Kids classics get a merch infusion for ’07

While Jim Henson and Theodore Geisel's (aka Dr. Seuss) spots in the pantheon of kids entertainment legends are well established, it looks like deals announced at Licensing Show last month will amp up their IPs' in-store presence in 2007.
August 1, 2006

While Jim Henson and Theodore Geisel’s (aka Dr. Seuss) spots in the pantheon of kids entertainment legends are well established, it looks like deals announced at Licensing Show last month will amp up their IPs’ in-store presence in 2007.

Henson is primarily known for creating the Muppets and Sesame Street characters, but it turns out he was a pretty prolific graphic designer, too. After discovering hundreds of his sketches and doodles in The Jim Henson Company’s New York-based archives about three years ago, the company began to explore possible outlets for the designs. At the show, Henson tapped New York’s 4Kids Entertainment as worldwide licensing agent for the brand new Jim Henson Designs merch program.

4Kids was looking to move beyond its entertainment and animation-heavy merch portfolio and into design-driven programs, and Henson’s wellspring of creativity presented a good opportunity. Carlin West, 4Kids senior VP of new concept acquisitions and development, says Henson’s designs are ideal for a comprehensive licensing program because their unique style lends itself to all ages, from infants to adults. West also believes the designs, depicting things like colorful monsters, have a timeless quality to them. ‘The beauty of this is it isn’t something that’s trend-based,’ she says. ‘It will have a trendy positioning in it, but it won’t go out of style three years from now.’

Senior VP of marketing and licensing at 4Kids Tony Reed says a 2001 study from New Jersey-based Applied Research Corporation revealed the puppeteer himself had a 95% awareness with consumers, and 98% of that group liked him. Presumably this bodes well for 4Kids as it banks on fans embracing Henson’s designs in the same way they’ve glommed on to his classic characters in the past.

The two companies are already hard at work looking for manufacturers, retailers and distributors across the board. West says plans are afoot to produce hundreds of SKUs in no less than 65 categories for the program, including everything from infant furniture and developmental toys to tween backpacks and adult apparel. She says the program will most likely kick off with infant and toddler lines, which should appear on retail shelves in Q4 2007. She is now on the lookout for a retailer that carries infant and toddler product to get the program started.

Not to be left out, Dr. Seuss Enterprises has recently announced licensing deals that should help put classics The Grinch and The Cat in the Hat back in the consumer spotlight. As the company gets ready to celebrate the 50th anniversary of these iconic characters in 2007, licensing deals with Culver City, California-based Small World Toys and designer Nick Graham will cover a range of categories from toys and apparel to cosmetics and housewares.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises executive VP Susan Brandt says the specialty toy maker will produce a line of preschool-targeted developmental toys based on Dr. Seuss properties. Relationships with toy companies are familiar territory for Dr. Seuss, but this is its first foray into developmental toys. At press time, the toy designs hadn’t been unveiled, but Brandt says a mass retail rollout is planned for this holiday season.

The company has also appointed San Francisco, California-based designer Nick Graham to shepherd the creation of a 50th anniversary collection for the Cat and the Grinch. This is the company’s first attempt at directing the look and product assortment for a merch program in-house.

Brandt is now on the lookout for licensees and an exclusive retailer for the program. Depending on the partnership, the collection could consist of apparel for all ages, as well as housewares, textiles and sleepwear, among other categories.

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