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Fisher-Price bee creates a buzz on the Europ licensing scene

When France-based Fisher-Price Europe launched its brand out-licensing program three years ago, the Mattel-owned division initially began developing U.S. programs on a worldwide basis. Now the strategy has shifted to a market-by-market approach, with local agents assigned in five territories: the...
May 1, 2001

When France-based Fisher-Price Europe launched its brand out-licensing program three years ago, the Mattel-owned division initially began developing U.S. programs on a worldwide basis. Now the strategy has shifted to a market-by-market approach, with local agents assigned in five territories: the U.K., Spain/Portugal, Italy, Germany/Austria/Switzerland and Scandinavia.

According to Fisher-Price Europe’s license development manager Michel Felisa, the company chose to work with territorial agents, rather than strictly globalize U.S. licenses, for two main reasons. ‘We felt that in order to better meet consumer needs in territories with different tastes and lifestyles, we should work with local licensees,’ says Felisa. And with ‘fewer and fewer retailers and more and more mergers’ in the U.S. and Canada, retailers are ‘trying to reduce their number of suppliers, so if our licensees do not already work with those people, it makes things difficult.’

This month, KidScreen takes a temperature reading of developing localized programs.

France

Licensing contact: Michel Felisa, license

development manager, Fisher-Price Europe

E-mail: felisami@mattel.com

Product categories: publishing, sports & leisure, apparel & accessories, nursery products, health & beauty

Local licensees: Atlas (flash cards), Baby Love (apparel), Jet (body wear), Olivier Guille (socks), Uniset (sticker boards), Hachette (publishing), Funhouse (soft furniture), Trousselier (lamps), CTI (bedding/décor), Dino Spa (bikes), Blatt (tents)

Pan-European licensees (all territories): Airess (eyewear), Italtrike (scooters/trikes), Siport (shoes), Eurobell (helmets/protective pads)

Categories currently open to licensing: apparel & accessories, health & beauty

Target demos: 0 to 2 and 2 to 4

Within Europe, Fisher-Price brand values-safety, education, play values and innovation-have translated well to consumers, building up a considerable amount of brand equity. ‘We need to develop it as a character brand and develop those features in our licensing program,’ says Felisa. Thus, in France, Felisa is looking for licensees that recognize the Fisher-Price brand values, have the design and manufacturing capacity to develop product with those values in mind, and have the right distribution.

Program-wide, Felisa’s goal is to realize sales of US$40.3 million in Europe with 60 licensees in place by the end of 2001, although he says the program will need 80 to 100 licensees to have complete coverage in all Euro markets. In Europe, Fisher-Price licenses represent about 5% of the company’s sales.

To aid local licensees in developing product for the France-based program, two main target demos, complete with separate style guides, have been developed. The zero to two range will use the Bright Expressions design theme, a colorful grouping of spotted and striped bugs and flowers used on much of Fisher-Price’s North American infant hard goods line. For the two to four set, licensees will have access to a range of characters, designs and themes from Fisher-Price’s Play Family collection of toddler toys (known as Little People in North America). ‘The Play Family is really a great asset for us. Its environment can change endlessly-from the farm, to the school, to the zoo-which gives us a good scope of development, especially in apparel,’ says Felisa.

The U.K.

Agent: Link Licensing (Entertainment Rights)

Licensing contact: Peter Woodhead, international licensing director

E-mail: peterw@linklicensing.com

Local licensees: Alligator Books (publishing), Blueprint (apparel/accessories, publishing/stationery), MV Sports & Leisure (sporting equipment/accessories), Napa Products (toiletries), Radius Toothbrush (toothbrushes), Robert Frederick (publishing), Vogue Housewares (nursery products), Snugger (sleeping bags), Napa (bath products). In discussions for apparel, footwear and bedding.

Categories currently open to licensing: puzzles/games, infant care/diapers

Target demos: 0 to 2, 2 to 4, 3 to 5

With some licensees on-board and product already out at market, Link is currently looking for licensees to fill in the program’s gaps. ‘Wherever possible, we are looking for licensees that can provide some sort of interactivity between the child and the product, because we think that’s where Fisher-Price scores well-it’s a learning brand,’ says Woodhead. On the stationery line, for example, Link is looking at having triangular-shaped pencils that teach kids how to hold a pencil properly, as opposed to the typical round one, which doesn’t.

Rather than simply slapping the Bright Expressions and Play Family characters on product, Link will be using the designs in tandem with learning tools. Using letters of the alphabet to spell out given words with images, or combining numbers for basic math, will ‘give the feel that this is a brand that is encouraging the child to learn and interact with the product itself and the Fisher-Price brand.’

Another design theme Link is considering is a grouping of crayoned images called Fisher-Price Fun, which Link originally developed in conjunction with Mattel UK. ‘We picked up on it and would really like it to bridge the gap between Bright Expressions and Play Family,’ says Woodhead, ‘but because it all gets rather corporate, it has to go via the U.S. and it’s going to take awhile.’ Woodhead hopes the theme will come back into play in the second half of 2001 and be developed as part of the program for 2002.

For now, Link is focused on making sure the product looks like Fisher-Price should look as a quality-driven brand. ‘It’s a matter of trying to consolidate, building the licensing program, and in the product development phase of those programs, concentrating on quality, creativity and interaction,’ says Woodhead.

Germany/Austria/Switzerland

Agent: Copyright Promotions Germany

Licensing contact: Diana Hartz

E-mail: dhartz@copyrightpromotions.de

Local licensees: None confirmed

Categories currently open to licensing: All

Target demos: 0 to 5 (primary), mothers/parents/grandparents (secondary)

The Fisher-Price brand, as Copyright Promotions Germany is positioning it, will provide a strong construction quality while being both tender and lovable. ‘If we look at market shares in terms of turnover, Fisher-Price is not the number-one brand in Germany,’ says Hartz. The licensing program, therefore, has to work harder to stand out in the crowded preschool market. In Fisher-Price’s favor, says Hartz, is its unique color scheme-a very strong brand component.

Based on German market realities and licensee input, Hartz is taking a unique stance with target demos, lumping three distinct groups-infants, toddlers and young children-into one. In Europe, the age range for Fisher-Price core merchandise is typically from zero to three years, ‘but if we’re going to approach apparel, in Germany you can’t divide three-year-olds from five-year-olds,’ says Hartz, citing sporting equipment and scooters as two older-skewing categories.

While Hartz thinks that both Bright Expressions and Play Family are solid themes, her roster of potential licensees are more in tune with Play Family. Thus, Play Family designs may be used on the infant products as well. ‘This is a typical approach for German licensees because as infant products, they will have to attract the parents more than the kids.’

Retail market realities are also a consideration, and according to Hartz, the German market is currently seeing a concentration of two major groups doing up to 70% of the business. ‘One of them is mail order-driven-as is the whole apparel and accessory business in Germany-and includes department stores,’ says Hartz. ‘The second group is chain stores and hyper-markets.’

Copyright Promotions will target department stores and mail orders because, from a turnover point-of-view, they’re a little like mass market, but pricing is more reasonable. ‘We don’t think Fisher-Price will sell in mass market down to the lower market because the brand will not really translate into the product if we have the wrong pricing,’ says Hartz. Thus, Copyright Promotions is trying to hit the mid market, which in Germany is not far from upscale. However, Hartz is quick to add, ‘we are not saying that the product should be expensive.’

Limiting retail plans to the German mid market dictates the type of licensee Hartz will approach, and the quality-driven Fisher-Price brand narrows the band further. ‘We have to think in terms of three- to four-year relationships with partners because in terms of product development, Mattel is requesting quality programs,’ says Hartz. ‘The product has to be tested by a third-party testing facility, so the licensee investment is very high and very intensive.’

Hartz’s Fisher-Price product strategy will encompass two phases. Phase one (2001) will focus on apparel (leisurewear and underwear), accessories (nursery, safety and feeding) and publishing, with deal announcements expected this summer. ‘This is the closest product to the original brand, so we feel that the licensees we are approaching will understand why we are approaching them,’ says Hartz. Phase two (2002 to 2003) will target back-to-school (posters, planners, stationery), wooden toys, outdoor play and bikes, in addition to starting the search for Fisher-Price promo partners.

Italy

Agent: Copyright Promotions Licensing

Group Italy

Licensing contact: Grazia Caimi,

managing director

E-mail: gracaimi@tin.it

Local licensees: None confirmed. Currently in discussions for apparel.

Categories currently open to licensing: All

Target demos: 0 to 18 months, 2 to 5

Although CPLG Italy is dividing its program into two age ranges, parents will be the primary marketing targets.

Since Fisher-Price, through its core toys and accessories line, is the number-two preschool brand in Italy after Kiko, CPLG will capitalize on parent brand awareness with the first category of the brand extension-apparel.

At press time, CPLG expected an apparel license to be finalized as early as this month, with other categories to follow over the next few months. ‘We are looking to find and target companies that have quality as their objective,’ says Laura Arbosti, CPLG Italy’s marketing assistant. ‘It’s important for the brand that we approach large companies who can work on the brand not only for now, but for a long-term marketing period of two to five years.’ The first round of products should hit retail by year’s end.

Spain

Agent: Copyright Promotions Licensing

Group Spain

Licensing contact: Sofia Noguera,

managing director

E-mail: sofian@cplgspain.com

Local licensees: Beascoa (publishing), Chaulines Textile Industries (bedding)

Categories currently open to licensing: apparel, school bags, toiletries, infant feeding products, children’s furniture, bedding, toweling, bikes

Target demos: 0 to 12 months, 1 to 5

The preschool market in Spain and Portugal is a growing one (even if the birth rate is decreasing) since parents now dedicate a large portion of the family budget-around 40%, according to Noguera-to their kids.

With Fisher-Price, the number-two preschool brand in Spain and Portugal after Chicco, CPLG Spain is looking to develop a licensee portfolio of creative category leaders with distribution in a wide but selective network. Retail plans will not include mass market distribution, as the program will be geared to specialty. ‘We plan to avoid mass market, that is big hyper-markets, which are still considered `cheap’ here-and concentrate the retail in specialized shops, a very important distribution channel in Spain and Portugal and suitable for the Fisher-Price licensing program,’ says Noguera. Corte Inglés, a large Spanish department store with over 71 outlets, will be an important distribution focus.

Scandinavia

Agent: Bulls

Licensing contact: Brian Laffan, licensing

executive

E-mail: brian@bulls.se

Local licensees: None confirmed

Categories currently open to licensing: All

Target demos: Parents, infants, toddlers

As the most recent agent assigned to represent the Fisher-Price brand in Europe, Bulls is behind most of the other markets in terms of program development. Even so, Laffan expects the first round of deals to close in June, with product slated to debut at Scandinavian retail in January 2002.

Currently in negotiations for Fisher-Price-branded music, apparel/bedding, safety and feeding products, Bulls is looking for partners with a strong financial position, established distribution, an intrinsic understanding of Fisher-Price brand values, willingness to contribute further to those values by producing high-quality merchandise, and a long-term view. ‘It is our desire that licensees produce new product for Fisher-Price, rather than affix the brand to `off-the-shelf’ items,’ says Laffan. ‘Given that goal, it is necessary to find pan-Scandinavian partners to justify the costs associated with product development.’

Since the Scandinavian market is relatively small when compared to Germany, France or the U.K., Laffan expects to see licensees in categories with high product development costs to sign distribution deals with existing licensees in other territories not currently active in Scandinavia.

At the retail level, Bulls will target parents shopping on behalf of their infants and toddlers. ‘We have no plans to discourage licensees from approaching their mass market partners in the baby segment,’ says Laffan. But as a rule, Bulls will be looking to position product in the mid to upscale price segment ‘in order to maintain perceived value.’ Mattel’s Scandinavian focus is on a younger demo segment, so Bright Expressions will be the initial basis of the program. ‘We do not see Fisher-Price as a brand that older children are likely to opt for over the competition and flood of character- and music-licensed properties on the market,’ says Laffan.

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