Horticultured | The Royal Horticultural Society on bringing 200 years’ of gardening history to new audiences

From garden tools to wine, and chocolates to canvas shoes, all via the mulch aisle, when the Royal Horticultural Society puts its name to something, it carries with it the weight of over 200 years’ of rich heritage and authority on the subject of the country’s unerring love affair with the garden and the produce of the natural world it inhabits.

At a time in which heritage licensing is witnessing a stark upwards curve in demand from consumers today, while gardening is seeing an equal surge in consumer interest from across the age ranges, spanning children an families, to young adults and of course the core audience within which the RHS brands sits, it’s understandable that the organisation’s licensing division has become a hive of activity, abuzz with excitement over its latest developments in the space.

Here, Licensing.biz catches up with Cathy Snow, licensing manager at the RHS to find out how the firm brings its 200 years of history to the contemporary licensing space, what audiences are demanding from the heritage licensing sector today, and how the Royal Horticultural Society is embracing and encouraging new audiences to explore Britain’s own back gardens.

Hello Cathy, thank you for chatting with us today. To kick us off, could you give us an overview of the RHS brand and the values that it brings to the licensing space? How does the brand’s licensing efforts work to promote the ethos of the RHS, from wildlife and conservation to health and wellbeing?

Cathy Snow, Licensing Manager, RHS: “Inspiring everyone to grow” is our brand message and gardening has been our focus for over 200 years. But we turn this messaging into action. The Royal Horticultural Society is a charity, yes, but it’s also a campaigning institution, an educational powerhouse, and the owner of some of the most popular visitor centres and gardening shows in the country, regularly attracting millions of people. We also support everyday gardening and its proven physical and mental benefits, many of which became more apparent than ever last year.

Of course our licensing work helps us to fund these efforts and raise awareness of them. But licensing itself has to fit in with the brand and its ideals. Sustainability and good ethical and environmental practices are important in our campaigning work but also important in terms of choosing partners and supporting their manufacturing processes. 

The RHS brand is a hugely reputable and deeply respected name. How do you leverage the rich heritage of the brand itself to build on the licensing portfolio? Where do you begin with building out a programme for such a revered name as RHS?

The overall RHS licensing campaign, quite reasonably, references the brand’s rich British history. But it does a lot more than that. Our products succeed in the marketplace because we look at our core strengths and assets and focus on products centered around those. This approach is especially notable in the gardening category, where high-quality tools and stylish garden furniture are promoted alongside peat-free gardening products, and an extensive range of core gardening essentials suited to every level of gardening ability.

“More heritage organisations than ever are entering the licensing arena and developing licensed products – but the best of them are not solely focused on commercial gain.”

However, this approach also influences other categories, which aim to raise awareness of our work and ideals. Many designs – including those used on a growing selection of adult apparel – are inspired by imagery from the RHS Lindley Collections, the world’s largest collection of botanical art. Scholastic UK has launched a programme of entertaining, informative and beautifully illustrated activity books for children aged seven to 12, encouraging readers to explore and enjoy nature outdoors. Information on tags and packaging helps to promote our work. Our children’s clothing promotes gardening in a fun way with veg and plant imagery and witty slogans. And of course many of our products are made by craftspeople and sourced in the UK.

Whatever the category the licensing team work with licensees and retailers not only to provide the best possible products but also to educate consumers about gardening and share our own love of horticulture with everyone no matter their age, ability or gardening space. 

How has ‘heritage licensing’ changed over recent years, what do consumers expect in terms of brand narrative and story-telling in ‘heritage licensing’ today, and how is this reflected in your approach to licensing RHS?

More heritage organisations than ever are entering the licensing arena and developing licensed products – but the best of them are not solely focused on commercial gain. RHS licensed products must be relevant, appropriate and the best quality possible. If we don’t think a product is right for the RHS, we won’t approve it.

Consumers expect RHS licensed products to outperform other similarly available items; if a customer buys a pot with a 10-year frost-proof guarantee they expect it to last for more than 10 years. This is why we carefully approve every product and check its performance and quality. 

And of course, the brand narrative – inspiring everyone to grow – influences all our partnerships, from garden tools to wine and chocolates, and from mulch to canvas shoes.

The licensing and story-telling potential that RHS boasts must be incredibly exciting. What level of creativity does the depth of the portfolio afford you with your licensing plans? How are you applying innovation in licensing to new and varied audiences?

The RHS style guides are an obvious starting point. They make use of the RHS Lindley Collections – the world’s largest collection of botanical art, including some 25,000 works. This is the perfect combination of exciting and original but also highly appropriate material.

However, the RHS encourages licensees to use the Collections as they see fit – the art is an inspiration rather than a rulebook. For example, the recent Hotter range of canvas shoes created two exclusive repeat pattern designs from Lindley Collections illustrations to deliver something unique and evocative, while the Oasis design team re-sketched its chosen images by hand for a series of prints to be used in a new fashion collection.

“Gardening came into its own in pandemic-hit 2020 when RHS gardening product licensees saw a surge in sales, and the health benefits (physical and mental) of gardening were not just interesting insights but news headlines.”

Regularly refreshed style guides add to the choice. One such was the very successful RHS Licensing Geometric Style Guide 2018; this uses Parterre and knot garden styles dating from the 1600s and 1700s to reflect the trend for geometric designs. Another was a style guide for children’s products – building on the charity’s success in outreach for children, families and schools, and in child-friendly events at its gardens and shows.

And yes, there are new audiences, and we constantly monitor home and garden trends. For instance, our supporter base is changing. A younger audience is discovering the benefits of outdoor spaces and gardening. We’ve therefore expanded our product portfolio into products for children, families and younger adults, and children’s products will be a major focus for the RHS in the post-pandemic world. A recent success was an association with the award-winning George brand that produced a fabulous collection of children’s clothing and accessories aimed at one to seven year olds. There’s also been an RHS-inspired series of children’s books from Scholastic UK. 

How can licensing unlock the values of gardening, the outdoors, nature, wellbeing and all that RHS stands for with new generations?

For our gardening products – a major part of our licensed offering – there’s a clear link. And of course, gardening came into its own in pandemic-hit 2020 when RHS gardening product licensees saw a surge in sales, and the health benefits (physical and mental) of gardening were not just interesting insights but news headlines.

But even with homeware, apparel, confectionery and other non-gardening categories we aim to use packaging and POS to inform and educate where we can. We have thousands of botanical artworks available to licensees, many of which inspire product designs. These help to raise awareness of our gardens, flower shows, research, education and the excellent advice and information we can offer on all horticultural matters.

We always try to innovate and lead; this is reflected in our licensed products.

As for new generations, the move into children’s products – which actually started before Covid and lockdown – reflects the changing age of our supporters and, of course, the many initiatives the RHS as a whole has in place for children and schools.

How has the consumer’s relationship with ‘heritage licensing’ changed in the last 12 months? Has lockdown and the pandemic changed the way in which people want to experience art and culture? How does this influence your licensing strategy?

Consumers seem to be looking for products made by hand and closer to home, which we encourage, where feasible, through relationships with craft groups and UK-based partners. The growing public appeal of craft suppliers and companies based in the UK, as well as sustainability – in particular with the younger audience – fits in well with the brand values of the RHS.

Recyclable packaging, less plastic, low-impact manufacturing – these have always been aims of ours, but consumer awareness of environmental issues is now growing, and manufacturers are responding to this.

Another trend has been a huge increase in royalties for products for the home and especially the garden, not to mention more distribution channels opening up as retailers who might not normally look at gardening products or licensed products adjust to meet demand. 

“We won’t ever be complacent, but we do think we are now well positioned to grow the brand even more without compromising its values.”

What categories or licensing partners will be key to you as you build on the RHS portfolio? What will the lifestyle, home, and garden licensing spaces span, and how will you look to tell the story of RHS through these?

We’ve enjoyed enormous success in the ongoing expansion of our category portfolio and this expansion will continue. However, we also hope to strengthen existing product categories and in particular are looking to expand in homeware, children’s products and apparel. Partners with strong ethical and environmental credentials and those that highlight UK craftsmanship will remain a major part of our programme too.

Gardening will always be our core category and we aim to continue to target keen gardeners and would-be gardeners who are looking for quality and inspiring products to support their interest. But gardening too has branched out: luxury garden sheds, premium boots, trellises, indoor pot covers and the very successful RHS Gifts for Gardeners range are all indicators that the RHS is continuing to seize opportunities in both established and new categories.

The programme overall is well established and balanced: it’s making more money for the charity than ever while still reflecting our values and insisting on carefully chosen licensing partners. We won’t ever be complacent, but we do think we are now well positioned to grow the brand even more without compromising its values. 

What can we expect from the RHS in the licensing space in the coming year and beyond, what’s the next step for you guys in the sector?

We’ve announced several new partnerships so far this year (including hand-iced biscuits from Biscuiteers and children’s clothing from George) and more are to come. Some projects that were delayed last year are launching over the next few months. It has been – and still is – a really busy period. We’re expanding our small team and looking for a new Senior Licensing Development Executive and Licensing Development Executive to help generate new business and develop existing licensing partnerships.

The RHS gardens and shows are ready for a strong post-lockdown visitor response. This is an exciting time for us as a licensing team and for the RHS as a leading Heritage organisation.

Games Workshop to give all staff £5000 share bonus amid another strong year of sales

A boost in the hobby and hobby gaming sector over the past year and throughout the pandemic has led to another set of record results for the UK’s miniatures and tabletop gaming specialist, Games Workshop, who is set to hand £12 million worth of share bonuses to staff following the success of its current financial year.

The share bonuses will be paid on an equal basis to each member of staff, handing each around £5,000. It’s a significant increase on the bonus received by staff members in the previous year, when the UK firm paid profit share bonuses amounting to £2 million.

Games Workshop has detailed particularly strong sales in its current financial year, one that it expects will end at no less than £350 million in the year to May 30th 2021. This marks a leap of some £80 million on the year prior, fueled in large by increase demand and engagement with the hobby scene over the course of the pandemic, as well as an evolving and growing licensing arm now spanning some of the biggest entertainment franchises globally.

The hobby specialist is also expecting its full year pre-tax profit to come in at not less than £150 million, up from £89 million in the prior 12-month period. This will includes royalties receivable from licensing which are estimated to be around £15 million.

The Retail Bulletin reports that, when announcing the company’s half year results back in January, Games Workshop chief executive Kevin Rountree said the business had put in a “cracking” performance with sales rising to £186.8 million in the six months 29 November compared to £148.4 million in the corresponding period in the previous year.

In addition to its Games Workshop  website, the company operates the Warhammer chain of stores across the UK.

Scottish board game company lands Rangers FC, Chelsea FC and The Open licensing partnerships

The Scottish board gaming company, Taxi Game, has launched a raft of new titles under its Taxi! trivia board game range, with the addition of three new sports-themed editions for Rangers FC, Chelsea FC, and The Open, as well as two destination-themed games for Liverpool and Greater Manchester.

The launch follows the recent success of the company’s Edinburgh, Glasgow, Celtic, Scottish Rugby and London edition that have sold with ‘rocketing success’ over the course of the year, as lockdown measures across the UK have forced families to take up new hobbies while spending more time at home.

Taxi Game has also stated that the games have found an appeal among fans who are currently missing live sport.

Each Taxi! trivia board game tests players’ knowledge of a particular destination or sport and includes alternative general knowledge questions. The better a player’s knowledge, the more tips they collect and the more money they earn.

The trivia game, which now boasts 18 different editions, was invented five years ago by former taxi driver Derek Carroll, who came up with the idea while sitting on the taxi rank one winter’s evening waiting on his next fare. The game is based on the working life of a taxi driver with players travelling around the board, picking up passengers,  receiving a ‘tip’ based on their ability to answer trivia questions about that city, sports team or general knowledge.

There are also opportunities to ‘sound off’ like a cabbie, a moment in the game in which players are given a subject to talk about for 30 seconds with six key words that you have to identify, the more included, the more they can earn.

Gordon Drysdale, one of the company’s founding directors, said: “As a result of the coronavirus lockdown, many people have gone back to basics, spending more time with their family and friends, and playing board games together has been a popular and fun past-time.

“Games such as Taxi! also impart useful facts and general knowledge about a destination or sports team which stays with you long after the game is finished. We have seen a significant rise in game sales in the last six months, and it’s fantastic to be adding to our existing range of games with the launch of these new editions.”

The benefits of board games appear to go beyond simply entertainment and connecting as a group. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have recently suggested that playing board games can help to improve thinking skills in the elderly, with a range of cognitive health benefits well into old age.

The Taxi Game company is now at what it calls “an exciting point in its development”, with a long line of clubs and different sports in the UK and further afield, looking to partner up in 2021.

The directors are now looking for further investment to help them realise the opportunities in front of them and are in discussions with potential investors.

The RHS and Scholastic to launch their first children’s activity books in February 2021

The Royal Horticultural Society has detailed the first titles in a new range of illustrated activity books for children in partnership with its publishing licensee Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books.

Aimed at children aged six to ten, the first titles in the series are scheduled to launch in February 2021. My Dinosaur Garden and My Unicorn Garden will look to inspire children to explore gardens and the outdoors with crafts, activities, gardening tips and nature facts.

The initial launch will be followed in March with the Outdoor Adventure Handbook, an activity book that will look at discovering plants, wildlife and getting closer to nature with activities for all weathers.

In May, to complement the new range, My Unicorn Garden Cards and Notelets will be launched. This is a creative make-and-do set with stickers that children can use to create unique messages to share with friends and family. Further books will follow in autumn 2021 and beyond.

The books will be available from bookshops, RHS shops, garden centres, through major online retailers and at shop.rhs.org.uk. Their publication will be marked with a collaborative marketing campaign to reach the extensive family and school audiences of both Scholastic and the RHS.

These are the first RHS-licensed publications from Scholastic following the announcement of a major RHS partnership with the respected children’s book publisher in August 2019. The partnership encompasses a wide range of children’s publications, including sticker and activity books, handbooks, illustrated non-fiction, board and colouring books, annuals, e-books and journals.

All the publications will make use of the range of expertise available to the UK’s favourite gardening charity as well as drawing on its work with families, schools and children.

This announcement also coincides with the continuing development of the RHS range of children’s products supported by a special style guide, both of which were announced at BLE 2019. The charity is addressing this growing young audience through a strong focus on children’s products in the coming months. This is especially relevant given the growth in family visits to gardens and parks – along with the much greater time devoted to gardening – during this year’s travel restrictions.

Cathy Snow, licensing manager, RHS, said: “One of our most important missions as Britain’s leading gardening charity is to encourage children to develop an interest in gardens and gardening. This is underlined by our development of a licensing programme for children’s products – and who better to help us communicate our message than one of the most admired names in children’s publishing?

“These activity books, which both inform and entertain, are a marvellous introduction to the wonders of wildlife and the joys of gardening.”

Elizabeth Scoggins, publisher, non-fiction, licensing and brands for Scholastic UK, added: “It is a privilege to be working with the RHS, the UK’s most-loved gardening charity. 2020 has made everyone really appreciate opportunities to be outdoors and to explore nature on our doorsteps.

“We look forward to publishing books that inspire children and families to discover the wonders of plants, wildlife and the outdoors using the expertise and passion of the RHS.”

In bloom: Gardening specialist Primus on the growing potential and demand for licensing in the back garden

With the increased time spent at home, with family, and the surge of the UK’s population turning to the garden space and gardening hobby as a means of exercise and ‘back to nature’ entertainment, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that the market has become one filled with potential for the licensing space to tap into.

It was only at the end of last month that garden and gardening specialist, Primus, took home a double award win at Glee Gathering, where its range of Peppa Pig garden ornaments triumphed in both the Best of British Award and Best Garden Decoration Award categories.

The win underscored an interesting and undeniable shift in the landscape; one that Steve Perry, head of marketing at Primus, reaffirms when he tells Licensing.biz that “the garden industry desperately wants to see more licensed products in the marketplace.” It’s something the licensee spotted when it first struck up partnerships with Aardman for Shaun the Sheep and Wallace and Gromit garden ornaments, or with RSPB for its hand crafted wooden bird gifting range, and continues to see today with the success of its latest partnership with Hasbro: the market for brands in the gardening space is currently blooming.

Licensing.biz catches up with Perry, head of marketing at Primus to explore the market, why the hobby is finding younger and younger audiences, and why now is the right time for the licensing industry to be sowing the seeds for a fruitful venture in the back garden.

Hi Steve, it’s good to explore the garden with you and congratulations on the recent award wins. Seeing a licensed product take the win across two categories, how reflective do you think this is of current trends in the garden/gardening market?

I think the garden industry desperately wants to see more licensed products, having our range of RSPB hand carved wooden birds shortlisted for the same award last year also backs this up. The judges are looking for something new and original and licensed products in this category hasn’t been done like this before (other than us in other ranges).

After a very successful run from our Shaun the Sheep licensed products we decided that we would expand our licensing portfolio, so I reached out to the licensing agency behind the IP on the idea of translating the ever popular Peppa Pig characters into an ornamental form suitable for the home and garden, which they were incredibly receptive to. A deal was soon made and then after a lengthy development stage the final products have been released and all are in agreement that they are fantastic, the initial market feedback speaks for itself.

It’s here that the licensing category manager at Hasbro, Zahara Gul told us that given that the show is ‘very much about first experiences’, the team is “looking forward to working with Primus to extend the garden offering to get kids involved with nature.”

You guys mention other licensed lines in Shaun the Sheep and Wallace and Gromit. What potential do you see for the world of licensing in the garden and gardening market?

We feel that brand licensing in the garden sector is a large growth area, you don’t see the same kind of licensing activity like you do in other sectors and licensors now are definitely starting to realise this. In particular we feel this is the case with younger audiences who are heavily bought into brands and characters and no doubt in part why our new range Peppa Pig and friends did so well at this year’s Glee Gathering winning two awards – Best of British and Best Garden Decoration categories.

So far the response from the trade has been the best we’ve ever had to a new licensed product collection. We knew Peppa Pig would be popular but we doubled our initial order quantity purely from the demand generated by our pre-order catalogue. We know our retailers’ customers are going to love these ornaments, as well as the more than 200 other new products for the 2021 season. We loved them from the start but we were unsure what the reaction would be from the trade and customers.

Being shortlisted for best new product at the Glee Gathering 2020 and with the volume of pre-orders coming in we are glad everyone likes them as much as we do and I think this is simply going to open more doors for the world of licensing and the gardening market. It is certainly pivotal to our plans going forward.

What sort of increase in interest in gardens and gardening have you seen in terms of customers and audiences as a result of the UK lockdown measures? Has this fueled growth in the market?

Like many industries, the current pandemic has certainly had an impact on the gardening sector, but thankfully it’s potentially had a very positive long term impact in this particular sector, The Horticultural Trades Association states that ‘almost three million gardeners sprung up this year as a result of lockdowns.”

The pandemic has created a new generation of enthusiasts who have found the joy that can be had from their garden and we hope people continue to embrace this new found love of gardening especially the younger, family demographic we are seeing a big increase in.

Arguably the success of the Peppa Pig range suggests that more families are taking it up as an ‘at home’ hobby. Would this be the main market for licensed garden products? What do you look for in a licensing partnership or property to work with?

To this point garden gift and decor has been our area of focus, I would agree that part of Peppa’s success has been due to the family appeal but there is a huge amount of scope to be had with brand licensing in the garden sector.

For us, when choosing a license partner to work with we do not necessarily look for trends or fads, instead we look at characters and brands that have stood the test of time and can almost be seen as “classic”, certainly this is the case for our Aardman collection, with Wallace and Gromit having their 30th anniversary last year.

Unlike with plush for toy industry where licenses are based heavily on what’s hot right now, I think the gardening market appreciate heritage and something that is lasting.

What does the current licensed range at Primus span? Have you got plans to build on this? What plans have you got for tapping into the younger audiences?

Currently Primus has focused heavily on decor and gift lines such as Aardman metal garden ornaments, our RSPB hand carved wooden birds and now Peppa and friends, garden decor is the core of what we distribute at Primus with over 500 other non-licensed products in the category. However we do see that there is a real movement right now to encourage young gardeners and get them into the hobby from a very young age.

There’s a huge amount of positive experiences that can be had by introducing children to gardening and research suggests children perform better at school if they’re involved with gardening, as well as it being a healthy and active hobby as opposed to video games and other not so stimulating interests’ younger generations can have.

Working with our existing licensors and potentially some new partners we feel that Primus could help to lead the way by using some of their favourite characters to help inspire them to engage into this new activity and get a lot of joy from it.

The Point. 1888 lands I Like Birds as birdwatching hobby enjoys revival across the UK

The Point. 1888 is tapping into the current birdwatching revival – yes, a hobby that has reportedly surpassed football in the number of fans across the UK – through a new brand representation agreement with I Like Birds.

Birding – as it the hobby is now called by its largest audience among the Gen X-ers and Millennials – is enjoyed by some six million people across the country (10 per cent of the population), exceeding the five million football fans across the UK.

The Point. 1888 is now looking to develop a range that speaks to the ‘young, new, image-conscious enthusiasts’ currently enjoying the hobby. In doing so, the firm will develop the range of I Like Birds products for this market.

I like Birds has already amassed huge appeal from birdwatchers and the design conscious alike.

Thanks to initiatives from the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, birding has become more accessible to families and young people, with new sub-divisions of birdwatching hobbyists now identified.

Twitchers – the traditional stereotyped birdwatchers, predominantly male who invest in specialist viewing equipment to enjoy the hobby, make up 10 per cent of the group; Enthusiasts are men or women and enjoy birdwatching as part of other cultural or travel activities equate to 50 per cent; and Casuals – the remaining 30 per cent of the group and the fastest-growing – are those who enjoy travelling and are interested in other outdoor and nature-based activities, such as hiking or wildlife watching.

Casual birders can also be segmented into “urban birders”, “hipster birders” and more which, according to The Point. 1888 “presents huge retail opportunities.”

Having seen the resurgence of the birdwatching trend, I like Birds wanted to build on the momentum by expanding its product range to appeal to Enthusiast and Casual birder groups emerging.

Bethan Garton, commercial director at The Point.1888, said: “Our retail-first model ensures that we’re bringing to market products that retailers and their customers want but this only works as long as we identify the right opportunities. 

“With I like Birds, the birding market is ours, and myself and the team cannot wait to get started. Our founder, Will Stewart, is particularly keen as he and Stuart, founder of I like Birds, have wanted to work together for a long time.”

 Stuart Cox, founder of I like Birds, added: “Will Stewart has assembled a team of legends (who are also fortunately amazingly talented and amazingly friendly and positive) and I’ve wanted to work with him since the first time I met him at BLE.

“In terms of business, any company that can amass the stellar lineup of clients that The Point.1888 has, has to be doing something right and, having spoken at length with Will – another of his positive attributes is the willingness to chat through the finer details of licensing – his approach is both a game changer and highly effective.

“There’s a buzz of excitement around The Point. 1888 that stems from Will and is totally infectious. Add in the fact that they have a track record of handling clients that range from Mega-brands to niche indies and…well, it’s a no-brainer. I’m chuffed to working with them and look forward to a long and extremely pointy future in their capable hands.”

New licensing partners are expected to be announced in the coming months with products release in SS 2021.