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Gaining consumer attention with Licensing

Some companies spend tens of thousands of dollars for licensed brands consumers will recognize, seek and buy.

"It's expensive, but it's cheaper than trying to go out and spend the millions and millions of dollars it takes to develop a consumer-recognizable brand name for your company," said Jerry Epperson, a furniture industry analyst with Richmond, Va.-based Mann, Armistead & Epperson. "Another thing about using licensed collections is it keeps the store identity intact."

Summer Classics brings inpirations of Biltmore Estate 

Summer Classics brings inspirations of Biltmore Estate 

Bew White, president of Summer Classics, wanted to use his licensing program with Biltmore Estate For Your Home as a way to simultaneously enhance the Summer Classics name, but thinks it may have caused confusion. Although Summer Classics plans to add pieces to its Biltmore collection and he still advertises it heavily, White said customers are not asking for it by name. He thinks consumers buy it because they like the look.

The Biltmore licensed line did bring a surge of excitement when first introduced four years ago, White said. "I think it maybe boosted our image, but I also think it loses its newness after awhile." Unlike industries with successful licensing track records, "there are no brands in our industry," White said. "Smith & Hawken is probably the only brand people know for outdoor furniture. ... Martha Stewart is probably a good example of a license that works."

In contrast, Laneventure continues its strategy of offering a number of licensed lines. Its Bob Timberlake Collection, which debuted last year, represents a kicked-back American lifestyle compared with Frances Mayes' Tuscany inspiration or Ernest Hemingway's world traveler imprint. Add to those licenses linked to designers Raymond Waites or Mimi & Brooke.

 The rustic Faux Bois Bench from Laneventure

 The rustic Faux Bois Bench from Laneventure's Bob Timberlake Collection has all-weather durability.

"It boils down to cutting through the clutter, getting the shopper's attention and today it's more and more difficult to do that," said Gary McCray, Laneventure, vice president, marketing. "By tying one of these personalities to a product you get an identity associated with it, and usually some connotation of a particular lifestyle. But in the end, you still have to have great product."

Because Laneventure realizes its recognition is limited outside the casual furniture industry, "the names we're tying in with are known at a greater level than we are," McCray said. "It's hitching our wagon to successful people or well-known reputations. You look at a company like Target, and they're doing the same thing."

Although the number of licensed lines continues to grow, Epperson said the recent High Point, N.C., home furnishings market brought no major introductions, only extensions of existing licenses. One such extension was designer and HGTV host Joe Ruggiero's eighth Sunbrella fabric collection.

Another extension shown was in the Mount Vernon Garden Collection by Terra, which Terra President Ken Burrows said is doing well.

"It's still in its infancy, but we're very pleased with it," Burrows said. "At least in our experience, the licensors do a lot of publicity on their own. It's normal that licensors, whether it be Weber barbecue or Levi for example, would be promoting the product also so you get a double promotion. In our case, with Mount Vernon being a (historic) house, they are also displaying the product there, which is a plus. They have a retail store so if somebody wanted to purchase, they have the ability to take care of that on-site."

Web sites are linked for Terra and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, caretakers since 1858 of the George and Martha Washington home. The Mount Vernon collection for outdoor now includes an oval table, round table, side chair, armchair, club chair and occasional table. By August, an adjustable chaise will be added, Burrows said.

The collection is Terra's first licensed line although the manufacturer has a history of working with designers, including Ruggiero.

Earlier this year, Carter Grandle announced its first agreement for a licensed collection of outdoor furniture with Wrangler brand.

In describing values of licensing, Epperson said it gives salespeople talking points. For example, instead of telling a consumer a collection is made of tubular aluminum, Epperson said a salesperson could say, "'This is tubular aluminum that uses Ralph Lauren fabrics and colors and the design has that level of taste.' It conveys a completely different image and reinforces in many cases what that consumer is looking for."

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