Michael J. Knell -- Furniture Today, May 13, 2005
The world of licensed home products seems to grow with each market cycle. For this special report, Home Accents Today takes a look at five licensing programs that are making a difference in the industry. They vary greatly from one another in terms of their scope, origin, business strategy and history, but they all demonstrate the unique ability of licensed products to cross media, price points, style and target consumer.
National Geographic: Bringing the world home
National Geographic drew on its more than 100-year-old tradition of celebrating different cultures to create one of the largest licensed home collections ever conceived, designed and produced.
Now into its second year, the National Geographic Home Collection's global view appears endless. The initial collection drew inspiration from the West Indies, blending British, French and Dutch Colonial influences and from the far eastern Pacific Islands with Tropic Winds. During more recent markets, licensees introduced home furnishings reflecting Africa, Southeast Asia and South America.
"We created the National Geographic Home Collection as a new way to reach and educate people about cultural diversity and create greater global understanding by allowing them to bring the world into their homes," said Krista Newberry, National Geographic Enterprises Group, vice president of licensing, soft lines. Net proceeds from the sale of National Geographic Home Collection products go to the Society's World Cultures Fund to support the study and preservation of world cultures, Newberry said.
Sphinx by Oriental Weavers added area rugs to the collection last year. Other licensed home accents manufacturers include iPhotoart, Lane Home Furnishings, Palecek, Sferra Bros., Toyo, Wildwood Lamps and Zrike.
"National Geographic carefully chooses partners who share our desire to develop high-quality products that truly reflect the cultures that inspired the collections," Newberry said. "The line offers consumers a truly distinctive way to enhance the beauty of their own home while celebrating the design, creativity and traditions of various world cultures."
To keep the nine licensed manufacturers on the same path, all are provided with National Geographic brand and product guidelines. All products are approved by National Geographic.
Licensees can use the National Geographic Society's archives, which include rare books, antique maps and its private collection of artwork. National Geographic photographic archives provide more than 10 million images of homes, furnishings and cultures from around the globe.
"We are creating a collection that helps tell stories about the world," Newberry said. Each design is inspired by an authentic cultural story, communicated through a story card, she added.
In 2004, National Geographic and its licensing design teams went on a 10-day trip to South America for inspiration. "They visited local craftsmen and artisans as well as private homes, museums, palaces and national landmarks to fully capture the way of life behind the cultures they have represented in the South America collection," Newberry said. As a result of such extraordinary efforts, the National Geographic Home Collection won the 2004 Pinnacle Design Achievement Award for Major Collections from the American Society of Furniture Designers and the American Furniture Award from Home magazine.
"We have had such positive feedback on everything we have done thus far," Newberry said. "We take pride in everything we put our name on and strive to produce only the best for our consumers."
— Cinde W. Ingram
Antiques Roadshow: Edutaining collection
Translating a TV show into a furniture collection may seem like an impossible task, but not if you're working with Emmy-nominated PBS series Antiques Roadshow, which is celebrating its 10th season with nearly 11 million viewers. A few years ago, independent agent Joie Wilson brought the idea of licensing the show in the home furnishings industry to Betsy Groban, managing director of WGBH Enterprises, producers of the PBS hit.
"Licensing has to be about human interest and accessibility," Wilson said. "Antiques Roadshow has all of that, and it has the largest visual repository of decorative arts outside a museum, from everyday things to actual antiques, because it photographs everything."
In March 2003 Pulaski Furniture debuted the first Antiques Roadshow collection. Since then other companies have launched AR collections, including Dale Tiffany lamps, Village Court wall decor, Southern Furniture upholstery and Momeni rugs. The collections are not reproductions, but are inspired by or based on items that have appeared on the show. For example, a dining room table top may have been inspired by a quilt that appeared on the show.
"The Antiques Roadshow Collection by Dale Tiffany is inspired by the things that have made America great: our history, our art, the people, places, and stories," said Ken Kallett, Dale Tiffany senior vice president. "These have been brought together in creating this unique collection. And with continued new discoveries coming from future shows, the inspiration to create new pieces is limitless. These are our next generation of heirlooms."
As the first licensee, Pulaski set the tone for the brand in many ways, Groban said. The company spearheaded an AR gallery program with its retailers in cooperation with the other licensees. The licensees meet once a year to collaborate with WGBH on marketing efforts and advertising and have retail and market events in which the show's appraisers make appearances.
"Another important factor is the hang-tags," Groban said. "Antiques Roadshow is educational as well as entertaining, people learn more about antiques and history; the same is true of the hangtags on the products. They each give a little history or background about the item."
Education is an important part of the PBS mantra. The PBS brand also is important and something Groban took into account when considering licensees.
"Consumers and the broadcasting industry look at Antiques Roadshow as being authoritative and having integrity," Groban said. "We looked for companies with those values. And since the show is an extension of PBS, purchases help support public broadcasting."
The process of translating a quilt into a dining room table or a collectible into a lamp base starts with the manufacturer culling through the plethora of images WGBH has from the show. This revolving stockpile provides ideas for a multitude of product.
The collection has been successful for everyone involved, and the show itself has gained so much attention there's now a spinoff, Antiques Roadshow FYI that shows what happened to certain items and gives tips on buying and selling antiques.
— Lisa Casinger
Colonial Williamsburg: A fresh spin on history
With a stable-full of almost 60 licensees backing a $100 million brand, Williamsburg is truly a powerhorse of a property.
Though the property is based on the early British colonial capital, the licensees have been given freedom to reinterpret the looks for modern consumers, with the motto "Fresh from the 18th Century" explaining the design philosophy. Colonial Williamsburg signed its first license in 1936 with Wedgwood, and prides itself on the longevity of its brand, as well as its willingness to evolve to suit modern consumers' tastes.
"The look is classic American," said Jim Easton, vice president of products for Colonial Williamsburg. "It's not trendy, it's not leading edge. We're a look that's been around for 300 years, and will be around for the next 300 years."
Williamsburg is unique in its scope, as well as its reach at retail, including within its own 26 retail stores, three of which specialize in home furnishings, around the United States. Its catalogs are distributed to 5.5 million consumers each year, and its Web site receives 11.7 million hits monthly.
Within the last five years, Colonial Williamsburg has adjusted its focus to offer products for every room in the house, shifting from its traditional focus on the formal living, dining and bedrooms that the town is known for.
The collections are inspired by the buildings and gardens within the town, as well as the more than 100,000 artifacts and design references in its museums and archives.
Product managers at Colonial Williamsburg work closely with the designers and merchandise managers at the various licensees to ensure the products are true to the brand concept. But the licensed products are not limited only to reproduction styles.
"Everything produced with our name on it is a reproduction or is inspired by something here at Colonial Williamsburg," Easton said. The town's nonprofit status dictates that each piece must be documented and shown to tie in with the place, per IRS regulations, but that does not limit more modern interpretations of design elements.
"People don't live in the 18th century," said Sally McConnell, director of marketing, products. "People don't want to live in a museum environment. We offer designs inspired by the 18th century adapted to the way people live today. We still do antique reproductions, but as consumers' tastes change, we have tried to grow into a lifestyle, home-oriented brand.
Current home licensees include Achla Designs, Capel, Carvers' Guild, Friedman Bros., Global Views, Michaelian Home, Mottahedeh, Murray Feiss, NDI, Nichols & Stone, Oriental Accent, Phoenix International, Andrea by Sadek, Stickley, Virginia Metalcrafters, Waverly and Wildwood, among others.
At last month's High Point market, Nichols & Stone debuted its first accent furniture collection, Voyages; Capel offered four Williamsburg rugs; Stickley unveiled an upholstered line; and NDI added 60 arrangements to the Christmas at Williamsburg line.
The profits from the products division are used to support the educational division of Colonial Williamsburg and to promote its overall mission "that the future may learn from the past."
"That's the best part about it," McConnell said. "We have beautiful products, a story to tell and we support a fantastic educational foundation."
— Jenny Heinzen York
Jill Rosenwald: Couture at home
Jill Rosenwald's colorful couture ceramics have graced the shelves of Barney's and Neiman Marcus for years, but her funky patterned designs have recently become available as affordable art through licensed products.
Rosenwald has been designing since childhood days at summer camp where she was absorbed in the world of '70s crafts from macrame, leather-work, batik and pottery. She, along with her husband and business partner, Lawrence, oversees her couture ceramics business from her Boston studio while balancing parenthood and an expanding list of licensees.
Rosenwald already had been selling her ceramic line at national gift shows when Randy Nakayama, president and CEO of Toyo Trading, approached her about creating a licensing agreement for a funky ceramic line designed for Generation X.
"I had been approached by other companies like Lily Pulitzer and the MoMA Art Shop to do private label," Rosenwald said, "but this was the first time that someone said let's license, let's brand, let's be aggressive."
Her first program of licensed ceramic designs launched at Toyo in April 2003.
Rosenwald has expanded her licensed product offerings to include a pillow line at Thief River Linen, a rug collection with Homefires, custom fabrics with Glen Raven, wall decor with Village Court and even outdoor furniture and kitchen accessories with Laneventure.
Rosenwald was attractive to these companies not only because of her snappy, color-centric patterns, but also for her youthful spirit and enthusiasm for great design. "Jill is so refreshing and fun," said Linda Bentson, owner of Thief River Linen. "We always look forward to working with her to create some excitement in the market."
The design process works differently with each company, and much of the licensing process has required Rosenwald to work closely with other product designers to learn about new media and how to translate her designs effectively.
"I think out loud and I have to hash things out in a series, that's how design happens for me," she said. "You have a concept and then it builds until you perfect it and you could keep perfecting it but then something new comes along and you start on series two. It's about getting to the point where the company and I both say 'aha.'"
Though Rosenwald is by trade a couture designer, licensing appealed to her because she wanted to be able to provide her look to people who don't have the pocketbook for her own pieces.
"It's a great opportunity when someone says you are going to be designing for everyone who can afford it," she said. "That's what's really changed in the market, that design and value are walking down the aisle together and hopefully quality is going to come along right behind."
— Kara Cox
Oscar de la Renta: Selling personal style
Being a big name in the fashion world doesn't necessarily guarantee you entrée into the home, although it does presuppose a certain sense of style. And while that is most definitely a plus, it is not always a key to success in the licensing business.
Positive name/brand recognition, licensing know-how, savvy product and the right partnerships are all necessary for a thriving program, but it still doesn't explain why some licenses make a splash in the press only to quietly disappear from the home horizon a season or so later.
Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta translated his fashion flair into a continually expanding success story for the home, beginning with Slatkin & Co. for candles and home fragrance. Shortly thereafter, a collection of indoor and outdoor furniture debuted at Century Furniture to general acclaim. Licenses with Rose Tree Linens (top of bed); Kingsdown (mattresses); Richard Ginori (tabletop); Elson (area rugs); ANK (decorative fabrics); and, most recently, Oriental Accent (lighting and decorative accessories) round out the program.
The award-winning designer already possessed significant experience in the licensing arena before entering the home market with his fashion and fashion accessory programs.
Additionally, the Oscar de la Renta brand itself was not only well-known (especially with female consumers), but generally equated with elegant, sophisticated style in a timeless, classic yet modern vein. In other words, a look that is always in fashion but not endowed with a here-today, gone-tomorrow mentality, a look that recommends itself well for the long term. A collaborative effort is the key to a successful partnership, according to Kerry Glasser, president and CEO of Concept Marketing Group, licensing agent for Oscar de la Renta Home, with both the licensor and licensees staying adaptable in a changing marketplace.
With all the right attributes in place, what defines the difference in a license as super or just so-so at retail? In this case, it could be a matter as simple as lifestyle. "Mr. de la Renta's three homes have been well photographed and written about in all of the major shelter publications," Glasser said. "He lives an aspirational lifestyle and as he predominantly caters to women's apparel, his awareness value with potential customers is very strong."
With a well-balanced program for the home, the life of luxury and style is made both easy and highly accessible. "My entire concept of lifestyle is built on the foundation of my home," said de la Renta. "There is no more important expression of this concept than that of my own personal living space."
— Tracy Bulla
OSCAR DE LA RENTA
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