NEW YORK — SpongeBob SquarePants and the Pink Panther are joining Mr. Bubble and Bonne Bell on mass marketers shelves.

This story first appeared in the June 14, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

In the race to court consumers, more and more retailers are giving the nod to licensed properties, especially in the beauty care category.

Not surprisingly, increasing numbers of beauty care marketers were walking the trade show floor at the Licensing Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which started on Tuesday. Licensing is a $177.4 billion international business with beauty representing sales of roughly $5 billion.

Also coming soon to a store near you — Butt Ugly Martians, Pink Panther, Chupa Chups and Bubble Yum products. They join other properties such as Spider-Man, Nascar, Harry Potter, Double Bubble, Sonic the Hedgehog, Scooby-Doo, Bob the Builder and Monsters, Inc.

And, if marketers here are on target, the next crop of beauty licenses will include the Cat in the Hat, He-Man, Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake — licenses that evoke pleasant memories among parents.

Merchants used to be wary of licensed merchandise — especially after a few highly touted theatrical properties bombed. Little by little, however, licensed names have been creeping back into stores. “What works best is a property that isn’t only tied to a movie,” said Abe Safdieh, president of Townley, which has the cosmetics rights to Hello Kitty and Powerpuff Girls cosmetics. Added industry consultant Debby Coles-Dobay of Creative Marketing Impact, “You can’t just slap a name on the item; the license has to work with the product.”

Opting for a licensed name, retailers said, can often be better than trying to build a brand from scratch. Wal-Mart, for example, has tapped into the enormous popularity of the Olsen twins — Mary-Kate and Ashley — to build its tween beauty and apparel business. There are currently 165 beauty items across 19 categories at about 2,000 Wal-Mart doors. One of the keys to the success of the brand has been that Wal-Mart carries it across several categories such as apparel, swimsuits and accessories. A store employee at a Wal-Mart in Manville, N.J., said there have been many tween girls looking for the products.

And in the next few weeks, the chain has a major coup planned with the launch of SpongeBob SquarePants bath products from MZB Personal care, a new division of watch giant MZ Berger & Co. Since its debut on Nickelodeon, SpongeBob has become somewhat of a phenomenon license that cuts across age and gender lines. At press time, Wal-Mart was working on other licensing programs, sources said.

Target has also been on the cutting edge of licensing programs such as Sonia Kashuk, Mossimo and Hello Kitty. Hello Kitty beauty has been exclusive to Target, but is now rolling out to some select retailers, as well. Belae Brands has the rights to the bath products in Hello Kitty.

Although properties such as Scooby-Doo and Powerpuff Girls are expected to enjoy a sales hit from upcoming movie debuts, the best properties are those with an evergreen quality, said Safdieh, who added that both of those have staying power as well as the backing of the movies.

“The children’s category seems to be growing again, and more merchants are giving space to it again,” said Greg Rossi, vice president of national sales for Belae. “Scooby-Doo is an evergreen and continues to be tops in Information Resources Inc.”

A buyer from a larger supermarket chain concurred. “We will no longer buy a license that is only linked to a movie.We got burned with a few of those like the last `Star Wars,”‘ he said.

Classics such as Barbie, Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh and Hot Wheels are safer bets, merchants said. In fact, Barbie has stretched her long legs beyond beauty this year into sun care. Hawaiian Tropic has launched a co-brand with Barbie called Barbie/Hawaiian Tropic Sunblock Lotion with SPF 30 in Burstin’ Berry scent, according to Lori Davis, assistant product manager for Hawaiian Tropic. In an interesting twist — Wal-Mart is selling swimsuits under the Hawaiian Tropic logo.

It isn’t only juvenile names that are getting into licensing. Rock singers, designers and movie stars have long given their names to fragrances. Coty has hit a consumer chord with its Club Med licensed deal, as well as its efforts behind Smiley and Adidas. Recently, choreographer Debbie Allen and Key Brands created a five-step skin care collection for women of color, which debuted at Wal-Mart. And, Maxim magazine recently inked a deal with Combe, maker of Just For Men hair color. The line is called Maxim Magazine Haircare, and the first item is a men’s hair color.

At the Fragrance Foundation FiFi awards, attendees such as Lil’ Kim and Kiss’ Gene Simmons expressed interest in launching scents.

There’s no denying travel to trade shows has suffered in the past year. With that in mind, the Chain Drug Marketing Association of Novi, Mich., is trying something different for its September trade show. From Sept. 9 to 15, CDMA will host its first “virtual reality” show. Members will be able to log onto CDMA’s Web site and use a security code to see the trade show floor. There will also be category reviews and a new product showcase all online. “We have about 200 manufacturers, and virtually 100 percent of our retailer-wholesalers signed up for this new format,” said Jim Devine, CDMA president.

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