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The not so secret Garden… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes visits the vibrant and bustling area of London that is Covent Garden and finds some strong examples of focused licensing.

On Saturday I was invited by one of our clients, Aardman, to attend the first public screening of Robin, Robin. This is a new film that will be on Netflix later this year.

The screening was at the BFI on the South Bank and was part of the London Film Festival. The South Bank and the BFI are always good places to visit so it wasn’t the most arduous ‘work task’ I have been asked to undertake. Destination and location can make all the difference sometimes.

That said, the film didn’t disappoint and more than delivered in its own right. Robin, Robin was an absolute delight and is a classic in the making – lovely characters, warm colours, memorable music and beautiful animation. Add in voice talent like Richard E. Grant, Bronte Carmichael and Gillian Anderson and you have a recipe for success.

Robin, Robin is due to broadcast on Netflix later this year.
Robin, Robin is due to broadcast on Netflix later this year.

After the film I attended a drinks reception at a new hotel in Covent Garden. It is a new hotel in an old building – the building used to house Bow Street Police Station and Magistrates Court.

One consequence of things changing in London is it allows an old Londoner like me to reminiscence about the past. Covent Garden is an area that has changed dramatically over the years. The Piazza originally housed a flower market – it is one of a number of London markets that have been moved out of central London over the years.

Some of the street names give a clue to Covent Garden’s history, as do a few plaques left on the walls from the market days.

The Covent Garden Piazza originally housed a flower market.
The Covent Garden Piazza originally housed a flower market.

Covent Garden is now a bustling and vibrant shopping quarter. Given current circumstances it was surprisingly busy on Saturday. The bars and restaurants were all doing good business, while there were queues outside shops like Dr Martens – old style queues, not safe distance shopping queues. Covent Garden seems to be very much a destination location, in part driven by the retailers located there. A number of retailers have showcase stores there while other leisure and heritage operators give it a further retail dynamic.

It is an interesting location for anyone in licensing to visit as it seems to be a little micro climate of current retail trends and styles particularly in regards to destination, specialist and experiential retailing.

Gifting and collectables company, The Noble Collection, has a dedicated shop in the area.
Gifting and collectables company, The Noble Collection, has a dedicated shop in the area.

Gifting and collectables company, The Noble Collection, has a dedicated shop in the area.

The Noble Collection has developed a strong licensing portfolio centred on fan franchises like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Batman. It has created high-end bespoke collections such as Harry Potter wands. It also seems to have branched out into other product areas and franchises. The shop has been fitted out to reflect the individual brands and has a high-end feel to it.

I am sure it is a destination store for fans and I am guessing it acts as a great showcase for Noble Collection to show other retailers and distributors. It certainly contributes to the sense that Covent Garden is an area worth visiting from a shopping perspective.

Urban Outfitters features licensing in-store in a focused way.
Urban Outfitters features licensing in-store in a focused way.

Near to The Noble Collection there is a large branch of retailer Urban Outfitters, a busy and buzzing store.

Part of Urban Outfitters’ appeal seems to be its mix of products and brands. There is a good variety of both with a nod to on-trend categories such as vinyl. Licensing features in store but in a focused way. Examples include Pulp Fiction and Peanuts t-shirts, plus socks featuring Keith Haring’s artwork.

It is a store where fashion meets pop culture. Licensing certainly has a role to play in this mix, but one senses Urban Outfitters will always favour designs that aren’t widely available elsewhere.

The Art of Banksy exhibition has a pop-up in Covent Garden currently.
The Art of Banksy exhibition has a pop-up in Covent Garden currently.

Covent Garden is also playing host to an Art of Banksy exhibition and also a Harry Potter pop up exhibition I believe as well. I didn’t pop into either of these but both are good examples of how live events and hybrid locations are part of the licensing mix these days. As you would expect at the Banksy exhibition, you had to leave through the gift shop. I imagine it featured licensed and special edition products.

Again there is also the dynamic that all the shops and attractions pull together in Covent Garden to create the sense of a super destination.

The London Transport Museum featured a new ceramics range featuring tile patterns from underground stations.
The London Transport Museum featured a new ceramics range featuring tile patterns from underground stations.

With the Royal Opera House and the London Transport Museum in the area as well, there are further reasons to visit. Both of these venues had some interesting product on sale.

The London Transport Museum had launched its Christmas product range which featured some interesting repeat patterns and it was also showcasing a new ceramics range which features some of its heritage assets – tile patterns from Underground stations I believe. Transport for London seems to use the Museum store as a showcase for its wider ranges including licensed products but also as a test bed for new designs. It is a great retail laboratory.

The Royal Opera House has a lovely gift shop which features some licensed products including a range which has been developed in conjunction with design firm Timorous Beasties. Again, the shop draws consumers in as a destination shop. I saw lots of family groups shopping there who were looking for specific items such as ballet related gifts.

An A-Z quiz book was among the licensed finds in Stanfords.
An A-Z quiz book was among the licensed finds in Stanfords.

It was also interesting to see what travel specialist Stanfords was doing licensing wise.

Stanfords is metaphorically and literally a destination store. It has been in Covent Garden for many years but is in a new location now. One licensing highlight that seems appropriate this week was the selection of branded quiz books which included an A-Z quiz book and a National Maritime Museum quiz book.

In addition, it had a spinner from the Wooden Postcard Company that includes vintage Ladybird and London Transport art postcards – all chosen to suit the London location. Likewise the children’s book selection includes the likes of a London-themed Peppa Pig book. Again a reminder that licensed product can be developed in a specific way to fit into specific retail environments.

The Pineapple Studios brand has a store across from its iconic dance studio.
The Pineapple Studios brand has a store across from its iconic dance studio.

I also sense other brand owners use their Covent Garden shops to influence licensees, licensing and other commercial partners. The brand Pineapple Studios has a shop across the road from its iconic dance studio. It probably does good business in its own right as a destination store, but it is also a great shopfront to share with other partners not least as they will see how consumers respond to the brand.

It was also good to see Happy Socks showcasing its latest licensing range in its Covent Garden store. It has developed a Monty Python range featuring designs sourced from the classic comedy series. Happy Socks runs a mixed economy retailing wise supplying other retailers, but the Covent Garden store gives it a foundation stone from which to build new ranges. It probably selects some licensed ranges now knowing they will work in the shop.

N. Peal's window display is a visual statement of its James Bond partnership.
N. Peal's window display is a visual statement of its James Bond partnership.

A final Covent Garden highlight was N. Peal’s window display which was a visual statement showcasing its partnership with the latest James Bond film. Of course, this is a noteworthy partnership in its own right but in the context of a location like Covent Garden it creates a real opportunity to make a brand statement and to send a message out to consumers. In this context Covent Garden provides a brilliant brand billboard. In the age of social media sharing it is a great place to be seen in and I am sure the window display has been shared many times over.

Finally, and returning to Aardman, this week saw the launch of a new range of pet accessories focused on Wallace & Gromit. One of the products in the range is a Wallace dog sweater. I persuaded my whippet Tess to model it for me. I think she did a good job. Licensing is all about teamwork after all…

LL10

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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