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The Licensing Lookout: The Wilko way

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes highlights a retailer which has been steadily growing its licensed presence.

A challenge and opportunity rolled into one for licensing is engaging with the wider retail community. Lots of licensing is concentrated in a relatively narrow group of retailers. But looking along the high street, there are retailers featuring licensing products which are maybe off the radar. One of these is Wilko. May have to check to see if it has ever won the Radar Award at The Licensing Awards. If it has, I need to turn my Lookout scanner on.

Wilko has used licensing in a direct way before. I remember working with it some years ago on a Beano gifting range. However, my store visit this week suggested it may have rowed back from licensing a bit and certainly my visit suggested it is not building its own ranges nor buying in depth. I may have caught the shop I visited in a changeover of seasonal product as some shelves were empty and others were being replenished. It is easy to forget the logistics of running a retailer. Managing stock can be tough. It is hard work on the ground.

In many ways, Wilko reminds me of the old Woolworths. A good mix of products including essentials, gifts and treats. From bird seed to biros and bakeware to beer making.

Confectionery brand Millions is featured in a prominent way in-store.
Confectionery brand Millions is featured in a prominent way in-store.

The store I visited was spacious and well laid out. Space was well managed and it was an easy store to shop. While price and value is a key component of the Wilko offer, it is good to see it give good space for displays and also work with some suppliers to offer some retail entertainment. Wilko features the high profile confectionery brand Millions in a serve yourself dispenser that allowed consumers to dispense and mix their own flavour combinations. Not licensing, but a good example of retail activation and a brand creating an opportunity for consumers to immerse themselves further in a brand. Physical retailers need to reflect on brand activation in-store and this is an area licensing can score well in.

Wilko features licensed products delivered by suppliers in categories like personal care. Deodorant brand Lynx has partnered with boxer Anthony Joshua to create a Limited Edition product. I expect more mainstream brands to tap up sports stars for this kind of partnership. Sports stars create great engagement with consumers and help breakthrough advertising clutter. When he fights, Anthony Joshua commands global attention. Sports carry risk and the risks in boxing are well known, but Joshua seems to be a relatively safe bet. Even when he lost his world title he remained high profile and popular.

This is an Olympic year and you can already sense sports tie-ins are being dialled up. Dina Asher-Smith features in a Müller yoghurt campaign at the moment for example.

PAW Patrol Elastoplast was one of the licensed lines in the personal care category.
PAW Patrol Elastoplast was one of the licensed lines in the personal care category.

Certain licensing categories have stalwart licensees. Personal care features H&A – a licensee I remember from my early days in licensing. It has developed a great eye for licences and has innovated when it can. It is a consistent performer which manages relationships well.

In Wilko, the personal care products featuring licensing are standard lines with a focus on price, but H&A is a trusted supplier and one that the retailer recognises knows licensing. It can be trusted. Wilko was stocking Frozen 2 products. It also carried PAW Patrol Elastoplast product. This sort of product is hard to bring on board, but when it is on board it tends to stick (excuse the pun). It is a category where the licensee can’t chop and change, so has to seek out safe bets and IP with international reach.

Wilko shows a strong commitment to categories including bedding and wallpaper.
Wilko shows a strong commitment to categories including bedding and wallpaper.

Wilko shows a strong commitment to categories like bedding and wallpaper. Home improvements and DIY are strong areas. Licensing is relatively light in these areas, however.

Harry Potter and Star Wars from licensee Jay Franco feature in bedding – two solid licences – while Marvel comic art featured in wallpaper. On balance not a bad presence for licensing.

Wilko sells own brand car air fresheners for 75p, making it hard for licences to compete on price.
Wilko sells own brand car air fresheners for 75p, making it hard for licences to compete on price.

A challenge for licensing is to compete on price particularly in a retailer like Wilko where value is part of the proposition. This impacts categories which have been licensing friendly before such as car air fresheners. It was selling own brand car air fresheners for 75p. Tough to compete at those sort of prices. It seemed to be a similar story in the stationery category.

Toy wise Wilko has a decent amount of space for toys, but is heavily skewed to own brand lines for example in construction toys. There were some licensing highlights such as Ryan’s World and Moon and Me. I am guessing the buyer is blending good value high margin own brand lines with carefully selected licensing lines that are on trend or high profile, while not risking too much. Wilko probably feels it is hard to go head to head with the likes of Smyths or The Entertainer. But tapping into newer properties allows the range to remain fresh and gives exposure to the own brand product.

I think here one strategy in toys could be to back some categories in-depth and become a destination for them. For example, role-play toys or activity kits. Potentially an opportunity for a toy supplier to help develop a specific category.

Licensing makes a big splash in Wilko's greeting cards section.
Licensing makes a big splash in Wilko's greeting cards section.

Licensing makes a big splash in Wilko’s greetings card section. This gets decent space in-store and there is a good selection of licensed cards, particularly ones featuring preschool or early years properties.

Rather like at the old Woolworths, confectionery is a core part of Wilko’s offer. No pick and mix like Woolworths but a strong offer in novelty and gift confectionery. Rose Marketing’s Tango range featured heavily including a well presented popping candy range. Rose works hard on product formats and delivering on brand flavour-wise. Very important when licensing a food or drink brand.

Outside of this, PJ Masks and Peppa Pig feature on packs of fruit gummies. Confectionery is a category where there is a trend towards new flavours and formats – a trend influenced by American confectionery.

Rose Marketing's Tango range featured heavily in-store.
Rose Marketing's Tango range featured heavily in-store.

Wilko seems like a retailer that has the potential to do more in licensing, but equally it seems to be doing a lot when you scratch the surface, but in a focused way particularly picking up licensed lines from trusted suppliers.

It seems like a retailer with a very clear mission and one that would use licensing in a careful way. It is more likely to back classic properties rather than chase the next big thing. Although toys does seem a category that allows it to dip into newer ‘on trend’ brands.

Wallace & Gromit are among the characters wishing you a happy Valentine's Day.
Wallace & Gromit are among the characters wishing you a happy Valentine's Day.

Finally to mark your cards Valentine’s wise, I was pleased to see a few licensed Valentine’s cards this week.

Card Factory had Superman and Wonder Woman cards, while Danilo has developed a crackin’ Wallace & Gromit card. It shows that with a proactive approach to design there are new product opportunities out there for licensing.

Support your industry and go licensed this Valentine’s!

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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