Having brought the popular US brand PanAm into its licensing fold, Pink Key has made its boldest move for the lifestyle sector to date. Founder Richard Pink talks to Licensing.biz about the company's phenomenal growth, ongoing retail success and of course, cocktails on aeroplanes...

Richard Pink is well aware that his company’s name change from Pink Key Consulting to Pink Key Licensing may have flown somewhat under the industry radar over the last month.

However, what from the outside may appear to be little more than the tri-syllabic switch of a company name, in reality reflects something far greater; namely, the continued evolution and growth of the Pink Key business.

It’s over a Coke in a local Stansted pub that Richard Pink details the successes of the Pink Key outfit over the last three years. It’s been the firm’s best three years to date, boasting continued growth, major new partnerships across consumer products and retail and the acquisition of new brands to round out the Pink Key portfolio.

“I feel like we are much more of a licensing agent now than we have ever been,” says Pink. “It was at BLE last year that I took a step back to look at the portfolio we have and noticed that we look like a much more cohesive licensing programme based around vintage, Americana and food.

“We have grown every year since I kicked this off in 2005, and over the last two to three years, we have grown really well. We are not so reliant on a single brand in Vintage Kellogg’s anymore and are now looking like a proper portfolio, and the name change is reflective of that.”

kelloggs

Pink Key Licensing has taken the Vintage Kellogg's brand into all manner of gifting ranges, including puzzles.

Among them, PanAm is the latest to join the fold and one that signifies a clear and decisive move into the lifestyle sector for Pink Key, a sector that the company founder spotlights as an area of “enormous growth in the licensing market.”

“When you look at the way BLE is being run now, I think there is enormous growth in brand licensing,” he explains. “Over the last two or three years the industry has really begun to reflect that, effectively separating brand and entertainment licensing.

“We have firmly positioned ourselves on the brand side of it because - and I have always believed – that there is longevity in this sector. We wanted to be in the lifestyle sector for the reason that there is strong growth within it, and we have now got that with PanAm.”

PanAm

The PanAm brand sitting well at home among Pink Key's portfolio of Pringles, Slush Puppie and Vintage Kellogg's.

Vintage Kellogg’s aside, PanAm is the most lifestyle orientated brand in the Pink Key portfolio. The acquisition is the result of Pink’s trip to the Vegas Licensing Expo last year where it was during a walk of the halls that he stumbled across a brand that, laced in the glamour of American travel of yesteryear, already had a firm licensing presence in the US market, yet nothing to speak of across Europe.

“PanAm really looks like it belongs in our portfolio,” says Pink, “so we took it on with the intention of trying to roll out a similar programme to what it has in the US. This is a brand that really harks back to that golden era of when travelling wasn’t such a pain in the arse. It wasn’t schlepping onto a Ryan Air flight; there is a glamour to it – think cocktails on an aeroplane and Leonardo Di Caprio in Catch Me When You Can, and you have PanAm.”

Never one to be caught asleep at the wheel, Pink has already secured a line up of three partners, among them Iron Gut for art collections, Tarten Squirrel for a small collection of accessories and Blackstone for apparel in the UK. On top of this, Pink is now in discussions with a ‘substantial worldwide retailer,’ the details of which he will be able to share in the coming weeks.

Travel accessories is where he really sees the brand bedding in in the lifestyle licensing sphere, with the strategy of radiating out from there into the wider space, adopting the approach that secures a longevity among the consumer mindset.

pringles

Pink Key has utilised the iconic Pringles tube design across a number of novelty items, including pencil cases.

“We take on brands that we love and we only take brands that we want to keep forever. We would never take on a brand with a three year plan, ones that go blasting out of the blocks and build a mountain of royalties early on, but facilitate a slow build and build for the longer term,” Pink explains.

The Pink Key portfolio is, of course, supplemented with a multitude of brands reflecting the vintage and pedigree ethos that drives the company. Vintage Kellogg’s continues to perform “phenomenally well” across homewares, Pringles has found a home in novelty gifting while SLUSH PUPPiE has just become one of the top four most profitable items in the Argos catalogue thanks to its SLUSH PUPPiE machine, licensed by Fizz Creative.

And given the current climate today, success at retail is no small achievement. Yet, with its bespoke and even artisan portfolio of brands, it is exactly what Pink Key is enjoying. A new partnership with Kimm & Miller is continuing to drive the Vintage Kellogg’s brand in food and gifting that includes large presence within Debenhams and a housewares range ready for launch, while more and more, retailers are looking at the licensing scene as a legitimate route to profit.

“There has been a distinct change over the last two or three years as to which retailers are getting involved in licensing, especially when you look at the retailers who are actually seen these days as champions of licensing,” Pink continues. “That said, it is still difficult and you can’t ignore the way the retail sector has changed in terms of the rise of ALDI and LIDL, and from my point of view, it’s just a matter of acknowledging it rather than fighting against it and coming up with a strategy that works with it.”

slush puppie

The SLUSH PUPPiE Machine has become one of Argos' most profitable items.

Among the many initiatives retailers can – and are beginning to – look at in terms of bringing licensing to their customers, is through personalisation and print-on-demand models. While driven primarily by the character and entertainment space, activity in this area has not escaped the attention of some of the industry’s more astute, Richard Pink being among them.

“This is a massive opportunity at retail at the moment, and it’s one that we are actually considering ourselves,” he says. “It is a relatively smaller pool of activity in lifestyle brand licensing and that is because, by and large, we work with brands whose main function is not in licensing. Take Kellogg’s for example, they make breakfast cereal and licensing their archive is a sideline that they want to happen. Therefore, as a brand agent in this space, you end up feeding off the trends that come out of the entertainment industry, rather than act as the driver of it. It is more unusual to be initiated from our side, but the opportunities that lie within it are vast and very exciting.”

As for the lifestyle sector itself, Pink is quick to note that ‘he has never had so many people and brands approaching him about a move into licensing as he has today,’ highlighting it once again as an area of growth and huge potential over the coming years. But just because the phone is ringing, Pink is adamant not to lose sight of the credentials brands have to meet before they can be initiated to the ranks of Pink Key’s pedigree portfolio.

“As it turns out, to work with Pink Key, brands have to have an element of pedigree and vintage to them. We have more of an identity now in terms of the brands we are managing, and that is an ethos we will continue to carry forward. Its pedigree is what captures the interest of retailers, and afterall, they are the guys that are looking for that element of brand awareness before they will even have a conversation with you,” he concludes.

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