Licensing Lookout: Ian Downes Visits A Trio Of Trade Shows

Having visited three dedicated trade shows recently, Ian Downes highlights that licensee companies are more readily exploring new product areas and distribution.

“May was a month of trade shows for me. I attended three shows as a visitor – Distoy (a show focused on toy distribution), the London Stationery Show and Progressive Greetings Live. All three shows are focused ones serving specific market sectors. Obviously, the experience and value of a trade show can vary from person to person, company to company. I know that there is often some debate about the value of trade shows, but my experience of all three shows was positive, not least as the shows were well curated, focused and created momentum within their industry sector.

For me, a big plus is the way trade shows bring people together. In a working world, where people are less frequently ‘in the office’, trade shows provide a ready-made network in which to participate. Licensing is a multi-product business and, as such, most of us who work in it have to develop business relationships across categories. In this context, trade shows create a forum for business development but also nurturing relationships.

One takeaway across all three trade shows was how licensee companies are more readily exploring new product areas and distribution. In general terms this is a reflection of the shift in the shape of retail – gift retailing being a great example of the trend for retailers to embrace different categories of product, branching out from their traditional offerings. A further trend seems to be that retailers are pressing existing suppliers to supply a wider range of products with the benefit to them that they are engaged with fewer suppliers. Licensees and licensed brands fit well into both these scenarios.

Thinking of these it was interesting to see greetings card company Hype’s range of button badges at Progressive Greetings Live. These are low priced pick up items that coordinate with their card ranges.  Hype have designed counter top boxes for the badges which retailers can site at till points. This is an easy win for retailers, as Hype have provided a ready made sales kit that takes up very little space. Licensed brands like Wallace & Gromit and Mr Men suit this style of selling well.

Likewise, it is interesting to see licensees such as Cheatwell Games use licensing to bolster their portfolios and to give them quick access to design themes that are in demand from retail at the moment. Cheatwell have jigsaw puzzles, sourced from US company Cobble Hill for Edith Holden’s Country Diary and Brambly Hedge. Both brands fit well into the garden centre retail sector but also suit more general gift retailers who are seeking products that are gardening, country and art themed. Licensing is a way of accelerating access to in-demand product but also is a short cut to proven brands that work in particular settings.

At the London Stationery Show it was encouraging to see well known and trusted brands such as Crayola participating. It was also good to see how they have integrated licensed products and licensees into their core offering. Their stand included co- branded licensed lines that they have developed alongside licensee products such as activity books. From a retailer perspective this allows them to take a one stop approach to buying; they can buy into the Crayola brand in depth in a coordinated way.

This is another strength of licensed brands – licensing helps brands to stretch their brands in a coordinated way and to build coordinated ranges, leaning on the expertise of well-chosen licensees. Being at a trade show also allowed Crayola to show retailers a range of display options and retail set ups so buyers could see how the brand could come alive in their stores.

Different in store selling options are increasingly important for retailers – licensees and rights owners have to think about innovative ways that their licensed products can be presented at retail. A good example of this is the more frequent use of branded FSDUs in shops at the moment.

While trade shows require an investment of time, money and resource my May trade show tour reinforced my view that it is an investment worth making. Shows have to evolve in terms of content and engagement but that seems to be happening. It was encouraging to see how licensing is allowing manufacturers to think differently and to provide retailers with market ready solutions.  Trade shows gave them the chance to showcase these developments.”

Ian Downes, Start Licensing

07776 228454 |

Top: Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency.

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