Firstly, can you talk me through how the past 12 months have been for Character World?
Mark Schweiger: It’s been a fantastic 12 months for us – we’ve won some great new licenses, taken on key staff and grown our international presence. Of course, a highlight was the secondary management buyout at the end of last year which will help us maximise opportunities in the months ahead.
How big is the team now?
MS: There are 80 of us in the team now.
What were some of your best performing lines last year?
Danny Schweiger: The standout licence for us was Frozen. Nobody could have predicted the phenomenal success of this licence. The appeal and popularity is showing no sign of slowing down and we’re expecting it to do big things this year, too, especially following the confirmation that a sequel is in the works. Last year, boys’ licences performed well for us; super-hero, gaming and movie licences were particularly popular and with a raft of blockbusters out this year, we’re expecting another good year for the boys’ sector.
Can you talk me through the secondary management buyout? What changes has this brought to the business?
MS: Palatine Private Equity backed us in a secondary buyout last year. The deal presented a fantastic opportunity for us. The investment will help us focus on our ambitious growth plans, both in the UK and internationally.
DS: In terms of structure, and the day to day running of the business, very little has changed. However, we’ve gained two new non-executive directors from Palatine both with a wealth of valuable experience to draw upon.
What has it enabled you to do that you wouldn't previously have been able to?
DS: We’ve always had ambitious growth plans in place but the buyout has accelerated our plans, enabling us to make our mark internationally much more quickly.
You've also picked up a number of awards – can you elaborate for me? How important are these to receive?
DS: When we win an award, we always feel proud for the team. It’s fantastic to have their hard work recognised by industry peers. I was particularly proud to pick up Disney’s Business Partner of the Year Award cementing our decade long relationship with Disney. We were up against some fantastic licensees, so to be named winner was a major achievement.
You exhibited at Nuremberg Toy Fair this year – how was this for you? What was the thinking behind taking a stand there? Do you think you'll return?
MS: It was a great show for us and we’ll definitely be there again next year. All the key players are at the show so it’s important Character World has a presence.
What other shows do you exhibit at? Are you considering expanding this throughout this year and into 2016?
MS: In 2016 we will be exhibiting at Heimtextil and Nuremberg Toy Fair. We are looking at other possibilities so watch this space.
In which other ways are you looking to expand the business internationally?
DS: Our objective is to become the leading licensee in EMEA, achieving the same success as we have in the UK. In the past three years, we’ve grown our EMEA retail partners and increased the number of Pan-European licences we hold. The job now is to build on this success.
In terms of products, what can we expect to see from Character World in 2015?
MS: We’re always looking to expand our range with innovative additions. Currently we’re developing scented cushions and a wider range of bedding bundles including anti-allergy duvets and a single size product. We are working through our core product offering to develop tiered products throughout so that we can offer appropriate products to a wider range of retailers. Rugs and towels will also be exciting categories for us in the coming months.
Are there any licences you currently don't have in your portfolio that you would like to add?
DS: A licence I’d love to have is the Minions. Despicable Me and its sequel were massive hits and the hotly anticipated Minions film, out in the summer is likely to attract a new wave of fans.
Which areas do you see Character World standing out in, compared to your competitors?
DS: It sounds cheesy, but we love and care for our brands just as much as the licensors do. Everyone we recruit has passion and enthusiasm for what we do and this really comes across to all those we work with.
What are some of the key challenges that licensees in general are facing at the moment?
MS: Currency movement is a challenge for any licensing business operating internationally. We’re at the mercy of global currency fluctuations and have to constantly monitor changes. The ever changing retail environment is another challenge facing licensees and again has to be monitored and business adapted accordingly.
DS: As ever, predicting and preparing for the ‘next big thing’ is a challenge that all licensees face. Sometimes, despite all our experience, a license can completely take you by surprise, surpassing all expectations.
What would you most like to have achieved by the end of 2015?
DS: I’d like us to keep doing what we’re good at, focusing on our strong retail and licensor relationships.
And slightly longer term, where do you see the firm being in the next five years?
MS: I see Character World being the leading licensed bedding and accessories business in the UK and EMEA.