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The Licensing Lookout: The festive countdown

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes spots the signs of Christmas well and truly arriving at retail.

Christmas certainly seems to have arrived at retail, with the majority of retailers now switching their efforts to the Christmas push. It is a big Christmas for retail and I would imagine a lot of retailers are hoping that their Christmas present is a sustained period of strong sales.

One real sign of Christmas arriving at retail is when Christmas jumpers go on sale. This now seems to be a new tradition and licensing is playing its part in keeping it alive. However, if there was (and to be clear I am not advocating it) was an award for Best Christmas Jumper I think the competition would be closed already. I spotted a sure winner in Sainsbury’s with this year’s Coca-Cola jumper. Calling out the iconic advertising with the Coca-Cola truck, it would be difficult to see any other jumper beating it. It has deployed the Holidays Are Coming strapline as well. But I will keep an open mind until December 25.

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This trend has extended to Christmas themed t-shirts and licensing has embraced this opportunity well with specific designs created with Christmas theming. A further example of how investment in bespoke design can pay dividends.

Sainsbury’s is selling a Wham! t-shirt based around the hit single Last Christmas, which is a clever way of using music licensing, while TV favourite Only Fools and Horses features with Del Boy billed as a ‘Christmas Geezer’. I sincerely hope that there is a ‘Kushty’ Christmas t-shirt and jumper set out there somewhere.

Christmas should be a welcome boost to licensing, but you still have to find places to sell and ways to reach consumers – you can no longer just expect sales to happen. With this in mind I visited the Country Living Christmas Fair at the Business Design Centre in Islington last week. One reason was to scout out some new business contacts and the other was to catch up with some existing licensees – those who had decided to sell product directly to consumers at the event. I think this initiative should be applauded. It is easy to sit back and bemoan the state of the becalmed market, but it is refreshing to see that some licensees are throwing a pebble in the pond to provoke a reaction.

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Sock licensee Roy Lowe & Sons was at the show selling a range of colourful Made in Britain socks. The company was having a good show: I saw it make four sales in the ten minutes I was on the stand. It was also selling some licensed socks, again Made in Britain which seems to be a very strong selling point and also allows it to turn things round quickly.

It used the show to launch a range of Beer Socks including brands such as Becks, Budweiser, Bass and Boddington’s. A well chosen set of licences with Christmas presents in mind.

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Another licensee selling at the event was My Design Company which was selling its innovative musical card featuring The Snowman which includes the memorable theme tune to the classic animation. The product and concept has been developed by My Design Company and was launched with its own designs, but it realised that The Snowman was a perfect fit with the product format. The result is a really original card that makes great use of a classic licence.

As well as selling the card, the company was selling a range of other Snowman items including books. Again the stand was busy and sales were being made.

Clearly the volume of sales achieved in three or four days at an event like the Country Living Christmas Fair won’t match a listing in a supermarket, but what it does do is create momentum and delivers direct sales which will be at a higher margin. It creates a sales history as well that might persuade other retail buyers to come on board. It is also a way of talking to consumers and getting feedback.

Country Living also uses its own show to showcase some of its own licensed products including Carousel Calendars’ diaries and calendars. A welcome bit of distribution I would imagine.

A further highlight was a DFS display of the Country Living furniture collection. A really good example and reminder that licensing can ‘play’ in a range of categories even non-traditional ones, especially when the rights owner has a media platform to support product and is prepared to use it proactively. The DFS and Country Living partnership seems a strong one.

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In my own work it has been a big week as Nadiya Hussain’s homewares range from BlissHome has launched. We are delighted with the range and it really is a ‘hands-on’ development with Nadiya selecting colours, shapes and finishes. In this case the licensee has also taken an initial direct to consumer route for sales. The range is being sold online through a dedicated webstore. It will move into other retailers in the New Year but for the initial launch a direct to market approach has been taken primarily to create momentum, get customer feedback and to establish the range. Initial feedback is good, some great PR has been achieved and sales are being made. It is good to see and has created momentum.

There is no doubt it is harder to get an initial listing at retail these days, whoever you are, and I suspect we will see more examples of direct to consumer selling. This is not turning your back on the traditional model, more a case of operating a mixed economy and strategy.

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Coupled with a shift in selling strategy I think we have to be more open minded and creative in developing products, ideas and opportunities for selling. I saw a good example of this at the SS Great Britain gift shop in Bristol this week.

The SS Great Britain was designed by Brunel who was well known for wearing a stove pipe hat. Working with one of its licensees, Bristol-based Aardman has created a plush Gromit wearing a very similar hat which is now being sold in the gift shop. A simple but very effective idea that has created new sales and brand exposure. I think it is a time for creativity, fresh thinking and proactivity.

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It has been a big week for Aardman with the company moving to an employee ownership scheme, but also it was busy helping Prince Charles celebrate his 70th birthday. A specially made Wallace & Gromit short was shown as part of a birthday event at the London Palladium. Apparently Charles is a Wallace & Gromit superfan and judging by the smile on his face he really appreciated the personal message from Wallace & Gromit even if they did call him Chuck!

I look forward to seeing some of you tonight at The Light Fund Southern Quiz. It should be a lot of fun – there might even be a question about Brunel, Aardman and Christmas jumpers…

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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