Source catches up with head of baby and maternity for George at Asda, Ruth Golightly to find out how its commitment to licensing is paying dividends.
In a year which saw licensed products’ route to retail upended in many ways, grocers continued to be a beacon of light, providing shelf space and visibility for a wide range of properties across character, entertainment and brands.
And for Asda/George @ Asda, the continued commitment to licensed lines throughout last year certainly paid off.
“Despite the pandemic, we have been really fortunate at George; we had our best ever year for licensed products [in 2020] with sales up more than 30% on 2019 both online and in stores,” Ruth Golightly, head of baby and maternity for George @ Asda, tells us. “Disney has been incredible – we launched a Disney shop in October in over 300 stores selling Disney classics, Marvel and Star Wars. Minnie and Mickey have been the brands customers have bought the most, but the newest and biggest growth has been gaming brands, such as Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo.”
The onset of lockdown across the UK, however, did mean some changes, as Ruth explains.
“We had already planned big for gaming products as we entered 2020, but knowing people were in lockdown and at home, we realised we needed to be bolder and move with the ‘lockdown trends’ so we bought even more gaming product which hit down early December and again it smashed all plans,” she says. “We are also fortunate to have a mature online business, which has proved an easy option for many people who have been in lockdown or self-isolating or where other retailers have been closed. The licensing mix online has easily doubled through autumn and winter, gaining new customers that may never have previously bought George product.”
Understandably, licensed product will continue to be one of George’s main priorities in 2021. “Even off the back of a great year we are still planning growth,” Ruth offers. “Licences make you feel good, they feel safe and familiar and we see this trend continuing well into this year with online playing an even bigger part. We realise it’s less about big movie moments and more about all year round evergreens and fashion trends; Disney+ has proved this.”
There are also some big things planned at Asda across all categories for the upcoming summer of sport, including the delayed Euro tournament and the Tokyo Olympics, although Ruth is keeping her powder dry for now. She also hints at “so many exciting partnerships and collaborations planned for 2021” in the brand and lifestyle space. This will further build on the retailer’s activity in the brand sector, which was recognised with a win at last year’s Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Awards in the Best Supermarket Brand Licensed Execution category.
A newly created licensed, brands and collaborations department at George will also focus on not only nurturing and growing existing licensed partnerships, but also bringing new brands and collaboration opportunities to Asda and George. Ruth continues: “Because we have a strong online business, we can easily and quickly try new brands online and roll out to stores if it fits. Looking at working with smaller brands is something we are in discussions about.”
Ruth’s enthusiasm for the licensing business is clear to see. She has been with Asda for some 14 years in various buying roles, driving the retailer’s expansion across licensed product, before taking on her current position in September last year. “The creative teams here live and breathe licensing, and we love what we do,” she says. “It’s never forced and happens organically and naturally; we truly know what our customer wants and are unapologetic in our approach to be bold and own the UK market for licensed clothing.”
When it comes to things learnt about the licensing business in 2020, Ruth adds: “There is always more exciting things coming every year; you can reignite classics as well as pushing boundaries for newness. There is never a dull moment in the world of licensing and the community of the licensing world are the best people to work with.”
And for 2021, Ruth has a simple, clearly focused aim: “After a hugely successful year in 2020, to grow the licensed business again year on year would be amazing… and just to see people in person, at a showcase or dare I say even in Las Vegas, would be lovely.”
The launch of the Disney shop in over 300 Asda stores “exceeded all our expectations” says Ruth, with them performing well ahead of plan in its first few weeks.
The relationship between George and Disney is also expanding further, with the introduction of a Disney Baby shop in January on George.com as well as in approximately 20 stores. This consists of co-ordinated clothing and nursery ranges for all Disney classics, such as Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, Minnie and Mickey Mouse and The Lion King.
In addition, a new Disney premature baby range in organic cotton will be launching in early 2021. “This is affordable clothing for premature babies which we have designed with advice from midwives and neo-natal specialists,” Ruth explains.