Despite most suffering from the economic downturn in 2009, Last Lemon actually enjoyed their best year so far in the ten years of the business.
Ralph Lazar, founder and director comments: “Greetings cards were particularly strong and our Brainwaves books were selling very well into non English-speaking territories.”
Last Lemon was set up by Lazar and Lisa Swerling in 1999 while they were living in the Seychelles. The firm was initially founded as a licensing vehicle for its first property, Harold’s Planet.
Swerling explains: “Out first property was Harold’s Planet, which we developed while living on the tiny island of Cerf (part of the Seychelles) in 1999. We initially licensed it to Gaumont in France for development as a TV series.
“The TV show never happened, but healthy greetings cards, stationery and giftware deals happened quickly. The property is still ripe for TV development.”
As an annuity-based business, the first five years of trading saw a limited income as the duo built up critical-mass of content. By year six, the firm was able to introduce new properties and since then has seen consistent growth.
There is a strong route to market for each of the brands, which follow a pattern of firstly building online momentum, then introducing greetings cards and stationery, followed by giftware and once the brand is established thus far, publishing deals are signed.
Each of the firm’s brands has proved profitable along this route, with a wide range of deals with firms like Half Moon Bay, Harper Collins, Penguin Books, Abacus Cards, Dorling Kindersley, Castle Melamine and many more. Another high profile deal was that with the Financial Times and The Scotsman, which saw Harolds Planet featured on a weekly basis.
Swerling comments: “Our properties are successful in different ways. Harold’s Planet has seen success in cards for ten year now.
“Vimrod exploded onto the scene five years ago, and has been a big success with 14 books published and millions of cards sold. 48SKUs of 3D products will be launched in February here in the UK.
“The brainwaves have seen huge success as children’s reference books, with six titles published this year.”
It seems that Swerling and Lazar’s diverse backgrounds have stood them in good stead for their foray into the world of licensing. Lazar studied Law and Economics at the University of Cape Town and the London School of Economics. He was formerly an investment strategist at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse First Boston.
Swerling studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University. In contrast to her business partner’s career path, Swerling then ran her own graphic design business in London.
The pair has ambitious plans for growth in 2010 and beyond and based on their track record so far and the strength of the brands, there is little reason to believe they won’t be successful.
In 2010, Last Lemon will open a US office. Lazar explains: “The US has proved a tough nut to crack. We have showcased at Licensing International and Surtex for the last five years and very few deals have followed. We feel we actually need to have our feet on the ground there to break into the US.”
Also on the cards, is TV as the firm is actively looking for TV deals for all of its properties.
When asked why he thought the brands had worked so well so far, Lazar explains: “Laughter keeps us sane. Mix it with eye-candy and success follows.”