"Forbidden Planet has never been more relevant": The UK retailer talks 40 years on the pop culture scene

In its 40th anniversary year, Forbidden Planet's DTR licensing and special projects manager. Anthony Garnon talks to Licensing.biz about where the retailer goes from here.
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Douglas Adams, author of The HItchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy visits Forbidden Planet

Douglas Adams, author of The HItchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy visits Forbidden Planet

UK retailer, Forbidden Planet has recorded the 'biggest ever burst' for sales of its own branded merchandise, marking a new step for the outlet known for its shelves of leading pop culture licensed goods.

The shop's success has also coincided with further celebrations of its own, with 2018 marking the 40th anniversary of the growing retail chain.

Over the past four decades, Forbidden Planet has not only carved itself a niche in the pop culture scene but is among those that can be credited for facilitating the scene's explosion and growing the trend on the high street. From humble beginnings, the chain now has a string of stores nationwide, and things are only about to grow from there.

Licensing.biz talks to Forbidden Planet's DTR licensing and special projects manager. Anthony Garnon about where the retailer goes from here.

It's a big year for Forbidden Planet, how will you guys be celebrating the 40th anniversary this year?

The celebrations started early - 2016 to be precise. We've dug out over 12,000 photographs, flyers, press releases and other bits and bobs from our archive of in-store signings and events, digitalising them all for the first time. Images not seen in 30-40 years have been cleaned up, and we've put a selection of the best in a souvenir magazine available to all customers - for free in all stores.

This year has also seen the biggest ever burst of Forbidden Planet branded merchandise. We've got some great new t-shirts utilising Brian Bolland's classic 'People Like Us' poster design from 1978, as well as things like badges, beer glasses, giclee prints, autograph books and - our personal favourite - the FP varsity jacket. It's marketed as "your new favourite jacket" - and boy, it's a thing of beauty.

In store activity includes '40 Signings For 40 Years' - bringing over 40 high profile authors to Forbidden Planet stores across the country - and birthday parties on August 11th, when our 40th anniversary merchandise officially launched.

Forbidden Planet has hosted numerous sci-fi and fantasy novelists, including American Gods author, Neil Gaiman.

Forbidden Planet has hosted numerous sci-fi and fantasy novelists, including American Gods author, Neil Gaiman.

How has business been for you guys this year so far - what is the strength of the Forbidden Planet brand?

In terms of stock, there is no other store like Forbidden Planet. We have a varied, unique range that focuses on the fans - however niche. Owners Nick Landau and Vivian Cheung and their buying team are constantly on the lookout for emerging trends, too. 

After 40 years, they have an amazing instinct of what will work for the brand, and what won't. We'll carefully test the waters, and extend our buying if the property works. 

This year has had a real spring in its step, with our anniversary celebrations. In terms of licenses we have a real core range of properties that continue to perform extraordinary well, mixed in with some great new properties new to our brand. There's a real buzz around Adult Swim's Mr. Pickles series, and we're over the moon to have a wave of DTR products out this Autumn.

Comic book legend and brains behind the entire Marvel Universe, Stan Lee even made a visit.

Comic book legend and brains behind the entire Marvel Universe, Stan Lee even made a visit.

How has that brand strength and retail presence been built over the past 40 years?

We've grown from one store on London's Tin Pan Alley, to nine stores nationwide. Five of those have proven so successful that they have expanded to over-sized Megastores. 

Then of course we have Forbidden Planet.com - which contains over 100,000 individual SKUs. An amazing feat. We're a regular at conventions, and have been since day one. We support upcoming and established authors and artists with regular in-store book signings.

Since 2012 we've operated a multiple licensed Forbidden Planet DTR range - a sign of good faith from licensors, allowing us to create as well as buy. With 40 years on the market we feel we know what our customers want, and through DTR can specifically cater to their needs. We love niche! We’re probably the only people in the world using some of the more obscure assets, however it works. These often end up being the most popular items we put out.

Our social media has grown significantly over the past 10 years, and engages with customers throughout the day. I should give a special shout out to Adrian and the team behind our growing Instagram feed. They are so creative and diligent, working so hard to put out incredible posts that demonstrate both the company and our products in the best way possible. 

If you haven't checked out what they do, I implore you do. You'll be amazed, and then immediately want to buy everything you've just seen.

What does your success over the last 40 years say about the pop culture fan community?

We're strong because the fan community is strong, and has probably never been stronger. Just take a look at the market for evidence. 

People thought that superhero movies were a fad, but they were proven wrong. Thanks to services like Amazon and Netflix there is more genre on television than ever before. We're in the middle of a real boom in gaming. The demand for pop culture is high. Forbidden Planet has never been more relevant.

A youthful horror writer, Stephen King, author of IT, Carrie and many more attends a book signing at the UK retailer.

A youthful horror writer, Stephen King, author of IT, Carrie and many more attends a book signing at the UK retailer.

It's no secret that the High Street has had its issues this year, with a number of struggling retail names. However, the pop culture scene and retailers like yourselves (in that pop culture/hobby space) are thriving. 

What is is about the market you operate in that gives you guys such strength of presence? Are there similar challenges in the pop culture space i.e. competition from internet shopping?

The biggest challenge is to stay relevant, but we've never stood still. It's a credit to Nick and Vivian that even after 40 years in the business, they are still pushing for new innovations and are keen to try new things. They really have their finger on the button.

I visit the London Megastore on a weekly basis, and it's always a thrill to spot customers discovering Forbidden Planet for the first time. They come for the products, yes, but also enjoy engaging with our staff - often comparing thoughts on the latest releases, or news. 

We have multiple signings per week too, or themed days. Customer turn out for these is always very good. So it's an experience shopping with us, no two days ever being the same.

To be frank - the internet can't possibly compete with all that! As my old friends in cinema will tell you - customers expect more than just product these days, and boy do we deliver.

In all honesty, our only restriction is the space within our stores. If only we could stock everything! (But we try!)

Discoworld's Terry Pratchett in for a bit of self-promotion and merchandising.

Discoworld's Terry Pratchett in for a bit of self-promotion and merchandising.

How are you guys now positioned for growth and expansion over the next few years?

Within DTR we meet regularly to plan ahead, and look at opportunities. We feel that we have an amazing carry of licenses and properties at this time, so the next few years will see us growing what we already have and the lines we create. 

At this time our core focus is apparel and giftwear (mugs/coasters/travel pass holders) but we're ambitious, and biting at the bits to put out more and more. The next few years will see us looking at every license, and deciding what fits each brand, and taking it from there.

What do you think the future holds for the current pop culture explosion - will this grow stronger and stronger?

We're confident it will. The future is younger, with a greater gender mix. They're growing up in a market with more quality choice than ever before. Take comics: Going ahead what people want may be a little more splintered - between superhero comics, or manga, or more indie titles. The best will thrive and find a place in a much more diverse market.

Brands are also planning ahead more and more too, which helps. At one point we knew all of the Marvel movies for the next six years.

What are biggest/best-selling franchises/pop culture brands for you at the moment?

From a DTR perspective it's a cheat but we find customers genuinely love a mixture of everything! Batman sells especially well, as do products licensed from major movie releases like Infinity War and Black Panther.

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