Interview With a Stationery Manufacturer – Inspiration is Still a Big Market

17 06 2014

Here at the Licensing Expo it’s been a busy first day. The lifeblood of the show is two-fold, the creators who spend endless amounts of time creating and dreaming about getting their message, characters or brand out into the marketplace and the producers, manufacturers and retailers who produce and distribute the media and products.

Andy Meehan, owner of Christian Inspirations, a manufacturer of stationery products shares some insights and misconceptions about his business with us today.

Creative Minds Design Studio

In its first show last year, Creative Minds made serious tracks with an international licensee for children’s footwear for its emodoki, cute character mood faces, property. Now the company is back, all the way from The Netherlands, to add more licensees to its emodoki line as well as launch its new characters, Minky & Chuwie, and Fulgar the Puppy. Antoine Aarts, said, “I came all the way from Holland for this show.  I was here last year and we did very well for emodoki, that we developed a couple more properties and have a much bigger booth.”

Creative Minds Design Studio

Creative Minds Design Studio

emodoki shoes

Lately Lily Credits Licensing Expo for ‘Putting Them On the Map’

13 06 2014
(c) Lately Lily

(c) Lately Lily

In this extended interview with Jason Wheeler, the New Business Development and Operations Executive for Lately Lily, you will learn about how this little girl who travels around the world is becoming a very well-known property.  Step-by-step they are building a brand which appeals to a more sophisticated clientele of parents and young girls.  It’s intelligent and….well…watch and enjoy.

Action at Lately Lily's 'sunny yellow suitcase' Booth at Licensing Expo 2013  (c) Lately Lily

Action at Lately Lily’s ‘sunny yellow suitcase’ Booth at Licensing Expo 2013 (c) Lately Lily


An Art Licensor’s Continuing Education

19 03 2014

learn earnThe road to a successful licensing business is paved with many steps over a variety of paths. And it’s not a short journey, by any means. Joan Beiriger, licensed artist and self-proclaimed art licensing junkie (and blogger), was listening to one of my Ask J’net Q&A’s when I mentioned this.

Joan wrote: “One thing that you covered really sparked my interest.  You discussed what the role of an artist is and you said that an artist needs to learn about art licensing not just at the beginning of her career but she needs to continue learning forever.  And that also involves learning about manufacturing and retail to know what consumers want.  Exactly what I believe in!”

I clearly agree with her. She then asked me to write a blog about the education that artists need, to skillfully maneuver the twists and turns on the road through art licensing. Here it is Joan—

In any business endeavor there are lots of things to learn and the world also doesn’t stop for anyone or anything. It does not wait for someone to catch up. Like a real estate agent re-taking their license, a surgeon updating their skills or a computer geek learning the latest software, education and learning is vital and it should be at the top of your ‘to do’ list every year.

As I focused on the various areas that art licensors need to learn about, I thought about how wonderfully diverse this industry is. I personally love that about licensing and marketing, as well. But this does mean that you need to always be open to, and on the lookout for new training opportunities, throughout your career. Here’s my list of topics, which I believe should be on your continuing education list—

ART—As artists, we should explore and expand our style and then experiment with a new one. Never stop seeking more of your creative source. Take time to play with your art and develop your own new ideas and techniques. Also:

  • Keep an eye on current trends, whether for inspiration, or just information
  • If sales are dropping, then consider whether your art style is slipping out of date
  • Make sure you continuously update your web site with new art

TECHNOLOGY—What’s the latest technology on the landscape for:

  • Business, sales & marketing
  • Creating art, presentations, production files and more
  • Communication, social media, publishing & entertainment (Note: they call these platforms, and if you can re-purpose your art and designs for various platforms, all the better!)

LICENSING—What would you like to learn for your licensing business about:

  • Agents
  • Portfolios
  • Collection Design
  • Trends
  • Sales
  • Contracts
  • Negotiations

BUSINESS—What training and skills are necessary for your entrepreneurial business to succeed:

  • Marketing & Sales
  • Branding
  • Public Relations
  • Promotions
  • Accounting
  • Time Management
  • Choose what you want to do yourself and what you want to hire out.
  • Learn how to discern who is the most economical and best fit for your business. That, in itself, is a skill and one in which I often find myself guiding my clients.

MANUFACTURING—What do you understand about manufacturing? Understanding the manufacturing process for different product categories is really important. This is, undoubtedly, one of the biggest areas where I believe artists need to learn more. The art licensing entrepreneur needs to develop skills in:

  • Creating art that works well on products
  • Developing captivating & sales-worthy product designs
  • Tailoring the work you present to a specific manufacturer to fit their production capabilities
  • Preparing art for production
  • Selling (licensing) themselves and their art to manufacturers

RETAIL—In addition to getting inside the head of the manufacturers, retail education is the second-most lacking area in the art licensing entrepreneurial skill set. Artists and all types of creators who want to bring their concepts to market need to learn how to think like a wholesale manufacturer, a retailer and ultimately target the consumer. Therefore, learning about retail is essential and will help you immensely as a licensor when you comprehend:

  • Retailing
    • Channels of distribution
    • Types of retail outlets
    • Pricing strategies
    • Purchasing trends
    • Promotions and new ways of attracting customers
    • Merchandising
      • Visual merchandising
      • Cross merchandising
      • Internet sales

This list certainly doesn’t cover every topic. However, it’s a fantastic place to start. If you really want to create an income with your creations you must keep yourself motivated, stay connected to and expand into your creative source, and continue to learn throughout your career about the industry and business. Never give up on your goals and dreams. Just remember, those that don’t keep up, get left behind.

Protect Your Art With a ‘Shopping Doc’

14 02 2014

red heart sheildMany years ago I remember the first time I heard a manufacturer say, “I’d like to ‘shop’ your art around and see if we can get some interest from retailers.” Since then I’ve heard it 1000’s of times, as it’s become a very common practice in the art licensing industry.

As the economy hit below the belt, manufacturers needed a way to hedge their bets.  They no longer wanted to create volumes of inventory that might not sell quickly. This saves them up-front manufacturing costs, warehousing space, time, and of course, prevents them from having to ‘eat’ the cost of goods that don’t sell.

On the artist side, it poses some problems.  Manufacturers are now asking for high-resolution art to create sophisticated mock-ups, and to often produce a very small quantity of product in order to make their retail presentations.  If the retailer ‘buys in,’ then you could have yourself a licensing deal, but if not, the art is already in the hands of the manufacturer and you have no deal and few recourses to ever get digital art destroyed.

So without so much as an agreement, how can you be sure that manufacturers are not utilizing your exclusive art to sell larger quantities of products?  Well, I think there are many (and mostly) reputable manufacturers, who wouldn’t consider taking your art without paying for it.  But there is always someone willing to take advantage of the situation.  And it would make you would feel very vulnerable to send final art to someone when you don’t have a formal agreement.

With my lawyer, I created what I call a ‘Shopping Doc.’ It’s a short document that I can use when this type of circumstance occurs.  It all boils down to keeping track of what the manufacturer said they will do, and what you said you will do, just as with any contractual arrangement.  This is just a short letter, in which you give the manufacturer permission to ‘Shop’ your art to retailers with specific restrictions. It is very clear, in that, a manufacturer has only the right to shop

a) specific pieces of art,

b) for a certain amount of time, and

c) to listed retailers.

It also specifies that you retain the rights to your art AND it allows you to choose between whether or not you will continue to show the art to other manufacturers, during that same time period.  For the manufacturer, it does not obligate them in any way to concluding a deal with you.  So if things do go well, then you just move to a deal memo or straight to a licensing contract.

I believe that whether you use this form, or make up your own, it’s the best way to keep track of your art and what the manufacturer is doing.  It also gives you a detailed time frame in which to follow-up and determine how things are going and what the next steps should be. I find that, in general, keeping everyone accountable is really important. Also, deals are more likely to get signed.

Feel free to click here and get your copy of my ‘Shop Doc’ and to adapt it to your own situations.  No legal document is fool-proof, but it does help provide guidelines in which the manufacturer has set responsibilities with your art during the ‘shopping’ period. It also gives you the peace of mind that comes with knowing there is an end to their ‘shopping’ process, which would be enforceable in court if required.

I hope it makes your heart feel a bit more protected today, too.

Art Licensing: The Road Slowly Travelled!

29 10 2013

vampireCatsporchI think you will enjoy this blog from artist Daryl Slaton at Tails of Whimsy.  It’s a Halloween tale, for sure, as well as an honest appraisal of art licensing.

Musings on Getting From Here to There
Art Licensing: The Road Slowly Travelled!

Yes! We are very excited that our Halloween figurines finally reached the retail markets this month and can now be seen in stores and shop windows throughout the US. Yes, you can even see them on our driveway where the candy witches will sit with a bowl of candy on her lap because our front sidewalk will be torn up this week and our wee friends can’t even get to our porch! Yes, we are gratified that money is starting to come in!

Print On Demand Products…Is There a Place For Them in Art Licensing?

15 10 2013

blank mugI often get asked about Print on Demand (POD) products, and whether or not this is a good idea, or if it undermines one’s ability to license products to traditional manufacturers.
Making products available for sale on your web site is very appealing. And certainly the companies who offer POD are growing, and offering more types of products and better quality, than when this new era began.
Print on demand is basically, one-off printing, giving you the ability to buy one mug, one t-shirt or one tote bag with one of your designs on it. And let’s face it, it’s exciting to finally see your art, characters or designs on product. But this is not licensing and it’s not necessarily the way to grow your business.
I don’t think that utilizing POD in the early stages of your business is such a bad idea, but let me point out some POD catches that you might not have considered:

  1. If you want to manufacture your own product, rather than licensing it, POD is not the way to do it. POD products are really the most expensive way to purchase products, since you don’t get any volume discounts when you produce them one at a time. If you want to be a retailer, then you need to get serious about finding manufacturing vendors, warehousing your products, getting sales reps, etc.
  2. If you use POD to create mock ups for your web site or trade show booth, then potential licensing manufacturers may see those products and think you have already licensed those product categories. It may actually turn them off, rather than increase your appeal.
  3. If you sell products on your web site, be prepared to tell manufacturers about your sales results. Clearly manufacturers who want to license an artist would love to have some sales statistics to guide them in their decision. When a potential licensee sees that you have been selling product on your web site, they may very well ask you how the sales are going. If you say you’ve been selling product online for years, or even a year, and then tell them you’ve had sales of 327 units, they won’t likely be impressed. The fact is that if you don’t actively market your products, to a wide market consistently, then no one but your relatives and friends will buy them. Remember that selling products requires more than just putting the up ‘available’ sign on your web site. Of course, if you do market your products and sell 1000’s and 10’s of thousands, then you have got an amazing story to tell and you can probably use that information as leverage to close a licensing deal with a similar manufacturer who would love to create the product for you.
  4. POD products are often not well designed. They are essentially blank promotional products, in which you have a limited and fixed amount of space to place your artistic image. They can be inflexible, to say the least. My point is that these products, no matter how stylishly you place your art on them, are unlikely to sell and will rarely convince a well-seasoned manufacturer that your art belongs on products. They also don’t help build your brand identity. You can do better by creating artistic and inventive product designs through mock-ups.

I think overall that an artist will rarely make a great deal of money for the effort that POD products take. And they CAN potentially inhibit or turn off manufacturers and may be something you will have to explain. So think carefully about why you have POD products on your web site, or why you are considering adding them. If your goal is to create products for yourself, friends and family, then go for it!

20+ Benefits of Licensing

31 07 2013

As I make calls to manufacturers, I’ve been thinking about the many benefits of licensing, and specifically those for artists and manufacturers in the industry (who are  commonly referred to as the licensor and licensee, respectively). I suggest that your understanding licensing benefits from the perspectives of the Licensor (Artist, Brand/Trademark Owner, Cartoonist, Designer, etc.), Licensee (Manufacturer, Retailer, etc.) and Agent (Representing the Licensor) is important when it comes to developing marketing plans, making sales calls, managing your trade show booth and negotiating contracts, to name a few instances.

Let’s start with the Licensee, since many of my readers are Licensors and might not have analyzed this subject from the manufacturer’s’ point-of-view.

For a Licensee, licensing can:

1. Generate incremental income from the sales of licensed products.
2. Create additional product lines by borrowing brand equity from various properties and artists.
3. Provide credibility to the manufacturer’s product line through the licensing of high profile brands and properties.
4. Expand awareness of all products in a manufacturer’s line and attract new customers.
5. Target more audiences through the use of different licenses.
6. Help build a competitive advantage when you have a variety of lines making up your product mix, and even offering exclusive properties (brands, artists, etc.) that your competition doesn’t have.
7. Develop more product lines without adding more expense or work load to the creative department.
8. Find HOT talent and trends.
9. Increase market share, which is the percentage of total sales volume in a specific product market (bedding, craft kits, tea towels, etc.) captured by one manufacturer or brand.
10. Create efficiency. Manufacturers with their own production facilities or factories gain efficiency, and more profit, when operating at an optimum level. Often manufacturers start off producing basic products and then add licensed properties so they can run their plant 24/7 and take advantage of economies of scale. Likewise, manufacturer/wholesalers gain purchasing power with suppliers by increasing quantities on production orders and building better relationships with their factories, thus obtaining lower prices and reducing their costs per unit.
11. Open new channels of distribution by offering product designs and styles which require different retail options, such as mass market, specialty stores, home shopping networks, catalogs, internet, dollar stores and deep discounters.
12. Increase a manufacturer’s retail shelf space with a broader, as well as stronger, product mix.

For a Licensor and their Agent, licensing can:

1. Generate revenue or an additional income stream based on the intellectual property (IP) rights (art, cartoon, designs, etc.) you own.
2. Leverage the equity you have built through your brand.
3. Enhance brand positioning through product design and messaging (website, advertising, catalogs, product, packaging).
4. Strategically grow the value of the brand via product (and artist’s) exposure and sales.
5. Generate product without an up-front investment.
6. Help find partners with important production expertise to create relevant brand extensions.
7. Help find partners with existing and well-targeted distribution channels.
8. Protect your intellectual property. When you register and use your trademark, such as through licensed product sales, you then have the right to use legal action in claims against fraudulent use.
9. Promote stronger relationships with existing customers and find new customers for your brand.
10. Build a competitive advantage though exclusive licensing opportunities.

Put this list on your wall or somewhere you can access it and review it over time. Perhaps when you are making a call to a potential manufacturer you can ask yourself, “Why do I want to license my art to them?” And more importantly, “Why would they want to license art from me?” Being able to understand the benefits of licensing to both the Licensor and Licensee is crucial to developing those answers.


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