“2010 was an interesting time,” begins Patrick Bailey, commercial director at apparel licensee Blues Clothing. “While there was a great appetite for licensed apparel, with fantastic support at retail, 2010 was the start of the cotton crisis, which led to unprecedented increases in raw material and this became a significant challenge throughout the year.”
Bailey is well aware that the rising cost in raw materials is outside of the company’s control – “it is not easy to overcome as it’s due to global demand outweighing supply. We can only continue to negotiate vigorously to ensure we buy at the best possible price” – focusing instead on the positives, of which Blues has many.
The firm – which was established over 30 years ago – has a strong base of established licences and is always on the look out to build up its portfolio further.
“Peppa Pig and Hello Kitty continued to go from strength to strength in 2010, while Ben 10 remained very important for boys; the introduction of Ultimate Alien in the fourth quarter gave Ben 10 apparel an uplift going into 2011,” Bailey says. “Our classics such as Snoopy, Betty Boop, Superman and Batman attracted fresh interest and new pre-school brands Chuggington, Waybuloo and Timmy Time were launched at retail.”
New properties including Generator Rex, Tinga Tinga Tales, Everything’s Rosie and Little Charley Bear will arrive this year to bolster the line-up.
As you might expect, Blues’ relationship with traditional retail is strong – with the firm working with all major UK High Street retailers including Asda, Tesco, Bhs, Next, Sainsbury’s, Mothercare and Dunnes. However, Bailey is unsure as to whether the gap left by Woolworths has been completely filled. “It is hard to say, but for sure the supermarkets have taken a significant share of licensed apparel over the past two years and are a very important part of our business, as are other retail sectors who are ensuring licensed clothing is featured in their clothing offer.”
Bailey believes that Blues’ growth will mainly be organic from its established customer base, although he’s also got one eye on the new channels being offered by online.
“DTRs are a challenge to any licensed clothing supplier; it possibly affects apparel more than any other category,” he says. “However, Blues’ strategy is to continue to invest in both our established portfolio of properties and, just as importantly, work very closely with licensors and invest in new opportunities to ensure that new licences and brands are introduced into the market.”
Like any company, Blues has its targets for 2011 – although Bailey stops short of spelling them out in detail. He’ll only confirm that Blues’ short and long-term strategy is to remain a major supplier of licensed apparel in the UK and overseas. In an industry where many have fallen foul of over promising and then under delivering, Bailey is refreshing in that he prefers to let Blues’ results in the apparel sector speak for themselves.