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Product Merchandiser Focus: Licensed & Logoed Goods

Posted: Sept. 28, 2012, 12:35 p.m. EDT

Licensed To Sell 
Increase customer traffic and sales by stocking a carefully planned selection of fan-favorite merchandise.
By Cheryl Reeves

The entertainment world has steadily become an integral part of the marketplace with an ever-increasing amount of tie-in merchandise being offered to promote everything from movies to sports teams. Not only are children carrying backpacks featuring favorite cartoon characters, pet owners are also getting their animal companions into the fun by buying leashes, collars, tees and more that proclaim fandom for everything from Star Wars to NASCAR and the NFL.

Today’s pet retailers who grasp the winning strategy of stocking a variety of licensed and/or logoed products will more than likely see their store’s star rise with an increased flow of customer traffic along with word-of-mouth buzz, according to manufacturers.

Licensed sports team gear for dogs
Retailers unsure of which licensed products to carry can help ensure success with a good selection of regional professional- and college-team logoed items. Sherri L. Collins/Bowtie Inc. at Dogma in Irvine, Calif.
One key to success is finding out what teams, characters and logos resonate with a particular customer demographic before selecting inventory. This can be accomplished easily enough by simply asking customers directly, or posting the question on Facebook.

“Licensed products are now so extremely popular in the marketplace that any pet retailer not selling them is missing an enormous segment and really just leaving money on the table,” said Howard Goldberg, CEO of Howard Keys, a manufacturer based in Richmond, Va.

For pet stores to really excel in the sector, attention should be paid to promoting and displaying these products throughout a store in an entertaining way that engages customers and inspires impulse buys, Goldberg said. Posters, videos and cardboard character cut-outs are examples of ways to grab attention.

“If, as a retailer, you want to truly understand how important it is to sell licensed products, just take a stroll through your local Target: You’ll see entire aisles devoted to Disney and Star Wars products, from toothbrushes to towels and blankets,” he noted. “Pet retailers can profit very well in this sector, too.”

A number of retailers reported that their strongest sales come from sports and iconic entertainment character-related products.

Indeed, the top performing segment in the licensing industry is character/entertainment properties, which represented 44 percent of worldwide licensing sales in 2011, according to Stacy R. Kisla, senior director of marketing (aquatics, bird & small animal, toys & accessories and licensing) for Secaucus, N.J.-based Hartz Mountain Corp., which manufactures, among other things, the Angry Birds brand line.

“When determining whether to choose a licensed product, retailers should use their instincts in addition to understanding what trends or advertising and promotional support will be ongoing with the brand in the market at large,” Kisla said.

A good property offers an emotional connection with pet owners, she continued. Also, if there is a large advertising or promotional campaign for the property, this will provide a halo effect to the retailer who has items related to the property in store, Kisla added.

Once an independent retailer realizes that carrying licensed products is an opportunity available to them, the sky is the limit in terms of sales, reported Chris King, CEO and president of Eco Dog Planet in Beverly Hills, Calif.

“I think that some small retailers think that selling licensed products is out of their reach, that all these products are exclusive deals between assorted bigbox stores and manufacturers,” King said, who pointed out that his company’s products, Paris Hilton’s Tinkerbell-inspired doggie waste bags and the new Snoopy waste bags, are available to any retailer who chooses to stock them.

Sales of Disney merchandise are strong and steady at Posh Puppy Boutique in Rocklin, Calif., reported owner Jennifer Kirk.

“We sell Disney collars, leashes, toys, apparel and more,” she said. “Whenever I need to refresh inventory, I just pick up the phone and usually the products arrive the next day.”

At Howl to the Chief, a store in Washington, D.C., this year’s presidential election is sure to rally sales from customers on both sides of the political aisle.

“We have a huge demand for sports team pet apparel, for example, Redskins jerseys, bandanas, collars and leashes,” said Clint Allen, the store’s manager. “But, because of our Capitol Hill location, we sell a lot of political pet wear. Right after the conventions, we’ll be doing lots of business selling Obama and Romney pet-related items.”

Political- and sports-themed merchandise sales are significantly up, he reported, while traditional breed-specific merchandise sales have slowed considerably.

“Our customers are into sports and politics, but I think the decline in breed-specific products might be an indication of an increase in customers rescuing mutts from the pound,” Allen said.
When ordering inventory, retailers should think about geographics and demographics, advised Gina Newman, owner of Daisy’s Delights Barkery & Boutique in Ridley Park, Pa.

“For example, NASCAR products haven’t done very well at my store because my customers aren’t into that,” she said. “So I learned that this licensed product is not right for me. On the other hand, anything with ‘Penn State’ on it goes fast.”

Industry Voices
What are your most successful licensed products, and what “icon” would customers love to see featured on a pet item?

“People just love Disney characters and we sell a ton of products featuring an assortment of these characters. “The Beverly Hills Chihuahua” movie tie-in pet merchandise really sell great. As for what our customers might like to see, I get requests for Twilight products, and also a lot of customers frequently request “Dancing With The Stars” merchandise. A large segment of our customers are 55 years and older, and they’ve formed local dance competitions modeled after the show. They would love to dress their dogs up in DWTS-inspired outfits.”
Jennifer Kirk, owner of The Posh Puppy Boutique in Rocklin, Calif.

“Sports-related merchandise is by far our most popular seller, and jerseys are the item that most customers order. SpongeBob merchandise also continues to sell well. Regarding what customers would love to see in stock, I think, Twilight or Hunger Games products would be very sought after.”
Wade Whistle, owner of in Jonesboro, Ark.

“Sports team merchandise is huge, especially among our male customers. I think Harley-Davidson products would also do very well here, too.”
Gina Newman, owner of Daisy’s Delights Barkery and Boutique in Ridley, Pa.

Retailers really do need to understand consumer demand in their geographical location, agreed Jordana Isaacs, founder of Doggie Nation, a manufacturer based in Orlando, Fla.

“If you have a brick-and-mortar store in the southeast, then you should probably stock up on college football gear, and you should also keep some NASCAR products in stock,” Isaacs advised. “If you’re located in the north, then you’ll want to stock more NFL, NHL and MLB. If you’re in California, then you know you want to keep a good amount of Los Angeles Lakers and San Francisco Giants gear in stock.

“You want to stock up on what’s popular in your region,” she added.

In addition to savvy stocking, retailers who get very involved with staging and promoting licensed merchandise will win big at the register, Eco Dog Planet’s King reported. Placing life-size character cardboard cut-outs next to displays is just one idea on how to attract the consumer, he noted.

“Introduce new items on endcaps and near the register,” he continued. “Also, nothing beats old-fashioned communication. Make sure sales associates are connecting with consumers, too. You may have the right merchandise at the right time, but if your staff is texting instead of talking to customers, sales will be lost.”

A great way to show off products, especially in a store with limited square footage is to use a merchandising vehicle such as a hanging rope display in high traffic areas, Hartz’s Kisla said.

“Use the food aisle, in addition to the traditional toy aisle placement, to raise awareness of pet owners that these products are now available in their store,” she said.

At Howl to the Chief, large storefront windows display sports items, including jerseys, bandanas, hats and more. To show off political-themed merchandise, Allen said he’s done a red, white and blue patriotic window display to grab attention.

Lisa Di Pietro, co-owner of The Pet Cabaret in Roslindale, Mass., said she lucked out because her retail space had a former life as a video store.

“We inherited these large, wonderful display box areas that were used for movie posters and such,” she said. “These are great for displaying our product posters, too, especially our own logo characters that we use to promote our store: Hammy and Sammy, created by our artist, Bob Quinn.”

The Pet Cabaret’s logo characters have earned such high popularity that their images will soon appear on everything from clickers to poop bag dispensers, Di Pietro said.

“As a display tool, posters really appeal to the kids,” she said. “We also invest in television spots to boost brand awareness.”

An old-fashioned sidewalk sign works very well for Daisy’s Delights Barkery & Boutique, Newman noted.

“It’s a chalkboard that we picked up for around a hundred bucks and has pulled in so many customers who might have just walked on by otherwise,” she said. “It’s a great way to announce sales, new products and events.”

Retailers should also remember to utilize mannequins, noted DoggieNation’s Isaacs.

“It may sound silly, but seeing a jersey on a mannequin is a great marketing technique,” she said. “Customers see the way a jersey fits on the mannequin and they can’t help but envision how cute their dog will look wearing it.”

DoggieNation also offers a display called The Retail Solution to store owners, Isaacs reported.

“This is a great starting point for any retailer who wants to sell our NFL sports apparel line,” she said. “It consists of a team’s assorted NFL or college products (e.g., all Pittsburgh Steelers collars and leashes, tees, bandanas and toys). The Retail Solution includes a full display stand that reaches about 6-feet high, with a large NFL or college logo.”

When retailers are considering what licensed products to stock and how to display them, the power of partnerships can round out an overall successful selling strategy, Kisla said.

“A retailer can partner with the licensee, and by association, also with the licensor, to take advantage of both traditional and online campaigns,” she said.

“In both cases, a partnership will coordinate efforts into maximizing awareness across multiple touch points to the consumer, enhancing your reach and the magnitude of your campaign,” Kisla continued. “This will ultimately lead to the purchase by the pet owner.”


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