“Brexit’s the only fly in our ointment”: Fanattik on a year of global growth on the pop scene

The only fly in the ointment of what has been an ‘outstanding past 12 months” for Iron Gut Publishing and its reincarnation, Fanattik, is Brexit, the company has told Licensing.biz.

While the government continues discussions around borders in Ireland, Fanattik has found today’s love for pop culture merchandise to know now bounds, citing that it has seen a growing interest from international retailers in the past year.

In the last 12 months, Fanattik – the rebranded and refocused formation of what was Iron Gut Publishing – has grown from a “relatively small retail customer base,” to having a world-spanning database of partners and clientele.

The company has stepped up a few gears from its former life as a successful art publisher working with Harrods, Selfridges and John Lewis and moved into a wider offering of pop culture inspired merchandise. Europe now accounts for 20 per cent of the firm’s sales.

‘At the moment, Brexit is the only fly in the ointment,” Anthony Marks, managing director of Fanattik tells Licensing.biz. “It will be interesting to see what happens after Brexit.”

It was the mass “coming out” of the world’s geek population that Fanattik attributes its large-scale success to today. The success of the likes of Marvel and Game of Thrones cast a light on an area of retail that until that point had remained somewhat underground. The “outing” of this pocket of society unearthed somewhat of a fortune for those that could tap into it.

“When I used to visit conventions and comic cons 20 years ago, fandom was a sub-culture well and truly under the radar,” continues Marks. “Then along came the Marvel films, the Big Bang Theory and more recently game of Thrones. This whole culture is now out and proud and retailers are taking notice; it isn’t specialty anymore.”

In fact, in recent years retail has got right behind the pop culture surge; with high street names like Waterstones or HMV among them. It’s bad timing then that Fanattik’s rise here in the UK coincides with a time when its most likely conduit to masses of consumers, HMV, is itself on the ropes.

“We actually met the HMV buying team before Christmas and were really looking forward to working with them in 2019,” continues Marks. “For us, that was the indication that they were starting to shake up their offering in response to the market.

“It’s a great brand and no doubt the nostalgia and public support that saw #HMVmemories trending on Twitter helped save it in 2013, but that was six years ago.

‘As the digital space continues to grow exponentially and re-shapes consumer behaviour, it can be a challenge for High Street retailers to keep up, let alone lead. We have been able to offer our retail customers two things that can help: exclusivity and flexibility.”

In 2018, Fanttik’s increased its exclusive limited edition lines for retailer by five fold. It did so in the belief that exclusivity is a key to driving sales from a “captive audience of fans willing to pay more for a product they can’t get anywhere else.”

And in the day of the digital – Fanatik has also evolved what it calls a direct dispatch.

“It makes it easier for some retailers to get products online quicker and available as web exclusives in line with any key external calendar dates such as film releases, game launches or anniversaries,” says Marks.

Anniversaries are becoming quite the staple of the pop culture scene. The sector isn’t all about new innovations but – with a fanbase that today spans generations – it often harks back and falls upon a new wave of heritage brands that are now enjoying success a second, third or even fourth time around.

“I believe the big film studios appreciate it when a company comes along and, rather than just wanting to focus on their latest release, they want to work with their heritage titles and create products that offer a new take, something that will excite their existing and emerging fans,” explains Marks.

Fanattik is currently working with the likes of 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, Capcom and Microsoft and will be working with other major video games licenses shortly.

A pop culture nerd at heart, Marks explains: “These licenses give us access to titles that have a cross-generational appeal. For example, although films like The Godfather, Back to the Future and Jurassic Park were originally released in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, they’re still attracting new fans to this day so we will continue to grow our collections for these throughout 2019.

“Two titles we will be developing and launching brand new collections for in 2019 are ALIEN, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary, and Rambo which sees the latest film in the franchise released in the autumn.”

As it currently stands for Fanattik, the firm is about to launch its merchandise catalogue with the goal of unveiling 100 new gift lines throughout the course of the year. These will include coins, bottle openers, key rings, playing cards and more.

It’s part of the business’ plans to stamp its authority on the pop culture space.

“We have been under the radar for far too long,” says Marks. “Now that we have rebranded out beyond art prints into collectable merchandise and gifts, we are looking forward to building new retailer relationships, including several with whom we’re meeting over the coming weeks.”

And as for the approach moving forward through what is more and more likely to be a tumultuous Brexit, Fanattiks is looking at constant evolution as its greatest ally.

“It really does seem to be a time of evolution for licensing,” Marks says. “Irrespective of Brexit, it would now be rare for us to look a t a licensing deal that only covers the UK market or just one property, which is what we did at the beginning.

“We are looking forward to working with all retailers in 2019 and beyond to cater to the world’s new customers.”

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 almost eight 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@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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