The Retail Reality

Whether it's traditional retailers that are challenged in the marketplace or hot retailers that are growing by double digits, opportunities for brand licensing are stronger than ever, especially for savvy and resilient executives.

The challenge for many brand licensing executives, regardless of the inherent popularity or potential for any particular property, is finding the opportunities available at retailers worldwide. And believe me, these opportunities really do exist, although it just may take a more creative and compelling approach.

One of the interesting take-aways from this month's exclusive cover story, "Cherokee's Global Clout," is how this licensor has developed such extensive partnerships with major retailers, covering more than 40 countries. Cherokee also exemplifies how to merchandise and extend a licensed brand at retail and tailor it to a respective culture.

While uncertainty describes the state of some iconic retail chains such as JCPenney, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble, growth characterizes the Hot 100 Retailers list (compiled by Stores, Kantar Retail and the National Retail Federation) including top ranked names like Sprouts Farmers Markets, Verizon Wireless, Michael Kors, Lululemon Athletica and Under Armour.

Opportunity exists for licensed brands at each of these retailers because of several factors they offer including the ability to drive traffic, create a buzz, offer exclusives, create in store promotions and attract new customers. The opportunity also exists for product extensions for many of these popular brands.

For JCPenney, its move to a branded shops strategy begs for licensed brands as customer traffic and sales have declined in consecutive quarters. So while a Levi Denim Bar, Arizona store-in-store or a JCP private brand shop may have great merchandise, they just do not have the clout that a pop culture iconic brand would have to drive traffic. Maybe the former Apple exec that is now chief executive officer should consider a licensed accessories shop for Apple products? It's only one of the hottest categories and offers solid margins.

Best Buy, which is in the throes of a potential buyout led by its founder, should also consider maximizing licensed accessories and other products, especially considering it already attracts a younger, hipper demographic.

Barnes & Noble tries to merchandise some licensed products, but it just never seems to be enough. So maybe they should consider downsizing the book selection and focusing more on licensed products that leverage its best selling titles in various categories from cookbooks to kid's books to teen novels, as well as take greater advantage of the accessories market for its Nook e-reader product.

Then there is the Hot 100 Retailers list that has dozens of retailers ready for licensed products to help drive traffic, create a destination shop or complement existing merchandise assortments.

Here are some retailers, by category, to consider:

  • Grocery: Sprouts Farmers Markets, Lowe's Market Place, Fresh & Easy, hhgregg, Bodega Latina and the Fresh Market.
  • Apparel: Michael Kors, Lululemon Athletica, Under Armour, Tilly's, Chico's and Rue21.
  • Restaurant chains: Five Guys, Jimmy John's, Chipotle, Cheddar's Casual Café, Buffalo Wild Wings, Panda Express, Noodles & Company, Wingstop and Chick-fil-A. Also consider that there are potential opportunities for brand extensions especially among restaurant chains, which have already demonstrated success.
Despite the continuing reports of economic uncertainty and the like, significant opportunities for licensed brands at retail still exist. They just require more creative effort, market knowledge and promotion to execute than ever before.

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