Welcome to the new-look Licensing.biz. It’s been an interesting journey to get to this point, as I am sure anyone who has been involved in an acquisition will appreciate – handovers are rarely as straightforward as you envisage. But onwards and upwards – hopefully we’ve ironed out most of the glitches and we’re ready to start the real work out of returning the website to its former glory. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride (and maybe add us to your safe senders list – firstname.lastname@example.org – so our news alert emails go straight into your inbox).
We’ve taken over the running of Licensing.biz at a fascinating time for the licensing community – and indeed, business as a whole. Across the globe, suppliers and retailers have faced a series of challenges in recent years – and just when we thought we might be past the worst of it, 2022 has thrown some major curveballs into the mix, with soaring energy costs and inflation impacting consumer spending in virtually every territory across the world.
And yet – whisper it quietly – licensed merchandise is holding up remarkably well. NPD recently released figures which confirmed that licensing makes up nearly 29% of the overall UK toy market value so far this year – nearly +6% higher than in 2019. While licensed sales are only up by +2%, it is worth bearing in mind that the UK toy market is currently tracking -5%. Broadly speaking, I suspect those figures are replicated across numerous other categories and territories; I think it is fair to say that licensing is enjoying something of a resurgence in a tough retail market.
Licensors might like to take note of another interesting statistic from NPD’s research; specialist toy retailers currently represent the fastest growing retail channel for purchasing toys in the UK. In addition, ‘Toy Specialists’ is now the joint largest channel along with online-only retailers. No disrespect to the grocers and major multiples, but personally, I see this as positive news for the UK toy market, and I am delighted that Smyths, The Entertainer, Toymaster and the other specialists continue to thrive.
However, the switch from the dominance of the likes of Argos and the grocers will present its own set of challenges to licensing companies: without wishing to resort to sweeping generalisations, I think it’s fair to say that in times gone by, many licensors would invest heavily in promotional activity and in-store activations with the grocers as their primary retail activation strategy. While recent developments don’t necessarily render this approach redundant, there is no doubt that in the short term, the pendulum has swung away from the grocery toy aisles here in the UK, both in terms of sales and the awareness and impact that can be created.
Arguably, it isn’t viable to put all your eggs in one basket anymore, in the same way that companies spending their entire consumer marketing budget on a big TV campaign is no longer considered the optimal media strategy. As Bob Dylan once sang, ‘the times they are a-changing’ – he may have embarrassed himself from a grammatical perspective there, but fundamentally he wasn’t wrong. Where once Argos reigned supreme in toys here in the UK, the feedback I get from toy suppliers presents a very different picture now. On the plus side, many of the key licensors with properties in the kids’ space are already working with the specialist toy retail channel on window displays and impactful in-store activations, and I am sure others could benefit from partnerships with these passionate, hands-on retail specialists.
Of course, it is the nature of pendulums that they have a tendency to swing back, and no-one is writing off the grocers – or even Argos – just yet. Nevertheless, the power those retailers once wielded to demand exclusives for new licensed ranges and the lions’ share of the promotional budget is perhaps a thing of the past – for now at least.
Now that we’ve hit September, the retail market should hopefully kick up a gear or two as we head towards the festive season. And of course, in a little over three weeks’ time, the licensing community will be heading to the ExCeL centre (whose owners presumably took grammar lessons from Bob Dylan) for the latest BLE event. We’re delighted to bring you a round-up of the key BLE exhibitors and the properties they’ll be showcasing in the extended Licensing World section of the latest issue of Toy World – and you can access the digital version of that issue here today.
It’s important for visitors to do their homework ahead of any physical event. Realistically, no-one has time to read much at the event itself – we’re all either in a meeting, dashing to a meeting because we’re running late, looking at our phone for urgent messages or talking to people in the aisles. We have always believed that it is essential for our preview issues to be available to read weeks ahead of the show’s opening day, so our readers can plan their trip and make appointments.
So, hopefully we can help with your valuable preparation work – as well as the comprehensive preview in Toy World, we’ll also be updating the Licensing.biz website with all the latest news in the run-up to the show, and during the event itself. So, whether you are able to be on site this year or not, we’ll aim to keep you informed with all the major breaking news and developments, and a post-show review will round-up the key stories and give an account of the show as we saw it.
I hope you enjoy the revamped Licensing.biz and will come with us as we embark on our journey. We know there are challenges ahead – for starters, there isn’t exactly a shortage of websites for the licensing market. But there wasn’t a shortage of toy magazines when we launched Toy World eleven years ago, and that turned out OK.