Manufacturer Interview: Phil Cowley, CMO of Design Design Inc.

6 04 2016

Hi everyone, I appreciate your patience and support while I recovered from my hip replacement surgery. It feels so amazing to be back at my desk with renewed energy, a new perspective and motivation for moving life and business forward. Thanks to all of you who sent your well-wishes while I was recuperating!

www.designdesign.us

As most of you know, I believe strongly in building great, positive relationships. We find in art and character licensing, the 80/20 rule is just as true as it is in all the other industries. Specifically, this means that 80 percent of your revenue comes from only 20 percent of your clients. So in practical terms, to actually grow your revenue, you need to connect with as many people as possible. This means attending trade shows, talking to other artists, getting on the phone, asking those in-the-know for advice and finding industry events where you will meet the manufacturers and the decision-makers who will become the cornerstone of your licensing business.

The more you learn about what manufacturers want and are looking for, from the manufacturers themselves, the better you will be able to provide the appropriate art, in the proper format, to catch their eye and close your deal.

Not all manufacturers are willing to share this information. Fortunately there are some who will, such as Design Design’s Chief Marketing Officer,  Phil Cowley. I have worked with Phil on many occasions and he is such a wealth of information. In our interview, he shares intriguing insights about how manufacturers work, and specifically how Design Design works with artists.

Below I’ve listed just a few of the topics that are covered in this interview. I admit up-front, that the 30-minute length, is much longer than your average web interview. But I just couldn’t edit out any of the details. So grab a cup of coffee or tea and you’ll learn something, I’m sure. And thank you Phil for your time and so much valuable information!

  • What are the color and design trends for 2016?
  • What are the three most influential industries, when it comes to paper product designs
  • What is Design Design’s inside out approach to the marketplace?
  • What are their six key product categories?
  • What percentage of their product line is new each year?
  • How much art do they license?
  • How many artists do they work with?
  • How often does Design Design release new product?
  • What is the hardest greeting card (and other products…) category to fill?
  • Who are their primary retailer channels of distribution?
  • What exactly do they want from artists?

Final note: There are some audio issues on this interview due to internet fluctuations. We apologize in advance for making you have to listen extra-hard in a few places. This interview was taped in November 2016. The delay in publishing was due to my surgery. On all accounts, thanks for your understanding!

If you are interested in sending your portfolio of art to Design Design, Phil asks that you go to their Artists Inquiry page and download their Artist Guidelines for Artwork Submissions, which I’ve also linked to here for you. Please read this important information and then you can send your relevant artwork to their Senior Director of Creative, Tom Vituj at tom.vituj@designdesign.us

 

 

 

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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





Rule #14

7 11 2011

Product development and design go hand in hand.

As an art licensor, you’re creating a piece of art that potentially could be featured on hundreds of thousands, or millions of products.  Art licensing is a highly competitive and commercial business, and as it’s growing, the competition is becoming stiffer. It’s really more about creating product lines and product options for manufacturers. Your target audience is most often manufacturers, who become your licensees. Manufacturers are selling to the retailers, who make the final decision to put licensed product on store shelves, thereby making your art available to consumers.

So, if you really think about it, what you are doing is creating the design elements, which the manufacturers will place on their product. Then you’re selling the manufacturers on the idea of using your art to help grow and build their product’s exposure, their sales, and profits from retailers. While I think most manufacturers would love to design their own products, but in today’s economy they just don’t have the time or staff.  They’ve been impacted deeply by the economy and controlling costs has resulted in very lean product development, production and design staffs.

These manufacturers are depending on artists and designers more than ever to fulfill their creative needs; design their individual products, as well as complete product lines. As an art licensor, you’re not creating one image to be sold as one image; you’re creating multiple images that create a collection, which will be marketed to manufacturers for small and large product lines.

The manufacturer may create the product line, or you may be very influential in creating the product line. But the bottom line is that you want to reach those manufacturers, and team up with them to get your art on product. This means your art must be mocked up on illustrations of products, or product templates such as those available from All Art Licensing, to actually show how your art would appear and how you wish to have it produced.

It’s crucial to go this extra step so the manufacturers can envision your art on their products. Manufacturers want you to present to them the plate with the design on it, the mug with the design on it, the tablecloth with the design on it. Are you envisioning your art askew in a corner, or centered with a traditional border? What’s your vision for your art, and for your art designed on the manufacturer’s product? Let them know!

Here’s your chance to show off your ability to design products in your key licensing product categories. Make sure you keep your product design relevant.  Don’t mock up your art on an apron if you want to pitch infant wear. Your presentations need to be designed for the manufacturers you’re pitching.  So, make sure you have a clear vision to whom you’re sending the presentation out, and think about how to design your art on their product for them.





Rule #12

31 10 2011

Prepare to be an entrepreneur.

Start your art licensing business by reading about and talking to successful entrepreneurs in all kinds of businesses. Most successful entrepreneurs are happy to share what they’ve learned—the good and the bad. Ask yourself if you are ready to be an entrepreneur with all the ‘hats’ you need to wear on a daily basis.

Creating and growing residual income requires a balancing act. You’ll be continually creating art to keep your portfolio fresh, maintaining a large library of art to hold manufacturers’ interest, and thinking of new ideas for your art, whether on the cutting edge of trends or on-trend. And art development is just one end of the spectrum.

On the other end of the spectrum, your responsibilities as a business owner also demand time. Time is spent to manage finances, schedules, deadlines, contracts, clients, approvals, annual plans, marketing, budgets and staying informed on industry news.

So, the entrepreneurial business model means you’re constantly marketing your art and product design, creating new art, running your business, and staying motivated. All of those things require a balancing act of skills, time and attention.

I want to clarify that even if you having an agent, you are still an entrepreneur and will have to manage a juggling act. Think about it, you don’t just hand over your business to an agent. There’s a distinctive hat you wear when you search, hire and work with your agent. And if you don’t take the time to ‘manage’ your agent, things can go awry.

Be honest with yourself about areas where your skills excel and where they are lacking.  All types of entrepreneurial skills are a must for the success of your art licensing business. Try reading some business blogs as a part of your ongoing training, such as Alyson Stanfield’s Art Biz Blog. I’d like to hear what other business blogs you find helpful, so I can share them with everyone.





Rule #10

24 10 2011

Invest in a dynamic Art Licensing web site.

You need an Art Licensing web site that is designed to clearly communicate what you do for potential manufacturing and licensing partners. Here me clearly—your fine art or crafter website won’t work for your licensing business.

It is critical for your business to have a web site that focuses on your target audience.  In Art Licensing, that audience is your prospective licensees, the manufacturers who will license your art. The consumers who purchase your art in stores are a secondary audience.  Of course, your fans and consumers are very important, but you can create a very cluttered web site trying to appeal to more than one target audience.

Creating your web site is as important as those large four-color brochures of the past. It is truly the most crucial business communication tool you have or will create. So make sure your web site is ready for business when you are.

The overall objective is to target manufacturers in the various industries that you want to reach. Think about that and how your website can reflect that audience. Talk to them in their language and make sure you are addressing their needs. Keep it simple, easy to navigate, very functional and up to date. If you want to generate business, I can’t stress all of these points enough.

Start by showing your art in collections, and enough collections that a manufacturer can really get a sense of who you are and what you do. Manufacturers can quickly review your art and determine if they like your style, and if your designs may be a match for their company.

But think about this…it may be what you say (OR DON’T SAY) on your site that will help you win new business, or lose it on the spot. Specifically, a manufacturer is going to want to know what you can do for them.  So, you need to include specifics about your experience level and capabilities. Never include your resume and artist statement—they’re too lengthy and totally inappropriate for this type of audience.





Rule #8

17 10 2011

Develop a significant licensing portfolio. 

You need a significant portfolio geared toward surface design for a variety of product categories. It is really important to have the portfolio organized before you launch into the Art Licensing arena, since you can never make another first impression.

In Art Licensing, your portfolio is going to be presented in a collection format. When we talk about a certain number of collections, keep in mind that each collection is going to have multiple pieces of art—central images, borders, patterns, and borders (or possibly some combination of them). These are the elements you and the manufacturer will choose from to pull together your product designs.

Imagine yourself walking into a mid-tier retailer during Easter season. In addition to the candy and baskets, they will have melamine and ceramic serve-ware for everyentertaining need.  Essentially the merchandiser will display small bowls, big bowls, baskets, bunny-shaped plates, large platters, pitchers and perhaps egg and bunny shaped décor items and candle holders. This is their seasonal display, or product line.

If you want to see your art on these products in the future, you are not going to create one piece of art to slap on all of those different shapes and sizes of products. You need to think about developing a cohesive collection of art—the images, borders, and patterns—that will all work together to create this product line. You need to think and prepare even more, because you need to show the manufacturer how all those artistic components work together and apply to their line of products.

It takes quite a bit of work up front to develop these types of complete collections, let alone 10-30 of them. But, frankly, the more collections you can create, and the more significant your portfolio is, the more licensing business you’ll do. There’s no doubt in my mind that the more you have to offer and the more people you contact, the more deals you’re going to get. That’s just a truism of sales.





Rule #6

6 10 2011

Educate yourself about retail channels.  

It is important to have a clear understanding of the types of licensed products you want your art to appear on, as well as which type of retail channels, and retailers, carry those types of products.

Art licensing doesn’t mean you need to be in Wal-Mart. And while the landscape is always changing, today there are more products featuring licensed art sold in specialty retail channels (Spencer’s Gifts, Hot Topic, etc.), independent retailers (privately owned gift or card stores), and upscale department and chain stores (Bloomingdales, Nordstrom’s, etc.). And less than half of licensed art on products are sold through mass-market channels.

You need to think about where you want your product to ‘live at retail,’ and then plot your strategy for getting there. You, as the licensor (artist), need to make a decision as to where your art fits on products—what type of products, retail price points and retail channels are best for your style of art, and the brand you want to build. And when you make that decision, then you have to stick with it and be determined to make it happen.

There are a lot of manufacturers out there who will get you in department stores, but they also have distribution in drug stores, deep discounters and even ‘dollar’ stores. It’s up to you to ask about a manufacturers’ channel(s) of distribution and to come to an agreement as to where your product will be distributed.

No discussion of retail channels would be complete without the dual acknowledgement that retailers today are being held hostage by the economy, corporate mergers and price-driven consumers, while at the same time acting as the gatekeepers who hold the key to distribution (or not!) for manufacturers. This means retailers are both unusually stressed and powerful at the same time.

Regarding your art licensing business, keep in mind those retailers—whether brick and mortar, catalogs, or online e-tailers—allow or prevent the flow of products to consumers. So, they can help you reach consumers, or they can prevent your licensed products from reaching the consumers’ hands.

Today there are more and more online retailers who can take your art from production all the way to the consumer. But online sales of art licensing products are still miniscule compared to the level sold at brick and mortar retailers.

So, retailers still have the ultimate power. But years from now we may be stating something entirely different here. Understanding who the gatekeeper is—who has the power in an industry—will absolutely affect your marketing plan and how you create and manage your business.








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