A poster company with an eye for business (heh, eye, get it?), GB Eye has steadily developed its presence within the pop culture market since its inception 22 years ago, and now represents one of the industry’s major players.
Its pitch was and still is simple. Sell modern images to the current trend market.
When MD Charlie Chester first started selling music and movie posters direct to students while studying at Leicester, back in 1986, through to the firm’s establishment and expansion in the UK and then international markets, what’s in fashion has remained a prime focus for the company.
“The breakthrough licences were Oasis and Blur at the height of the Brit Pop phenomenon; these gave the stores confidence that posters could deliver great sales and margins,” Sorrell Dryden, key accounts and marketing manager, says.
It acquired Cartel/Athena in 1999, helping to establish a relationship with Disney and Toys R US. This has continued to strengthen over the years. The Pokémon licence, meanwhile, helped GB to gain space in Woolworths, Clinton Cards and Asda, as well as funding its move to its modern, purpose built premises.
The firm says it now holds more than 70 per cent of the poster supply market, with exclusive supply agreements with 11 retailers including Asda, Celebrations, Clinton Cards, Tesco, Toys R Us and more recently Borders Books, HMV and Woolworths.
It also has long established relationships with Merlin Entertainment Group, including Madame Tussauds, Alton Towers and Chessington, Center Parcs, JJB Sports, Pontins, while continuing to grow with online stores Play.com and Amazon.
Plus, the export department supplies over 200 distributors in more than 75 territories.
“We are confident that this is a reflection of our professional working practises and ability to deliver the best poster range in a variety of formats to suit our customers’ requirements,” Dryden says.
A good reflection it seems. GB Eye sales have soared 12 per cent year-on-year. It currently employs 85 people within design, UK and export sales, licensing, finance and its distribution centre, and is on the look out to add more staff to its sales and design teams.
“Licences and their designs are the life blood of the company,” Drydan continues. “95 per cent of the business is made up by licensed product with the remaining five per cent coming from generic in house designs.
“The demand for posters is continuous and growing each year. People like to make personal statements about themselves by how they adorn their environment, whether with posters for children, teenagers and students, or prints – taking it into the next age bracket or value canvas.”
To complement its main business, GB markets a line of 3D Lenticular posters. It re-launched its formats as door posters “with resounding success” in 2003 and introduced a range of contemporary prints in 2006. And it has now moved into selling badges and badge packs too.
So how does the firm go about getting the licences?
Max Arguile, licensing manager, explains: “It’s a combination of research, having our ears to the ground plus working in partnership with our licensors. Longstanding and prospective partners regularly approach us, as they desire the level of market penetration that only we can provide.
“We are all big pop culture fans and consume music, films, TV and sports coverage voraciously as well as seeking information from a variety of sources in order to determine what will be hot next in order to pitch early.”
The past 12 months has seen GB invest a hefty £600,000 in new machinery and upgrades of its computer systems following the 2007 floods. Moving forward it is confident it can expand its distribution with more formats and wider ranges.
“A potential economic downturn is in no-one’s interest but our products are relatively inexpensive and therefore will thrive as alternatives to other gifts. The market is tough but we are holding our own as we continue to sign the best licences and maximise on all properties. We will overcome through innovation and by moving quickly,” Arguile concludes.