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“We’re evolving all the time, we’re not complacent”

Source talks to Primark’s Sarah Jackson about why licensing is at the heart of the retailer’s store experience.

Walking into the new Birmingham Primark store, you can immediately see why its opening back in April 2019 garnered so much press coverage. Comprising 160,000 square feet over five floors, it is the largest global fashion store – a fact verified by Guinness World Records – and, as well as apparel and accessories, houses a barbers, beauty salon, personalised print station and a healthy gifting section.

Notably, licensing is very much to the fore – there are dedicated Disney and Harry Potter shop-in-shops, plus large exclusive Funko and Disney Baby offers and a dedicated Disney café.

Indeed, the importance of licensing to the retailer across its entire store portfolio has been further underlined by the promotion of Sarah Jackson to the role of director of licensing.

“Primark only started selling licensed product in 2011,” Sarah tells us when we sit down after our tour of the store. “Considering that, it’s been a monumental journey really. Primark is an innovative business and once we see an opportunity we really want to maximise it.”

Primark has worked closely with Warner Bros. on its Harry Potter product and experiences.
Primark has worked closely with Warner Bros. on its Harry Potter product and experiences.

Sarah has a pedigree in licensing, of course. Before joining Primark five years ago, she spent ten years at George @ Asda, latterly as head of buying for boyswear and licensing. She is a lady who truly appreciates the benefit that licences can have in a retail environment.

“My role is really to set strategic opportunities across all product teams and maximise those,” she explains. “We’re looking at new experiences, working with licensors and really creating all of those exciting moments for our customers in-store.”

That closeness with licensors is brought to life with the Warner Bros. and Disney experiences in-store. The Harry Potter shop was first launched in the Oxford Street East store and has been a huge hit, while there is also a Friends Central Perk café in the Manchester outlet.

Disney, meanwhile, is Primark’s longest standing partner, with the two companies having worked together on DTRs since 2011. “What we’ve done over the last few years is really mature that partnership now; working really closely in collaboration together, looking at the opportunities for strategic growth and identifying opportunities, such as Birmingham, we’ve really elevated that growth even further,” Sarah continues. “We’ve landed Disney Baby stores in all of our German stores, soon to be rolled out across further stores in Europe. So identifying those commercial opportunities and working closely together and communication has really unlocked some fantastic growth.”

Visitors to stores last December will have seen an impactful Star Wars campaign, tying in with the box office release of The Rise of Skywalker, as well as Frozen 2 activations, and there’s more to come from the partnership throughout 2020 and beyond, Sarah promises.

The retailer kicked off a partnership with Netflix in January, starting with Stranger Things.
The retailer kicked off a partnership with Netflix in January, starting with Stranger Things.

Further growth this year will also come from new collaborations. This kicked off in January with a partnership with Netflix which saw an exciting Stranger Things campaign launching. Sarah also hinted at more focus on music, gaming and sports moving forward, too.

So what does Sarah and her team look for in a relationship with a licensor? “We definitely look for open and honest communication – that really is key,” she says. “We will work really closely with them to have a joint strategy with mutual benefits for both sides. They also need to be innovative… what’s the next new product, what does the customer really want to see, how do we delight our customers each and every day… that’s always a challenge that we give to the licensor.”

And Sarah is also keen to point out that Primark is open to looking at all brands, regardless of size. “Come and talk to us as we’re definitely interested in all brands. Primark is across 12 countries, we have lots of different demographics and some brands work in certain regions better than others, so there are always opportunities.”

Ultimately, the key for Primark is offering amazing product at amazing prices, says Sarah. “We’re evolving all the time, we’re not complacent and that’s really important. I think customers love to come and shop in-store… Primark is a bricks and mortar business and customers love that experience, and we’re making the store experience even more exciting than ever.”

The Friends Central Perk café is in the Manchester store.
The Friends Central Perk café is in the Manchester store.

Primark fast facts

  • Primark was founded in Dublin in 1969 and is still headquartered there, above its first store on Mary Street.
  • It also has regional offices in Reading, Madrid, Essen, Paris and Boston.
  • Primark is a subsidiary of Associated British Foods, the international food, ingredients and retail group, with global sales of £15.8bn.
  • As of January 1, 2020, Primark has 376 stores across 12 countries – the Republic of Ireland, UK, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, France, Italy, Slovenia and the US.
  • The new Birmingham store opened in April 2019 and, at 160,000 square feet and covering five floors, it is the largest global fashion store.
  • The Birmingham outlet also has three food and beverage offerings – including the Primark Café with Disney – as well as a barber, a beauty studio and Disney shopping area.

2019 in licences

“2019 was definitely a Disney year – from Toy Story through to The Lion King and Disney Baby, we had a great year with Disney, as well as obviously opening the Disney Café in Birmingham,” Sarah explains. “In other areas such as menswear, we had a great time with NASA and Coca-Cola; those kind of lifestyle brands where we’ve really elevated our fashion credentials.

“Within kidswear, we had a great time on gaming, including Minecraft and PlayStation. Gaming is really key for us, as you will have seen from the shop floor at Birmingham.”

Sarah continues: “In the women’s space, we collaborated with Ariana Grande for her world tour which was very successful, alongside Friends which is in most product categories. So we had a few key properties in 2019 to name a few, I would say!”

This feature originally appeared in the spring 2020 edition of Licensing Source Book. To read the full publication, click on this link.

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