The firm opened for business in 1986 from a “chance meeting”, as MD Rob Hughes puts it, with an inventor. It was then known as the West Coast Trading Company.
In 1988 it launched its first licensed product, a Garfield LCD watch. Two years later, the company signed the Simpsons licence and consequently witnessed its turnover pass £1 million within a year.
The company took the Wesco name in 1993 and also registered it as a brand. Not long after, business really took off.
“Business really picked up in the mid 90s with the Wallace and Gromit licence. We sold over one million Wallace and Gromit timepieces in a two-year period,” Hughes recalls.
With 11 members of staff and four directors, the Wesco team prefers to operate in a niche market, as opposed to where the larger companies work. The manufacturing of products such as watches, clocks, torches, USB keys and other gadgets is sub-contracted and distribution is handled by a third party.
“While making a profit is of course important to us, our main aims as a licensed gift manufacturer are to develop and produce quality products which are bespoke to a licence,” Hughes explains.
“Our products are designed to resonate with the character they portray, while our strategy is to keep our products innovative and identify niche areas in which to expand, keeping us constantly in tune with our market; we are constantly looking for new areas where technology has developed, for example.”
Hughes says he tends to focus mainly on character licences, which are supported strongly through TV, such as The Simpsons. He also says he stays clear of the large movies, unless the brand already exists with kids, or if it’s part of a multiple.
“The Simpsons is a consistent performer. Other highlights in terms of licenses have been Wallace and Gromit, Fools and Horses, Bob the Builder and Dr Who. The thing that these all have in common is that they have broad family appeal – they appeal to a wide audience,” Hughes says.
And despite the current “very tough” trading conditions Wesco is confident it can expand its overseas business, having recently signed distribution agreements in the US and Australia for Star Wars: Clone Wars.
“We’ve had a great reaction to Star Wars: Clone Wars and I’m confident the product range will exceed expectations.
“Today there are so many licences on offer, making it difficult to chose the right one. But we just have to be more nimble and more innovative.”