NEW YORK — Elite Models wants to get into apparel, McDonald’s is well on its way from fries to fashion, and the U.S. Postal Service is looking to expand beyond mail.
That’s why they, along with 6,000 other brands, were on display — and their executives looking for deals — at the 26th annual Licensing International trade show, which ended its three-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here on June 22. There were 500 exhibitors at this year’s installment, including 200 that were new to the show — names such as American Greetings, General Mills, Microsoft and Nintendo. It is not surprising so many new names were present, since the licensed products marketplace is a booming $175 billion industry.
One vendor, the Lexington, Mass.-base B*tween Productions Inc., attended the show for the first time to display its Beacon Street Girls brand. Beacon Street Girls has already become a strong brand through its book series, selling more than 300,000 copies at stores such as Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble and Borders, as well as 600 specialty book and gift shops. The book collection is aimed at tween girls, aged 8 to 13, and their value-conscious parents.
There are five Beacon Street Girls in the books: Charlotte, the world traveler who loves to write; Katani, the brainy girl who wants to own her own fashion company; Maeve, the movie star-in-training; Avery, the outspoken sports and pet lover, and Isabel, a creative artist.
“These books are very age-appropriate and the characters are developed so that the reader can relate to at least one of them,” said Bobbie Carlton, director of marketing for the Beacon Street Girls brand. “Also, we are very careful to make these characters ones that the parents are happy to share with their kids. They have positive self-images and deal with real-life issues such as childhood obesity, their parents’ divorces and self-esteem management. We work with tween experts, and the books are written by a team of writers so that we get it right.”
Eight books are already on the shelves, Carlton said, and the company plans to have 16 out by the end of next year.
Carlton said the brand has already been experimenting with products that go with the books, such as sleepover duffle bags and charm necklaces. She said she would love to eventually sign licensing deals for products in apparel, bath and body and home lines.
“We would love to add apparel, but our partners will really need to understand that we are out to please the readers as well as the parents, with age-appropriate clothes,” she said. “And I do think there is a real need for it.”
Ebony magazine’s booth was also busy. Ebony, run by Linda Johnson Rice, president and chief executive officer, is celebrating its 60th anniversary, and for the first time, opening up to licensing. The first two deals, Johnson Rice said, have just been signed. One is with Dan River to produce a line of linens, bedding and bath products that will launch in mid-2007, aimed at mass and midtier retailers. “There are so many fashionable, sophisticated African-Americans just waiting for product like this,” Johnson Rice said.
The second license has been signed with American Greetings to produce a line of greeting cards, which will enter stores in February.
“Licensing will be treated like a separate part of the company, but I believe this is a huge growth opportunity for us,” she said.
Johnson Rice said she is now looking for deals in women’s, men’s and baby apparel as well as financial services. She is also considering a possible Ebony Teen brand, which is likely to start in the cosmetics area.
“Cosmetics for African-American teens is such an underserved market,” she said. “I am speaking to several cosmetics companies about the idea now and hopefully it will come together soon.”
Close by, artist Phoebe Beasley was visiting the show for the first time, looking for new ways to display her work. Beasley has become known for her work with fans such as Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, who both own some of her paintings. She even has a deal with Icon, which developed a line of tennis shoes with her work printed on them.
“Alex Trebek has a pair, which I was so happy about since I love ‘Jeopardy,'” Beasley said. “But I have to say, I was shocked with what happened with these shoes. We debuted them at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills and almost immediately, 15 of my collectors showed up and bought the shoes for $285 a pair. I was just blown away.”
In addition, Beasley’s work has been printed on textbook covers for years. But, she said, after attending this show, she is beginning to see how far her paintings can go. One three-dimensional painting of a train made of tin cans and medicine bottles was made for children, Beasley said.
“A man stopped in to look at the painting,” she said. “He was the art buyer for railroad stations across the country. He saw the work for railroad stations and that was something I would have never thought. So, we are going to talk.”