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The right Royal welcome: How Ascot has been embraced by the world’s retailers

It was two years ago that Royal Ascot, that vestige of Great Britain’s proud love of animals, sport, and horse racing, took its first natural steps (or is that canter) into developing a new licensing programme reflective of its heritage and global recognition.

Over the course of the last 24 months, and under the watchful guidance of the licensing grand masters, IMG, Ascot has curated a portfolio of partners, and launched a programme of more than 250 SKUs of Ascot-branded products, now sold across more than 40 countries.

Licensing.biz catches up with Tim Smith, licensing director at IMG to talk over the latest developments for this horse-powered heritage brand.

Two years on from when we last spoke, how have you seen the licensing programme for Royal Ascot flourish?

When we last spoke, the programme was off to a strong start but still very much in its infancy. We had recently signed our first licensees, although products hadn’t yet launched and we were waiting to see how the consumer would react to the brand at retail. These have been a huge success and we have since signed four more major licensees, amongst others, that have provided a real catalyst for the brand, particularly on an international level.

A key part of our strategy has always been to associate Ascot with British brands that reflect its unique sense of occasion. With fashion as a key component of any day at Ascot, we partnered with Karen Millen in 2018 for female occasionwear, which has been followed this year by both TM Lewin (men’s fashion and accessories) and Radley (women’s occasion bags.)

Each of these three brands, together with Links of London (jewellery,) has a truly international footprint and has activated through major marketing activity around the world.

How has the on-site retail zone bedded in with the Ascot experience? How has the year been for this spot in particular?

2019 was IMG’s third year managing the onsite retail at Ascot and we are certainly seeing an uplift in purchasing. Each year, our dedicated on-site teams have improved the product offering based upon learnings from prior years and ensuring the customer experience is always top of mind.

We have developed the on-site operation from three stores in 2017 to eight in 2019 and for the first time, have a retail presence in all four enclosures, which is testament to the growth of the business as well as the support from the team at Ascot.

The on-site retail stores support all of our licensed product and act as an advertising window to the 600,000 people that visit the racecourse every year, meaning that the licensing and on-site retail programmes are very much an integrated, joint operation.

Can you talk us through the success of the partnership portfolio, where are you seeing consumer demand and growth? 

We always hoped to find brand-appropriate fashion partners and with both Karen Millen and TM Lewin, we have premium British brands with international footprints that are currently selling extremely well.

Radley bags only launched for the first time this year and some of the items were sold out within weeks of launch – the appliqué bag as an example.

Sales in the UK remain strong, but the US in particular is growing – largely thanks to the recent broadcast deal with NBC which is showing every race from Royal Ascot live. Additionally, with Ascot being a quintessentially British brand and one of only two events to have royal patronage, it resonates extremely well in Asia and we are seeing strong sell through in both China and Japan, particularly in accessories with both Links of London and Radley.

What has the wider retail launch been like for Ascot?

Ascot brings a uniquely British sense of occasion that is hard to match with any other event worldwide. One of the key reasons for our success has been the storytelling angle that’s possible with several hundred years of history to look into.

These stories are further enhanced by the support from the team at Ascot, who regularly open up the racecourse for content creation activities (from photoshoots around the racecourse to VIP boxes on racedays) to ensure our licensees are able to deliver an authentic story and credible campaigns to market their products globally.

How have you seen the licensing space evolve over the course of this past year? How are you tapping into new trends or adapting to shifting retail landscapes?

We are seeing an increasing appetite for heritage British brands and with Ascot being over 300 years old, we have a very established and authentic proposition.

While the retail climate remains challenging, especially in the UK, our licensees are looking at Ascot to provide a compelling and credible story that also works internationally, which is forming the basis for success.

Every product area we have extended into closely aligns with a day at the races and, together with ensuring we are partnering with like-minded, British brands, we feel we have the right recipe which we intend to further develop.

Where do you take the brand next? Are you looking at experiential for instance, or tech developments?

Key categories of interest are homewares, footwear (both outdoor and fashion footwear for men and women,) fragrances and food in addition to developing our own online store to further support our licensees.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent some six years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@bizmedia.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobHutchins3 if ranting is your thing...

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