At the Juvenile Products Manu-facturers Association (JPMA) trade show in Dallas, Texas in late October, one thing became clear. Licenses are becoming increasingly necessary in order to sell infant product in the juvenile products industry, which is worth US$3.97 billion, according to JPMA’ s figures.
One company that’s been in the infant merchandise business going on 30 years, San Diego-based Infantino, knows how tough it is to slog along without licensed product.
‘We grew the company without licenses for a long time,’ says Mark Silberstein, marketing and public relations director for Infantino. But, he adds, with a licensed character, the product is much more easily recognized, and thus purchased. Over the last six years, Infantino has increased its sales seven-fold, thus finding that it’s able to sign licensed characters that carry a lot of weight with retailers. (Infantino is now the second-largest supplier of mobiles and infant carriers in America.)
At this year’s JPMA, it announced a new line of feeding products, all sporting Universal Consumer Products’ Curious George (available now), along with a line of Wee Witness feeding products that sport inspirational messages created by San Diego-based Scribbles. The feeding line will be available in North American stores January 1. Infantino has also taken on the role of distributor for an upscale European line of Louise de Bellemont feeding products, which are available in North American stores now. In addition, Infantino has announced new bedding designs featuring U.K.-based company Tiger Prints’ property Fuzzy Teddy and Random House’s Elmer the Elephant book-based property; both products are available now across North America.
Rob Gruen, executive VP of worldwide marketing and retail business development for Warner Bros., which has developed both a Baby Looney Tunes Collection and a Classic Baby Looney Tunes Collection, says the competition in infant licensing is strong-not just between licensees of popular characters, but with retailers like Baby Gap that don’t require a character on a jumper to attract shoppers.
‘We also have to compete with styling and trends, and that person who didn’t walk in wanting something with a character on it,’ says Gruen.
As the infant market is increasingly fickle about styling demands, design and color trends, this has lead to the development of ‘classic’ lines such as Classic Pooh and the afore-mentioned Classic Baby Looney Tunes Collection for the more discriminating new mother. The collection, which includes pastels and more softly drawn, innocent-looking characters, was developed last year to compliment the previously established Baby Looney Tunes.
‘Our Classic Baby Looney Tunes Collection is really designed for the middle and upper tiers of distribution, with different fabrics and a different licensee base. We try to be responsive to what the trends are,’ Gruen adds.
The sweetly drawn Classic Collection has had the most success to date with bedding products for babies. Master licensees include Gerber (apparel, bedding, feeding products and accessories), Hauck Hong Kong of Toronto (carriers, play yards and strollers), and San Antonio, Texas-based Play By Play (stackers and plush).