The Licensing Company’s Will Stewart on the long term vision for The Gruffalo

What makes The Gruffalo property an attractive one to work with?

The Gruffalo is a unique brand which allows us to create a unique programme of products.

We work very closely with Magic Light Pictures and agree a joint strategy for growth which everyone buys into. They are an incredible licensor who trust our judgement but equally have a very clear vision for the future. Our job is to deliver that vision. 

We have worked with Magic Light Pictures from the start to create the brand extension programme in the right ways, with the right partners generating the right turnover.

What’s most exciting is that the Gruffalo is a unique character that is loved by children – if you are lucky enough to visit one of the amazing forestry commission woods, featuring Neil Bruce’s stunning wooden sculptures, as I have – you would instantly feel the love that children have for the characters and the story.

The property is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. Why do you think the brand has endured for so long?

Julia and Axel have created an amazing story book where the central character (Mouse) goes on a dangerous journey scaring animals much bigger than himself through his quick wit and cunning mind. 

Whether you love the poetic elements or the wonderfully designed characters this is a book that even parents don’t mind reading 100 times.

Ultimately why I love it so much is that it’s not a typical children’s picture book – Mouse is deceitful but not in a nasty way – he’s just incredibly resourceful. What I hope is that children take away a message that it’s not about who you are but what you do that makes a difference. 

When a book has an enduring message that parents buy in to, and the extensions seamlessly support the brand and fulfil the core message, then you have a long term opportunity. This is why we are celebrating 15 years this year.

What is unique about The Gruffalo compared to the other brands you work with?

There is no such thing as a Gruffalo – he’s not a train, pig, cat, dog, rabbit, bear or buffalo. He is the Gruffalo! He’s unique in every way. This allows us to create unique interpretations with some outstanding licensees. 

For example the collaboration with Thorntons has been hugely successful, as has the partnership with Trunki. Both of these licensees work with other brands but the Gruffalo has a unique place in their business models and future growth. 

We work closely with them to support the growth through marketing such as the Giant Chocolate Gruffalo, by Thorntons, currently touring Sainsburys stores.

We are also able to operate directly with some of the best retailers in the UK to find new consumer touch points such as our partnership with Specsavers and The National Literacy Trust or our apparel, toys and gifting business with Sainsbury’s.

You work with brands all around the world. Is it rare for one to maintain popularity for 15 years?

TLC focuses on building long term sustainable businesses for all of our brand owners. Maintaining popularity on a brand like Coca-Cola where it’s the biggest brand in the world, serves two billion drinks a year and is a 127 years old is easy. Maintaining popularity on a publishing character brand over the long term is not easy. 

It requires a lot of strategic input and involves some very difficult decisions. Luckily things are going to plan and we have a phenomenal new group of licensees launching in the next 12 months. We are extremely excited about the future of this brand.

How do you negotiate finding partners for The Gruffalo?

TLC spends a lot of time selecting and assessing each opportunity that we find for the brand. 

We don’t like to target typical licensees but actively pursue new manufacturers and branded businesses to create something unique. 

We like to find a partner who shares the long term vision for the brand and will be committed to building something special. Retailers have so much choice and we need every Gruffalo product to earn its space on shelf.

Can you envision celebrating The Gruffalo’s 30th anniversary?

I would expect to be celebrating The Gruffalo’s 50th anniversary. 

TLC have been particularly cautious with the categories, products, partners and retail channels over the last five years. 

Building a long term sustainable business is our vision – we feel that the brand is already a modern classic and our challenge now is build the brand into new sustainable categories. This requires us to deliver award winning and unique products which will be enjoyed by every generation of kids. 

We are well under way and the partners we sign are totally focused on the brand.

The Gruffalo has become an important source of revenue for them, whether it’s a long term partner like Aurora on plush or a new partner like Christy on home textiles.

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