the value of a licence.

One other point from Paddington’s shop is that he hasn’t forgotten his Peruvian roots. The shop was selling a range of accessories made by artisan crafters from Peru. A nice touch and an example of how famous characters can make a difference.

The University of Oxford operates a couple of official shops.
The University of Oxford operates a couple of official shops.

When I arrived in Oxford I saw another example of a well thought out and presented shop. Oxford is, of course, a University town and the University attracts a lot of tourists. As a result there are a lot of relatively low grade tourist shops selling souvenir product.

The University of Oxford has a licensing programme and a raft of licensees. Recognising the value of location and themed retailing, it operates a couple of official University of Oxford shops. These are stocked with a mix of licensed products and ‘own brand’ items. The general quality is good and the product fits the brand well. Window displays and signage convey the fact that the shop is an official one well. I am guessing the shops do well in their own right, but they also help police the market keeping infringers to a minimum.

I also noticed an apparel shop that had signage conveying the point that it sold official licensed University of Oxford product. I am guessing this is a kind of affiliate retail programme, but it is also an example of how licensors can work with retailers to reinforce their offer in a relatively simple way but one that is effective on the ground. I would say that visiting an official shop is part of the ‘Visit Oxford’ experience. The University has struck a good balance in respecting tradition while being contemporary and commercial.

The shop at the Oxford Story Museum stocks licences including Moomin and Elmer.
The shop at the Oxford Story Museum stocks licences including Moomin and Elmer.

Finally I visited the retail outlet at Oxford’s Story Museum. It was well stocked with items like plush from Moomin and Elmer. It is a Museum shop focused on storytelling and, therefore, selling book-related merchandise is a natural for the shop.

It also shows how licensed products can work in different types of retail, but also that there are sales opportunities out there. Licensing can enhance the retail experience at many levels. Maybe this is the time to add value rather than take it away.

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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