“In This Craptastic Economy, Traditional Thinking Is Out!”

In this excerpt from an article published this week in Brandweek, they take an interesting look at the combination of licensing and Private Brand. Although licensing is an intriguing option for many retailers in this economy, one has to ask if retailers chose to invest the licensing fees in their Private Brands, would the long-term returns be higher? Would they build credible brands that become corporate assets and points of differentiation?

The article correctly makes the point that:

“Retailers have traditionally not been good brand builders. They know how to sell on price, but they don’t know how to build brands.”

Will this era of  opportunity allow retailers to evolve into Brands and Brand Builders.

Shelf Interest: Licensors Cut Exclusive Deals with Retailers
OD scholastic crayonsStep into an Office Depot these days and you’ll see crayons, markers, glue sticks and other items from Scholastic. Best known as a publisher of children’s books and educational materials, Scholastic initially linked with Office Depot for an exclusive branded product line of schoolbooks for teachers, but now it’s a sort of house brand for the chain. “Sort of” because such licensors are expanding the definition of private label and, along the way, providing a bright spot in the otherwise moribund licensing industry.

“It guarantees us shelf space, and it gives them something exclusive and a product array from a brand that has recognition with teachers, kids and parents,” says Leslye Schaefer, Scholastic’s svp, licensing. “Plus, the economics of them producing it themselves are favorable — from a margins or price standpoint, they can be more competitive.”

Welcome to licensing, 2009 style. In this craptastic economy, traditional thinking is out (bye bye retail-channelwide entertainment deals!) and creativity (Let’s make up a deal!) is in — and retailers and licensors are finding common ground.

“They usually mix like oil and water, but they’re working together in this recession,” says Steven Ekstract, global publisher of License! magazine. He notes that the emerging trend of exclusive licensing deals between a brand and a retailer allow the best of both worlds. “You think people are going to buy the cheapest thing they can, but they also want things they can trust because everyone wants comfort.”

Or, as Jamie Salter, CEO of Hilco, which has exclusive Tommy Armour and RAM Golf equipment and apparel lines selling at Sports Authority, puts it: “Retailers have traditionally not been good brand builders. They know how to sell on price, but they don’t know how to build brands.”

Years ago, retailers were primarily seen as distribution mechanism for companies like Procter & Gamble, Kraft and General Mills, which spent millions in advertising and creating brands. But the balance has shifted, and retailers learned long ago that sprucing up their house brands with new packaging and, in some cases, advertising, can reap dividends. According to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, such store brands now account for one of every five items sold in U.S. supermarkets, drug chains and mass merchandisers.

But there are some downsides to store brands. Retailers don’t like taking all the risk, and traditional store brands-those that were created by the retailer — don’t have the draw that a brand created elsewhere does. “Cyclically, retailers fall in and out of love with private label on a regular basis,” says Martin Brochstein, svp-industry relations and information for the Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association (LIMA). “What happens is, they’ll be selling a lot of brands, and they have a private label business. They look at those margins and say, ‘Wow, these are great-let’s get me some more!’ And then they beef up the private label a lot, and that’s great until something doesn’t work. And then they say to themselves, ‘Where do I go for the markdown money? Oh, wait a minute, it’s us — we own it.'” At this point, brands start looking attractive again, and the next stage of the cycle begins.

Meanwhile, the licensing business has its own issues. The competition is tighter than ever, and there are fewer breakthrough properties. Promising entertainment up-and-comers such as Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and Yo Gabba Gabba! haven’t turned into Dora the Explorer dollarwise. Even Disney seems to have run out of steam.

simply vera by Vera WangA marriage of convenience for licensors and retailers makes sense, especially as retailers have gotten much more sophisticated about private label. “They now have in-house departments,” Brochstein says. “And so they have much more of a vested interest in making private label work because they have infrastructures to feed. So it’s more entrenched than it’s ever been.” Brochstein points out that companies such as Iconix and Cherokee are “making a very nice living” doing direct-to-retail licensing of their brands. Such brands are basically house brands.

One such program was via Kohl’s, which has an exclusive arrangement to sell Food Network-branded housewares in a deal brokered by licensing agency Brandgenuity, New York. Kohl’s also has a line on Chaps, Dana Buchman, Simply Vera by Vera Wang, Mudd, Hang Ten, LC Lauren Conrad and other exclusive brands. According to the company’s last quarterly statement, exclusive and private brand sales comprised 44 percent of total store receipts.

“These are exclusive to them, and they are responsible for the sourcing,” Brochstein says. “It works like any other licensing deal. The brand owner has approvals, and all that. It’s just there’s no third-party manufacturer who is supplying Kohl’s.” Wal-Mart, meanwhile, has launched several brand exclusives, such as one with CBS Consumer Products for an America’s Next Top Model line.

Last December, the superstore debuted fashion-forward togs, bags, hats and room decor for juniors and young women. Apparel is being added for spring/summer.

Here are a few of the Simply Vera by Vera Wang commercials from Kohl’s

Read the entire article.

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.