If you’re still working on Christmas Eve (and if you’ve not already had enough of Christmas) here’s a round up of my Top 3 blogs for making the most of Christmas as an Independent Retailer. Do take a read and make sure you take a note of everything you have learned over this festive period, so you can put it to good use in 2019…
At this time of year, it’s really evident that it’s a kid’s life! Card sending is all about marking occasions - be they personal and individual or seasonal and cultural. As a retailer, thinking about these in relation to children specifically can open up all sorts of opportunities to broaden your occasions offer and there has never been a better time to do it…
I have worked in the card industry for over 10 years and in all of that time there have been leading card ranges which have been based around licensed content - be it imagery, text or both. As a buyer at the National Trust I had a lot of licensed cards in our range including several from Woodmansterne who had a broad portfolio of licenses that suited our customers very well including cartoonist Matt, Spike Milligan, and the Trust’s own imagery which we used to produce a very popular range of their iconic photographic cards.
Licensing content for products can be an excellent way of manufacturers tapping in to a vein of consumer demand as they aspire to the values of the brand, celebrity or lifestyle they believe it reflects. Having said that there is a real art to making the most of the license; you cannot slap an image on something and because it links to a brand expect it to sell. It will only work if the brand values of the brand being licensed reflect the brand values of the range it is being applied to, so the consumer understands the link. The product quality and price also need to be consistent with the products perceived value too.
It’s why those involved in managing licenses try very hard to find the right brands to work with. Obvious and clear brand links can drive strong sales and work well for both parties. However, get it wrong and it can be costly for the licensee as they are likely to be paying an upfront fee as well as royalties - and for the licensor it can be a missed opportunity because the exclusivity clause means that for a period the rights cannot be granted to anyone else in that sector.
I believe the success of licensing is completely dependent on brand fit and for me a fantastic example of this is Glebe Cottage, The Eco Friendly Card Company, who from their earliest days in the mid 90’s have made sure that their products are at the forefront in using environmentally friendly technologies and materials to ensure that they are always offering buyers environmentally sound product options. Glebe Cottage license images from The Wildlife Trust, which is a very comfortable fit with both brand’s values supporting one another perfectly and particularly relevant to consumers currently as the focus on the environment and waste increases.
Speaking to Sue Morrish, co director of Glebe Cottage this week she confirmed that recently they have been approached by other organisations with an environmental agenda because of their green credentials including companies wanting to develop bespoke ranges too.
For the licensor allowing others to use their images is a great way of extending the use of their designs and thereby recognition of their brand in other product areas. If the right licensing partner has been selected it is likely to be a good way of generating a steady income stream too through upfront payments and royalties without the risk of investing in stock themselves. This has encouraged many museums and charities, who are always looking for new ways of funding their work and who have the most wonderful treasures to allow images of them to be made available for licensing.
Meg Hawkins, a recent licensing success story, says:
As an artist with a passion for creating gifts, fashion and homeware, there is only so far you can go yourself. Licensing has opened up so many doors and is the opportunity to take my brand, Meg Hawkins Art, to the next level. A licensing agreement is an overwhelming stamp of approval for your work and provides you with a network of skill, expertise and reach that it would be otherwise impossible to access’.
Jessica Hogarth specialises in illustration and surface pattern design and has been involved in licensing for a number of years. She explains:
‘One of my most exciting licensing collaborations to date has been with a textile company, we have put two of my designs on to bedding, cushions, storage sacks and Christmas stockings. The stock is available solely through shopping channel QVC and the products are all labelled with my logo and I have been on live TV 3 times …….the Cottages print featured on one of my first ever card designs and Snowy Town was originally created as a gift wrap which was licensed through Deva Designs but then I utilised the illustrations for a Christmas card range, which I had great sales from.’
Jess also has a long standing relationship with Trimcraft, a major supplier into the haberdashery and craft sectors so you can see how broad the appeal of her designs is, she comments:
‘I love licensing because it allows me to get my designs on to products I can’t afford to manufacture myself, working with established and respected companies within the design industry helps me to get my illustration work out to a wider audience’.
But in reading this please don’t think that this is an easy way to increase your income. Licensing can be a regular source of income for the licensor without having to invest in stock but Meg commented to me that:
‘The process is a long and often challenging one as you navigate your way through the contracts… I cannot stress more, the importance of belonging to an organisation such as the Giftware Association. The GA has provided me with invaluable guidance, support and reassurance since I joined two years ago and they have been pivotal in me securing some of my biggest licensing agreements. Securing these licensing agreements has been life changing. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been signed by Widdop & Co, My Gifts Trade, Instawrap, Evergreen Enterprises and Tilnar Art. Each has a slightly different approach and a different retail focus, so I am very excited to see what 2019 brings for me with the support of these fantastic licensing companies.
A ’good’ license can be a positive experience for everyone involved and I think we are likely to see a lot more collaborations in all industry sectors in the future. At the time of publishing this blog, Meg’s Recycled Aluminium produced with Tilner Art had just won the Best Home and Gift category at GLEE.
Over the last few years there has been a significant increase in the number of retailers developing their own card ranges and publishers opening their own shops. So what is it about the current retail market that is making retailers and publishers take these initiatives when so many other retailers are closing their shops ?
Naturally, there are different motivations depending on where you are in the supply chain but when we examine closely, we see even players in the same sector have different reasons for doing this. The one thing that is the same for everyone is that they want to feel they can create a point of difference between themselves and their competitors and to encourage consumers to spend money with them. There are lots of ways that a retailer can do this and card retailers are no exception.
Let’s start with larger card retailers like Paperchase. They have been printing their own brand cards for more than 30 years. In fact a significant percentage of their card and stationery range is own brand and they have always used this as a unique point of difference so that customers who wants that type of product will have to shop with them. They have always been at the cutting edge of design and they have built their brand on offering innovative designs and product formats. This type of brand differentiation is critical for many retailers and developing own brand products allows them to do this; refreshing and renewing ranges as they feel they need to to keep them ahead of the competition.
Traditionally this has been felt to be the preserve of larger retailers because of the volumes that have had to be produced to get reasonable cost prices. But with the advent of digital printing this is now becoming an option for many who want to do small print runs. For example, the National Trust who wants to be able to feature their stunning , buildings, gardens and landscapes at their individual properties; whilst litho print runs are rarely an option, good quality digital printing has opened up all sorts of opportunities for stocking wider ranges of unique images that visitors are keen to buy.
For me, this is part of the localisation trend we are seeing come to the fore to meet demand from consumers who want to buy something that has some meaning and relevance either to where they live or somewhere they have visited. This does not mean you have to be in a major tourist destination, but rather people enjoying spending time somewhere with friends and wanting to send or give a card.
If you are considering launching a range, it’s worth noting that your customers are not looking for an outdated photographic image either but rather a modern illustrative image or maybe something humorous that those in the know will understand…
Pictures from Indonesia showing ‘solid rafts’ of plastic bags and bottles in local rivers, talk of the 965,000 square miles of plastic in a region of the South Pacific created by circular currents and Blue Planet 2 showing images of delicate seahorses holding cotton buds in their tails have all raised the profile of our use of and disposal of plastics in recent months… But as consumers, are we ready to change what, and the way we buy, and take responsibility for disposing of it?
Paperchase was in the news last month as the story broke that their credit insurer, Euler Hermes, has refused to cover new contracts with suppliers (a similar case to what happened to Poundland and Maplins recently). It’s pretty big news as it means the company is no longer covered if they don’t have the cash flow to pay their suppliers - and the story even made it onto the Radio 4 programme - You & Yours.
Paperchase weren’t ready to go on the programme to talk about it - as it hasn’t changed their relationships with suppliers or payment terms… its just business as usual.
Instead, the feature opened with a few words about the growth in the stationery market. Presenter Peter White explained:
“In a growing digital world, it seems that many of us are still preferring the ‘handwritten touch’, with stationery sales seeing a steady year on year growth of around 1% from 2015, reaching £2.9 billion” according to Mintel.
We then heard a few clips from consumers in Manchester who talked about their love of stationery (from hipster note pads to novel Disney stationery to smelly pencils) - and in the interest of fairness, one chap who explained he didn’t buy stationery (apart from greetings cards).
I was pleased to have then been asked to contribute my take on why a premium brand like Paperchase is struggling, when the market is in fact growing.
Peter asked me whether it’s because our interest in premium brands is waning – and here was my response…
“I don’t think our interest in premium brands is actually waning at all. I suspect what Paperchase is suffering from is increased competition at that top end of the market. They’ve been the leader in stationery for 20 years, particularly fashion-led stationery, and a lot of other suppliers are beginning to realise what a fantastic opportunity that is… so the competition is definitely hotting up for them.”
He then asked: In contrast, companies like Smiggle are doing really well - they’re aimed mainly at children. Is this the market then that’s most interested in stationery?
“You heard from one of your contributors just before I came on air that her daughter loves to go into a retailer and spend a lot of money on pens and notebooks - and Smiggle are absolutely tapping into that demand, but really for the younger teens at the really fashion-led end. Paperchase, I would say, in the main is aiming slightly higher than that, in a slightly more aspirational way…”
When you say ‘aspirational’… we’re always being told, nobody writes letters anymore, is that true?
“I think it’s far from the truth, and actually if you look at the sale of fountain pens and ink over the last couple of years, although it’s coming from a really low base now, actually it’s growing really, really strongly as people are thinking more about keeping in touch - and doing it with materials that they really take a pride in.”
And that’s being reinforced by our listeners actually... so is there evidence that people are still actually doing this?
“Whether they’re writing letters on a sheet of A4 paper with an envelope or whether their writing a message in a blank greetings card, a lot of people are now sending messages to one another. It’s quite interesting that we’re seeing the same trends now as we did back in 2008 when the recession kicked in… as people feel slightly less comfortable about their personal situations, they often keep in touch more and letters or a card are a much nicer way of doing that than an email or a text.”
So perhaps the people who worry that we’re becoming not as literate as we were, are worrying unnecessarily?
“I suspect it appeals to very specific areas of the market and certain demographics, but certainly writing isn’t on the wane for a lot of people, it’s very much in the ascendancy.”
If you’d like to listen again, here’s the entire You and Yours programme (or skip to 29.10 mins for the stationery feature):
From gift trends and Dr Who icons in Birmingham, to the sheep drive in London - last week was non-stop!
On 27th September, the Giftware Association hosted a trends seminar day - with key speakers Marrianne Shillingford from Dulux sharing the global colour trends report (ahead of its official launch) and David Cartwright, from Birmingham's top social media agency, discussing digital trends and what’s happening in the world of social media right now.
Whilst in Birmingham at the seminar (held at the Giftware Association’s Federation House), I also called into the BBC studios to record a live interview with Peter White for the Radio 4 You & Yours Programme - more on this in a future blog! There are some great Dr Who icons on display at the studios, and I couldn’t resist a picture with the Tardis and a Dalek!
And then on Sunday 30th September, I headed to London for the annual Sheep Drive, representing the Stationers’ Company ! I, along with other Freemen of the City (including Alan Titchmarsh) gathered together to exercise our right to drive our sheep across London Bridge. We did this for charity rather than agricultural purposes, but this event is a great platform for communicating agricultural issues!
Organised by the Worshipful Company of Woolmen the event raises thousands of pounds for the Lord Mayor's Appeal whilst also providing an opportunity for Londoners and visitors to learn about the City's historic traditions.
To find out more about this fantastic event, visit: sheepdrive.london
I’m passionate about what I do, and enjoy the variety of work I have the opportunity to experience every single week - but last week was especially fun, and extremely busy!
I expect most of you reading this headline would say ‘NO WAY’ - who would be daft enough to do something like that this in the current economic climate? Well the truthful answer is ‘plenty of people’. Both small independents and larger multiples. But why are they doing this when so many outlets are closing; what do they know that we don’t?
Anyone involved in retail knows just how hard it is to maintain sales at the moment. Now more than ever, every little bit helps and offering relevant and related products to supplement your homewares offer could be one way of increasing sales by driving up your average transaction value. So with this in mind what type of ‘gift’ products would be relevant to stock in a homewares shop?
In just 2 days - Autumn Fair opens it's doors attracting exhibitors and visitors from across Europe (and beyond!) who want to see, touch, play with and purchase exciting new products ahead of the 'Golden Quarter'. And I'm delighted to say that as Deputy Chair of the Giftware Association I've been asked to speak twice this year on The Main Stage, where I’ll be sharing my take on what 2019 has in store for independent retailers...