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‘We are always in search of the next big thing’

We chat to M&Co’s Julia Redman about how the retailer is carving its successful licensing niche.

When asked to describe M&Co’s USP, Julia Redman, the retailer’s head of buying for kids, mens, Kylie and home, talks enthusiastically about its “community friendly presence” on local high streets.

It’s this approach which has helped M&Co attract a loyal following of customers and, in turn, bring it to the attention of the licensing community. The last few years has seen the retailer considerably ramp up its licensed presence, notably picking up The Radar Award at The Licensing Awards 2016 – and its success is much deserved, as Julia and her team have worked hard to get exactly the right licence mix which is attractive to its shoppers.

“We don’t have the luxury of a separate licensing team, so a number of my team have taken part in the BLE Retail Mentoring Programme [in 2017] to ensure that they all have a good understanding of the licensing process,” Julia explains.

“This has its advantages – each of them is a real specialist in their age/gender category, and are very tuned in to their customer, which helps in their selection of licensed product. We work very closely together as a team to ensure that when we select a licence, we really try and launch it with conviction.”

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Winning The Radar Award, says Julia, was a “huge honour” after all the hard work. “We are a relatively small, family-owned retailer, so to earn this sort of recognition from the industry felt like a huge achievement for myself and my team,” she says. “We had worked very hard to increase our sales on licensed clothing and nightwear, and taken a few calculated risks along the way with licences that were new to us – such as JCB, which proved to be a huge success.”

With a cross section of predominantly mums and grans shopping in its stores, M&Co’s licensed offer reflects the hottest character licences of the moment which kids themselves are asking for (including PAW Patrol, Minecraft and Pokémon), as well as those which can be bought as gifts.

“Our older customer really likes the more nostalgic licences such as The Gruffalo, Winnie the Pooh, Minnie Mouse and The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” says Julia. “Educationally inspired licences such as the Natural History Museum and Science Museum have also sold well.”

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In addition, 2017 also saw M&Co branch into the brands sector with a homewares and fashion accessories collaboration with the Military Wives Choir and CAA-GBG. “We felt there was a real synergy between our customer and the Military Wives Choir membership,” Julia continues. “Many of our stores are in towns that are close to military bases, and having met with some of their committee members, it became clear that we could develop a really special partnership that would be quite unique to the market.”

Although there are no plans to add more brand partnerships at present, Julia says that, should the right partnership materialise, it wouldn’t be ruled out in the future.

Going forward into 2018, the growth ambition from Julia and her team is clear. “I would like to see our collaboration with the Military Wives Choirs growing significantly, and to see more choirs performing at store openings and events, which has been particularly successful. I would also like to see continued success on our core, successful licences and add one or two new ones to the mix.”

And longer term? Julia concludes: “We are always in search of the ‘next big thing’ on childrenswear, so let’s see if we can find another Frozen!”

Licensed learnings

The most important thing that Julia says she has learnt over her career in licensing is to trial a new licence effectively, learn fast and then react quickly.

“This has always been the case, particularly on girlswear, where fashion trends are intrinsically linked to best selling licences,” Julia explains. “From one of the first big licensed trends that I ever bought into – S Club 7 – to High School Musical, Frozen and now JoJo Siwa, over the years it has always been the case.

“When a licensed trend hits the market, it can become a huge deal very quickly, but it can die equally fast, so you have to have a real understanding of its potential lifecycle.”

Julia says that she has also learnt to enlist as much creative support as possible from the licensor. “The bigger the launch, the greater the impact in store and the better the sales figures. JCB has been particularly supportive over the past couple of years, and we are now also working on something exciting with Nick Jr.”

2017 success stories

“We have done really well with Guess How Much I Love You on babywear, particularly the newborn area,” Julia continues. “On boyswear, LEGO Ninjago and PAW Patrol have been strong, as has Harry Potter on nightwear. JoJo Siwa has been the most promising licence for girls.

“I am very excited about the potential for us going forward with JoJo Siwa and, in particular, Peter Rabbit and how that might develop for us.”

This feature originally appeared in the spring 2018 edition of Licensing Source Book. Click here to read the full publication.

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