Fox Chapel is ready to color outside the lines.
The Pennsylvania-based publisher —best known for its activity and coloring books—inked an agreement with Cali artist Kayomi Harai to become the exclusive licensing agent for her Ninja Kitties brand.
Fox Chapel will focus on apparel, accessories and school supplies in its initial licensing push, with plans to expand into additional categories once the consumer products program is more established. The company will also serve as publisher for the brand, with its first title—Ninja Kitties Great Adventures Coloring Book—set to hit shelves in August 2020.
“It is a little unusual for a publishing company to also be an agent, but the heart of this IP is going to be the stories,” says Fox Chapel president David Miller. “We have a vision for how Ninja Kitties could grow over several years, and we thought if we could be in a decision-making position with the story, we could protect the integrity of the brand better than if Kayomi were to license Ninja Kitties out to an agency and [have us play] only a small part in [the CP program].”
Fox Chapel has never served as a licensing agent of record before. The company had been looking for opportunities for growth and diversification, says Miller. And because he had previous experience in licensing, he believed that this story-driven approach was the right entry into IP management. While going through art for upcoming releases, feedback from buyers and distributors on Ninja Kitties was overwhelmingly positive, so Miller felt confident pursuing a more involved role.
Conversations with potential partners were supposed to take place at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas in May, but the trade show was cancelled and won’t take place until 2021. The delay threw a wrench into Fox Chapel’s plans, Miller says, and forced the company to rethink its launch strategy for the IP.
“There’s certainly a window that you want to hit [when signing licensing agreements], which is potentially in jeopardy for certain categories. There’s no question [the pandemic] has changed how you roll out a new brand like this,” he says.
In addition to rethinking timelines for some of its key categories, the publisher will also pivot to social media in an attempt to build awareness ahead of the first book launch. Miller says digital efforts will focus on the different personalities of each Ninja Kitty, and include games as well as interactive activities like online quizzes that help kids find out which character matches their personality. Despite some pandemic-related setbacks, Miller’s team is looking forward to expanding into its new role as licensing agent. In fact, he says the company already has plans to add more brands to its management portfolio.
And while it’s never been an agent, Fox Chapel does have plenty of experience serving as a licensee. As a result, Miller says his strategy moving forward in this new capacity is to leverage the expertise of existing employees whenever possible.
“There’s no question we’ll be bringing some people in to work with our in-house team, especially on the legal side,” he says. “Licensing, we feel, will add another dimension to the company. It leverages a lot of the assets and skillsets that are already in place here. It’s a natural way for us to grow without having to invest a ton of money, or open an entirely new division. I think this could become a pretty important part of Fox over the next few years.”