Nine Crucial Questions for Your Licensees

16 11 2010

When there is a consumer need, then innovative manufacturers can develop product that fills the niche and determine how to reach those customers who can use the product. And successful companies tend to be successful because they start with this premise. You see product development is really a function of sales identifying a need in the marketplace.

(c) Laurie Wisbrun

Let me repeat that –  product development is a function of sales, not manufacturing! But many manufacturers have different styles and, therefore, they make different types of licensees.  I believe that the most successful licensing companies also start with this premise, working from the consumer to the right distribution outlet, product design (art or licensed property, colors, style, etc.) and ultimately all the way back to quality manufacturing.

If a licensee only sees themselves as a manufacturer, they tend to have the opposite mentality and rarely make a good licensing partner. Here the company tends to think and communicate in terms of production, strictly fulfilling production limits, meeting production schedules, and creating anything they can to avoid ‘down time’. In this scenario, the heart of the company is not sales and marketing, but the manufacturing process. This factory perspective is built around keeping the machinery running.  They tend to lack innovative management team members who are marketing savvy.

For artists, it is important to ask critical questions about your licensees. Working with a factory-oriented licensee can certainly be done, but it may mean more effort on your part. Rather than designing collections and fulfilling their art needs, you may also be designing the product line and working on marketing strategies and public relations to make sure your designs get to market and sell through at retail.

Here are nine crucial questions to help evaluate your current and prospective licensees:

  1. Where do your products sell at retail?
  2. How is your organization structured for product development from design through execution and delivery?
  3. Does the company’s Sales Director participate in the product development process?
  4. What are your sales goals for this particular program?
  5. Are you reaching out to new customers, distribution channels and areas of growth? If so, will innovation of your product design be a vehicle for growth?
  6. How far do in advance are production schedules developed?
  7. Who is my point of contact and what is the decision making process?
  8. What are your expectations for the product (artwork) I will provide?
  9. What external marketing efforts will be made for the launch my new product line? (Discuss catalogs, trade show appearances, promotions, retail displays, etc.)

I also recommend a review of the company’s catalog and, of course, their web site.  Then ask yourself, “Is it sophisticated enough to indicate a serious commitment to marketing?” If the quality is questionable, this is a huge red flag. With this kind of licensee, you may face extra work in order to insure that your art, product and brand are represented to meet YOUR standards.  Or you may find yourself frustrated in a relationship with a partner unwilling to invest in their own brand, let alone yours.

On a final note, License! Global Magazine reviews the top 100 Global Licensees in their November/December issue. According to their editorial calendar they are slated to do it again this year and it should be available soon. While not all licensees will be appropriate for artists, it pays to review the list and learn about some of the best selling product categories and manufacturers.  While you are at it, make sure you are subscribing to the License! Global Magazine, e-news or monthly digital magazine.

Today’s Featured Artist is Laurie Wisbrun whose fanciful Tufted Tweets, four chair and sofa patterns with tiny birds, are being sold by Robert Kaufman Fabrics. She incorporates sophistication and an element of surprise in every design.

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One response

16 11 2010
Sheila Meehan

Bravo, J’Net! I think that artists (OK, some agents, too) are so excited to actually get a deal that they forget to ask the important questions. You are not only entitled to ask these questions, you have an obligation to do this. You owe it to your art/brand to position yourself with the right licensee to become successful. I have made plenty of mistakes by not always asking some of these questions and by asking them, you should be able to also design and market a more successful line.

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