Culture sculpture: Beer Buddies and the fine art of merchandising

A two-man operation working out of a headquarters in Wheal Vor, in Cornwall, Beer Buddies has started to make its presence known on the pop culture licensing and merchandise scene through its range of best-selling Motorhead, Iron Maiden, and now Original Stormtrooper bottle openers.

Using traditional sculpting methods put to use from its Cornish workshop, this is a company that has not only struck upon a unique angle within the traditional licensing space, but continues to champion an artisan approach within the sector, finding and bridging that gap between today’s demand for pop culture merchandise and the consumer’s desire for artistry.

Here, Licensing.biz grabs a quick five minutes with Beer Buddies co-founder Richard House to talk about the firm’s foray into licensing, its successes, and what’s on the horizon for the UK business.

Hi Richard, good to catch up with you. To start, can you give us a bit of history on the Beer Buddies company? How did this all come about for you guys, and what was the moment that got you into the licensing space?

Beer Buddies is just two people: myself and Seamus Moran. We both did design based degrees and formed Beer Buddies 10 years ago, we’ve worked together ever since moving to Cornwall from the Midlands in 1988.

Buddies started almost by accident when we were asked to design and produce a Green Man wall plaque. Seamus realised that a bottled opener could be incorporated into the mouth and I came up with the name Beer Buddies. We came up with a few more designs, made them in our workshop and began selling, as demand grew and the range increased and we moved the manufacturing to China.

We had never considered doing licensed products until Jens Drinkwater of Global Merch introduced himself to us at a trade show about three years ago. Motorhead bottled beer Road Crew was selling strongly and Jens suggested a bottle opener would be a great addition to Motorhead merchandise line.

The trail went quiet for about 12 months and then out the blue we got the green light from Global and six months later the first Beer Buddies licensed product was on sale. It immediately opened our eyes to the potential of the licensing world. Motorhead sold more than the rest of our range put together.

You pay homage to a real artisan aspect of creating Beer Buddies. How do you guys strike that balance of bringing the artisan to the licensing space? What do you think this brings to the licensing space itself and is it proof that artistry and merchandise can work together?

The artisan element of our working methods probably has much to do with our age. Seamus is a sculptor in his own right and totally at home working with traditional modelling materials such as clay and plaster. Neither of us are of the Cad era. Seamus has a meticulous modelling style and an eye for detail that is unique to him and that translates into the designs and brings a very human element to the work that a computer generated design can’t.

We look for brand icons that will translate into what we do without making too many compromises to the original concept. Also, because this is so new to us having good support from the licensee is very important. Global has been fantastic in this regard and Jens has introduced us to new customers and spread the cost of royalty fees when our cash flow has been tight.

What has reception been like to the Beer Buddies’ licensed roll out to date? 

The response to our licensed roll outs to date has been very positive. Motorhead and Iron Maiden are our biggest sellers. Original Stormtrooper arrived late due to the chaotic situation at UK ports but the initial signs are that it’s going to be very strong .

How has business been for you guys over the course of 2020? With lockdown keeping people in their homes for longer, has Beer Buddies spotted an opportunity here?

Like virtually all businesses this year, Covid-19 has caused us problems. Most of our trade accounts have been closed for 25 per cent of the year and some may have closed for good. We probably won’t know the full extent of the damage until next year. On the plus side our own website sales have more than doubled as lockdown has sent online shopping go off the chart .

What’s the next big move for Beer Buddies, what can we expect from you guys in 2021?

Next year we hope to get some more Heavy Metal under our belts with Metallica, they have the right look and like Motorhead and Iron Maiden already have a licensed beer and a huge loyal fan base.

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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