From selling t-shirts in a field to inhabiting London's Saatchi Gallery, Bravado has seen its music merchandise business enjoy huge success over its 40 years. UK MD David Boyne tells Licensing.biz about the growing global demand for band and artist-inspired licensed products.
Stood at the receiving end of a giant pair of lips parted by a grotesquely oversized tongue is the last place you’d expect to find the MD of a global licensing company.
Unless of course, that MD is David Boyne, the UK director of Universal Music Group's licensing arm, Bravado, and the lips in question are part of the now iconic logo of UK rockers, The Rolling Stones.
It’s in the gift shop at the ongoing The Rolling Stones exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery that Licenisng.biz meets with Boyne. The room is peppered with images of the famous ‘lips and tongue’ logo, adorning all manner of products from bomber jackets and moleskin notebooks to a £4,000 fusball table.
Having enjoyed eight rooms of The Rolling Stones: Exhibitionism, including one lined with a selection of guitars from the band’s touring days and a 3D Glastonbury experience that gives IMAX a run for its money, it falls on the team to adopt an air of professionalism and tear ourselves away from the merchandise.
And while it may only be rock ‘n’ roll, there is no doubt that consumers not only like it, but have fallen madly in love with it.
It’s music to the ears of Boyne who has spent the last few months curating the burgeoning retail offering on display in time for the event.
“The Stones exhibition is the crowning glory of what we have done,” he tells Licensing.biz.
“It was great to bring the brand collaboration together. Here you see Moleskin next to Wedgewood, alongside Cambridge Satchels surrounded by mugs, key rings and t-shirts all emblazoned with The Rolling Stones.
“We are really proud of what we have achieved, and it’s great to see the customers that come into the store agree with us.”
While images of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood strutting about the stage may have been the focus of Boyne’s working life over the last few months, The Rolling Stones is but a fraction of the many artists and bands Bravado’s burgeoning portfolio spans.
From Justin Beiber and The Beatles to The Stone Roses, Usher, Whitney Houston and many inbetween, Bravado’s expanse of artists is one that has been built over its 40-year history.
“Bravado is owned by Universal Music, so we have access to an endless number of artists and musicians. The company has been going for some 40 years having historically started off selling merchandise at live gigs,” continues Boyne.
“We now have direct deals with over 150 artists, crossing all manner of licensing from clothing right through to live events.”
While he is a self-confessed music nerd, Boyne’s route into this world of artist licensing was actually via the fashion industry, having held tenure at the likes of Timberland and French Connection before heading up operations at Ben Sherman.
It’s a background he believes has helped shaped a new future for the Bravado company model.
“I think my involvement has helped the business into new fashion avenues,” details Boyne. “And the seamless synergy between music and fashion has really helped drive our business over the last three or four years.”
A licensing avenue that started its venture into fashion some four years ago via the likes of HMV and Play.com, Bravado has now found its way to the High Street with recent partnerships formed with the likes of Selfridges, ASOS, Topman and River Island, as well as Primark and numerous supermarkets.
In what Boyne has labeled a ‘fast growing aspect’ to the business’ overall expansion plans, the firm now finds itself split down the middle between its live events operations and retail.
“2016 has been really good for Bravado. From the touring perspective, we have had some great activity,” says Boyne.
“We put the Adele tour together, which was a great success and have Justin Beiber coming up this autumn. We have The Stone Roses in the few weeks, so it has been a great start and the diary for the rest of the year is looking very strong.
“Meanwhile, from the retailer perspective, we deal with a whole spectrum of retailers and now work with Miss Guided, ASOS, Topman and the more mass market retailers.”
One of the main areas to have contributed to the firm’s growing business model is its expansion into consumer products. And while Boyne highlights the recent activity surrounding The Rolling Stones as an example, he is quick to point out that it is only a percentage of the work they do across numerous artists.
“We are looking to widen our consumer products output all the time,” he explains. “Whether it’s drink or board games to fashion and beyond; there are a lot of different categories we are looking at. Anything that has a merchandisable value and there is a consumer demand for, we would absolutely look at taking to market.”
Despite the growing areas and the dollar signs attached to them, the UK MD insists that it is at the core of the Bravado mantra that the firm will never take its eye off its number one priority: the artists themselves.
“We will always have an artist first mentality, no matter how big the company might become,” Boyne explains.
“We work very closely with the artists we have and we know that each group is a brand unto itself, each with a different vision. We would never hinder that vision.”
It’s somewhat refreshing to hear someone talking integrity regarding an industry so often painted in a different light. And when Boyne moves conversation onto the importance of establishing trust with its artists, it’s easy to see it all comes from a genuine place.
Perhaps testament to this honesty is the increasing number of artists who now look towards licensing as a viable method of revenue, and not just as a way to make a ‘quick buck’.
Alternatively, it could just be the seismic shift in music buying habits that have forced artists to seek new sources of income through brand licensing. Either way, Bravado insists it has the mentality to protect the integrity of any brand under its portfolio.
“The relationship between an artist and its fans is paramount, we are about building a community for them,” says Boyne. “Merchandise can bring that fan engagement and is a very important to the process of buying into a community.
“Artists moving forward are realising the opportunity and potential of what merchandise can deliver from a marketing perspective as well as a commercial one.”
And if Bravado’s teaser of what’s on the horizon for the Justin Beiber brand (with a planned launch of a series of pop-up stores) or UK rock band Queen’s move into vodka and fruit machines attests to anything, it’s those opportunities lay far and wide.
And with such major plans for the firm’s growth, it’s just as well that the UK licensing industry is as equally receptive to what Bravado is delivering.
“The UK licensing industry is very open and growing larger and larger and retailers are becoming wiser to the size of the market. It’s up to us to take advantage of this, expand the business into two or three different branches and deliver new concepts to the industry and the retailers,” Boyne explains.
“The next project for us is to continue our retail business which goes from strength to strength. The area we want to deliver on this year is fan engagement, building communities in retail, online or through pop-up stores.
“Selling product into the retailer is something we do very well, but we want to make it more rounded than that.”
As the interview winds up, Boyne takes a moment to survey the layout of the gift shop, and not for the first time during the course of our talk, he smiles.
“We have come a long way from selling band t-shirts in the middle of a field."