Value of licensing linked to name-dropping
Cinde Ingram -- Casual Living, May 1, 2009
Shocked is the word Bob Gaylord, president of Agio International, used to describe his reaction when the total of orders retailers placed last fall more than doubled projections for Agio's licensing venture with Disney Resorts.
“The fact that we had $7 million in projections by Nov. 15 only said one thing to me: That the dealers thought it could be important,” Gaylord said. “Too bad it happened in the current economy.”
Although economic upheavals led to tightened credit and cut dozens of retailers' open-to-buy options later last year, their initial interest in those two licensed collections was an eye-opener for Gaylord. Agio was receiving reorders in April and working on new sets to extend the Disney Resorts collections, he said. Another licensing partnership also is being discussed, Gaylord said.
While Agio plans to move ahead with licensed products, Laneventure has moved away from its licensed product ventures.
“We will be more selective,” said Gary McCray, president, Laneventure. “We're doing less of it. We didn't add any licensed introductions last year.”
Once among the leading casual furniture manufacturers in numbers of licensed and branded lines, Laneventure does not plan to add product to its Leeds Castle or Ernest Hemingway collections this season. Still McCray isn't ruling out future licensed product development.
“We continue to see some strength in that going forward with the right licenses, and Hemingway is one we think is good,” McCray said. He sees name brands as the key to success with any licensed product.
“I think it's one that needs to be instantly recognizable to the consumer, as opposed to one that you have to do a lot of explaining and additional ground work for,” McCray said. “The best ones are readily identifiable on their own.”
Furniture analyst Jerry Epperson agreed. “There aren't many consumer-recognizable furniture brands,” Epperson said. “Does it make sense to put a celebrity name on it? If nothing else, it gives the consumer warm and fuzzy emotions to say they bought that brand.”
He noted the unexpected distribution choices of the La-Z-Boy Outdoor Select licensing partnership with Brown Jordan International and the recent announcement of Furniture Brands International extending its well-known Lane and Broyhill brands into the outdoor furnishings arena (see page 16).
Tommy Bahama or Cabana Joe licenses are names that make logical sense for the casual furniture niche, Epperson said. He wondered aloud whether a celebrity licensed Cheeseburger in Paradise collection, linked with Jimmy Buffett's fame, would be successful.
“There are a number of licensed collections that have performed well,” Epperson said. One factor in that success is whether manufacturers and retailers are willing to make significant investments to market it to consumers. “There's no need to put it out there if nobody's going to promote it,” he said.
At the recent High Point Market, the Walt Disney Signature Outdoor Furniture Collection was launched by Veneman Collections with outdoor rugs by The Rug Market. Walt Disney Signature also unveiled Theo Kalomirakis' home theater furniture designs.
Name recognition combined with effective marketing foster success with licensed products, Gaylord said. He loves working with Disney Resorts because of its experience and professionalism, which is demonstrated through advertising materials and dealer support down to the smallest details including hangtags.
While Disney is among the top licensing brands, Agio's consumer surveys using circulation lists of the top dozen consumer magazines determined less than 20% of respondents were aware of outdoor furniture brands.
“We're basically a brand-less industry,” Gaylord said. “Still we know consumers have a certain confidence in the right licensed names, and I believe it will grow because the entire furniture industry is suffering so incredibly bad. I think we're going to see a lot of it from brands that have taken 50 to 70 years to build. I don't think it can hurt our industry at all. I think it can only help.”
Instead of pursuing new licenses, Laneventure spent the past five months focused on its operations, combining two buildings to streamline manufacturing and warehousing.
“We really are gearing ourselves to offer the very best value that we can, particularly right now with consumers being as stretched as they are,” McCray said.