Fluid World is currently celebrating Sanrio's anniversary, so we found out more about the licensing agent and its work with Hello Kitty.
Fluid World was founded in August 2008 by Andrew Lane, Libby Grant and Tom Howgate and is the UK & Ireland Licensing Agent for Sanrio.
Grant, brand director explains: "We are hugely passionate about what we do and felt that Hello Kitty (and Sanrio) were massively underexploited in the UK and with a lot of hard work and the right partners and retailers could become an evergreen property."
Hello Kitty has grown from a £15 million brand at retail in the UK in 2008 to £100 million brand at retail in the UK in 2010. The first licensee in the UK was Ty, which signed Hello Kitty for beanies in August 2008. The licensee has since become one of the largest for the brand in the UK.
Since then, many licensees have been signed across a broad range of categories and audiences. The most successful licensee to date has been Fluid DTR with Marks & Spencer, because they have been able to support the brand in store and have now expanded the range into all major categories.
Grant tells licensing.biz: "They [M&S] have also created their own sub brand 'Hello Kitty London' which gives them a point of difference from the rest of the high street."
However, the firm has had success with most of its licensees: "Most categories have been successful and in many retailers Hello Kitty has been the number one performing brand in its sector.
"Hello Kitty started life as a coin purse so will always work well on impulse lines such as stationery, fashion accessories and small gift items and as a fashion brand it has performed well on more statement pieces such as bicycles and bedding."
As the Sanrio characters are not governed by TV scheduling, their appeal extends to a broad audience and, as such, the brands can sit across a wide product range.
Grant explains how Fluid has worked to keep the brand credible over such a wide range of ages: "We always try to keep products as old as we can so as to keep them aspirational however we use style guides and design to appeal to different age groups.
"Younger girls’ product tends to be led with more pastel colours and a ‘classic’ look and often Hello Kitty's friends feature alongside her whereas product aimed at older girls will have bolder and darker colours and a more edgy look."
Having signed up a number of licensees in 2008, the focus for 2009 was about raising awareness amongst the industry that Sanrio and Hello Kitty are coming to the UK.
Grant comments: "There was surprisingly a certain amount of convincing to be done but once preliminary product launched and there was significant consumer demand both retailers and licensees started to approach us which meant we could work closely with key retailers on age appropriate products and design."
Now the six-strong Fluid Team are expanding the Sanrio licensing programme and introducing six further characters to the UK as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations. These were showcased to the industry at the Licensing Awards as part of the Sanrio Lounge.
Grant says: "There will be a number of collaborations launching over the next 12 months in line with Sanrio’s 50th Year and a licensing programme has commenced to get partners on board for the other Sanrio characters."
Sanrio's 'mission' is to bring cheer throughout the globe through a 'small gift, big smile' approach. The new characters, Badtz Maru, Keroppi, Kuromi, My Melody, Chococat and Charmmy Kitty, will launch as pocket money lines and will be displayed together under the Sanrio brand alongside Hello Kitty to make the connection and build the Sanrio awareness.
Grant says: "We have already signed up Ty as a partner, who will produce beanies which come with a booklet introducing all the characters, Find The Three Daughters who will create small gifting lines, Blueprint Collections for stationery and Gemma International on greeting cards.
"These will all help build awareness and launch the characters into the UK market and each character has its own personality which means everyone has one they relate to.
"The plan is to move into other impulse lines such as confectionery, cosmetics and publishing as well as clothing before moving into more considered purchases such as homewares and toys which focus in on one character. Fluid World have commenced a trade marketing campaign and will start a consumer campaign next year to build awareness once product has launched."
There will be a number of collaborations launching over the next 12 months in line with Sanrio's 50th year. Fluid has big ideas for the brand and Grant talks about dream licensees for the brand:
"Sanrio have been lucky to work with some amazing partners on a global level from Mac through to Christian Dior but we would like to look at localised collaborations including English heritage brands.
"I guess within this we would love to work with any of the big fashion designers or someone like a Burberry or Barbour either that or we just go all out after British Airways for a Hello Kitty Aeroplane or a Hello Kitty maternity ward (both of which exist already in Asia.)"
Whatever licensees are signed over the next 12 months, it's set to be a big year for the company. Grant concludes: "It’s exciting times for Sanrio in the UK and for those cynics who believe that it can’t get any better Sanrio have been going for fifty years and are only just launching in the UK. There’s so much more to come…watch this space."