To the untrained eye, stationery may seem a somewhat limited market in which to set up a business.
However, having gained valuable experience of the industry at Hestair, which he later left to co-found Copywrite, (later known as Copywrite Designs), Mike Redfern and his family saw a gap in the UK market for good quality licensed stationery ranges in 1999 and subsequently set up Blueprint Collections to fill the void.
The company is still a family run business and Redfern and his wife, Maralyn work alongside their four children, Lisa Shand, managing director, Julia Chalkley, operations director, Pippa Chamberlain, design and product development director and James Redfern, UK sales director. In total, the firm employs 26 staff in the UK and ten in its Hong Kong office.
Over its first nine years in business, Blueprint has gone from strength to strength and it seems that whatever property is thrown at the team, they come up with a range that hits the target market fairly and squarely, which is successful at retail. The initial licences signed were Bob the Builder and Bagpuss and the firm has continued to build with well-known brands ever since.
With a wide portfolio of licences in place, the firm hits anyone from pre-schoolers with In the Night Garden and Roary the Racing Car, to adults with Playboy and Bench and the ‘in-betweeners’ with Hannah Montana, Fluff and High School Musical.
Products within each range vary to suit the audiences and the extensive offering is regularly attracting new licensors on board. As the New Year begins, Blueprint is already off to a flying start with major new deals including Strictly Come Dancing and Caroline Gardner, of greetings card fame.
The firm has high hopes for the new deals. The Strictly Come Dancing range will be created with tween girls in mind and will comprise everyday and fashion stationery. A Strictly 2010 diary is also planned for adult female fans of the show.
Licensing and marketing director, Helen Webster comments: “Strictly Come Dancing is a hugely popular show in the UK and the show’s glittering costumes, themes and ethos makes a stationery range for tweens a very natural extension.”
Webster believes that the key is to spread the ranges across a range of properties: “Any company involved in licensing and selling across all or most market sectors needs a balance of both brand new and evergreen properties, because even in the best of times, different licences tend to sell best in different market sectors.”
Webster continues, explaining: “In an economic downturn, evergreen brands may well sell better than at other times as they are a sage, nostalgic or reassuring purchase in difficult times but consumers are always interested in something new provided the products in question feature a brand they really identify with, are reasonably priced and look and feel great to use and be seen with.”
Longstanding brands within the Blueprint camp will see new product launches over the next year, keeping them up-to-date and fresh including streetwear brand, Bench, dance label, Pineapple, Bang on the Door’s Fabric Animals and Disney’s Cars.
The launches tie in with the plans for 2009 as a whole, which include maintaining the strength in the licence portfolio across all market sectors in order to deliver profitable returns. In order to do this, Webster explains, the company needs to ensure it is "flexible and detailed in our approach to our business and that of our customers.”
Webster believes 2009 will test the industry as a whole and strong business practice will be required to weather the storm: “While some licensed products may traditionally hold up better than other products in an economic downturn, we are not going to be complacent about the year ahead, but neither are we going to abandon the sound business practices and calm planning procedures that we all have to follow year in, year out.”
The last year has been a record one for Blueprint and Webster reports “very impressive growth for 2008.” Among the high points was the opening of the firm’s Hong Kong branch, Blueprint Asia. The launch is hoped to facilitate deeper and continuing progress on product quality, sourcing and social compliance requirements.
Webster explains: “Aside from our success in the UK, over the years, Blueprint has also built up a strong continental European distribution network that can offer licensors truly multi-territory licensing solutions for their properties.”