LICENSING ’98: LOTS OF CHARACTER

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — In the midst of all the vibrant murals, mannequins and stuffed animals touting cartoon characters and action heroes, vendors at last week’s Licensing ’98 International were a serious group — on the lookout for new business in the $110 billion annual market for licensed products.
Scooby Doo, Curious George, Joan Rivers, cyber-action heroine Lara Croft, characters from “The Wizard of Oz,” Godzilla, Celine Dion and Elvis were among the properties executives were talking up as hot, as nearly 400 exhibitors hawked their names and labels at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. The three-day show, which ran through June 11, drew 15,056 visitors, against 14,500 last year.
While much of the show was geared to movie, TV, cartoon and music properties, there were some fashion-oriented exhibitors.
“We’re a fashion company, but this isn’t a fashion-driven show. Most of the interest at this show is character-driven,” said Mike Maloney, director of international marketing and licensing for Beverly Hills Polo Club. “But it’s important that we come here to have a presence.”
This year, the company expects wholesale sales of its licensed women’s sportswear, produced by I.C. Isaacs, to increase by 5 percent, over last year’s $9 million wholesale, he said. Building international distribution was an objective at the show.
Distributors in Europe and Mexico — two key areas for growth — were particularly interested in potential deals, he said.
Another exhibitor, IMG, has big fashion plans for one of its clients, Joan Rivers. The company is working to sign licensing deals for eveningwear, daytime dresses, sportswear, knitwear, handbags, belts and scarves that will carry a label with the comedienne’s name.
Sales of those licensed goods should range from $50 million to $100 million at wholesale within the first three to five years of business, said Jeffrey Ceppos, vice president and director of fashion and apparel licensing.
Rivers sells an estimated $40 million worth of jewelry at retail via QVC, he said. Most of the women who purchase her licensed costume jewelry generally purchase apparel in department stores, according to consumer research commissioned by Rivers last year, Ceppos said.
Sony Signatures was focusing on how major retailers can capitalize on pop music stars.
“The mass market is becoming much more comfortable with music properties than ever before. Women are driving it,” said Paul Grushkin, vice president of retail distribution and collectibles. “Young women’s rise to prominence in the industry has propelled that.”
Sony was playing up a few of its female music stars — Madonna, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and LeeAnn Rimes. Having already cinched a deal for Celine Dion chocolates, Sony was on the move to broaden offerings in a variety of categories.
Wal-Mart, for example, is interested in developing a direct-to-store program, which allows Sony executives to work individually with various store managers and merchandise managers to customize licensed offerings, related to ongoing events such as music tours, he said.
When Wal-Mart shoppers can purchase licensed products prior to an event and not find duplicate merchandise at the actual event, it’s a win-win situation, Grushkin said.
At Paramount’s booth, executives discussed potential licensing deals for the Lara Croft character, whose first feature film, “Tomb Raider The Movie,” is scheduled to open in the second half of next year. Paramount plans to set up licensing deals for women’s activewear, outerwear, T-shirts, socks and accessories, according to Pamela Newton, vice president of marketing.
There is a lot of interest among retailers in the athletic character who often does back flips, swims, rock climbs, jumps across crevices and rides motorcycles, Newton said. Given that, signing licensing deals for activewear is a priority, she said.
“Sports are getting hotter, and women’s sports are exploding,” Newton said.
Hundreds of people turned out at the Paramount booth to have a picture taken with a model dressed like Lara Croft in a turquoise pleather tank, tiny suede shorts, backpack, black army boots and gun holsters.
Curious George was the star at Universal’s booth, where executives were making a major push for licensed sportswear for juniors.
Having seen sales of Curious George T-shirts for juniors increase by more than 10 percent each year for the past few years, Universal is anxious to line up a licensing deal for junior sportswear within the next few weeks, said Rosalind Nowicki, vice president of apparel. Until recently, there were restrictions on the types of apparel that could be produced, she added, although she wouldn’t elaborate.
“It’s a nostalgic property. Juniors think it’s hip and trendy,” Nowicki said. “It’s not everywhere yet.”
Unlike Curious George T-shirts, which are largely distributed in museum specialty stores, card stores and gift stores, the licensed apparel will be distributed in department stores, specialty stores and mass marketers. With plans to release a Curious George movie for holiday, Universal will offer two lines — Curious George Adventures for the mass market and Curious George for department stores and specialty stores.
Warner Bros. Consumer Products expects the re-release of “The Wizard of Oz,” which will be seen on the big screen this upcoming holiday season for the first time since 1972, to trigger demand for licensed apparel and memorabilia from the film. The flick will be shown on 2,000 screens.
The re-release will coincide with the U.S. Post Office’s release of a stamp featuring Dorothy and Toto. There are also plans for a “Wizard of Oz on Ice” tour to be produced by Kenneth Feld Productions within the next two years.
Other classics drawing interest at the Warner Bros. area were Scooby Doo and the various stars of Looney Tunes, such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
One story some exhibitors were telling was that it’s difficult to predict the success of a licensed product, based on general reaction to the property involved.
For example, “Godzilla” was a disappointment at the box office, but at Sony Signatures, vice president Grushkin said “the merchandise is selling through.” He claimed that one mass marketer, $8 Godzilla T-shirts, are outselling its competitors by nearly 2-to-1.
Also, yesterday’s doubtful prospect can wind up a sure thing. The initial response to “South Park,” a cartoon with a cult following that airs on Comedy Central, was mixed at last year’s show, according to Debra Joester, president of Hamilton Projects, the licensing agent for the property.
“People weren’t sure if they wanted to take a chance on a new concept that’s a little racy and irreverent,” she said. But this year, the Hamilton Projects booth pushing “South Park” was a showstopper.

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