Trust a superhero-driven company to champion growth during an economic slump. After a test-phase year of representation by Toronto-based licensing agency Segal Communications, Marvel Entertainment is gearing up to make an aggressive push into the Canadian market with new retail and licensing strategies to bring about double-digit growth over the next three years.
Retailers north of the border including Zellers and Walmart Canada have traditionally carried a full array of Spider-Man merch, but president of North American consumer products Paul Gitter wants the same treatment for other Marvel properties, which have so far only had SKU-based programs.
The territory presents some significant challenges, lacking both the depth of retailers and the high-end and mid-tier channels of its State-side counterpart. But that hasn’t stopped Marvel and Segal from nearly doubling their square footage within existing retail accounts since the holiday season, thanks to better product placement, stronger signage, circulars and in-store promo activities. The next step is to court new retailers. Both partners want to implement the same DTR strategies credited with putting Marvel properties into US retailers that didn’t traditionally carry licensed merch, such as Gap and Pottery Barn.
With a full movie slate in place for the next three years and new animated series Super Hero Squad going to air on Teletoon Canada, ‘we’re able to give retailers a confidence that there’s so much going on at Marvel, it makes sense to keep our properties listed when it comes to larger retail initiatives,’ explains Gitter. The other challenge, he adds, is getting retailers to understand and buy into the lifestyle elements of the Marvel brands so they still have a place on shelves without a film presence.
To that end, Marvel’s consumer products team has been logging face-time with Canadian retailers on a daily and weekly basis, as opposed to bi-annually, and these efforts should start to bear fruit come spring 2010. That’s when DTR programs and products will roll out to support the release of Iron Man 2, creating more prominent product placement that will feed into the big release of the Avengers film in 2012, when Gitter anticipates having a merch presence across all primary and secondary categories.
In the interim, Gitter and Segal president Stuart Pollack are eager to talk to promo partners, manufacturers and retailers about expanding the portfolio’s footprint. They’re particularly keen to find the right partners in footwear, publishing, food & beverage and consumer packaged goods.
Gitter also hinted that Marvel was eyeing several properties to exploit and localize in the Canadian market alone. The country’s widespread hockey fetish, for example, opened the door for licensee ITech to execute an NHL-quality Spider-Man hockey mask created specifically for Canadian retail.
And while Marvel is primarily known for its boy-targeted merch, Gitter is also ready to move forward with a new girl-focused program in Canada. Interestingly, the focus isn’t on female superheroes, which Gitter explains are traditionally targeted at the male demo. Instead, it will hone in on an iconic, vintage glam style that plays on the romantic, lifestyle elements of the brands.
Comprised mainly of softline categories such as accessories, cosmetics and collectibles, the Marvel Juniors program logged its first full year at US retail in 2008, and Gitter says the program experienced triple-digit growth. ‘We wanted to ensure we had a story to tell and a model that worked before we began to discuss it with retailers in Canada,’ he says, noting that he also wants this to be a global initiative.