What it’s like to be a first time Licensing Expo exhibitor

Departure Time

Presentations; check. Samples; check. Clothes, passport and travel docs; check. Stand visuals, cleaning materials, sombrero… wait, wrong trip. A glance into my mind this morning would reveal a slightly chaotic scene as we prepare to leave for Vegas for our first show as exhibitors at Licensing Expo…. and right now I think it’s fair to say that I’m thinking back rather fondly to the carefree days of attending the show with a visitor badge.

Veterans of many a Licensing Expo, we’re attending this year’s show as exhibitors, which adds a whole new complexion and level of detail to the annual licensing jamboree. Planning for a show is complicated enough without the added headache of working with stand builders in another country and a six-hour time difference.

Our big stride into the ‘land of free’ is nerve wracking but also hugely exciting. The model of licensing requires scale and the US offers this. Having successfully delivered the Walls licensing program the US Unilever ice-cream team have called us in to help on two iconic US brands, Popsicle and Good Humor.

Build Day

On paper our plans looked good but they were no more than that; a set of drawings, a creative vision. Like any creative expression it is really only until you’ve ‘built it’ that you truly know if the idea works. Thankfully in this instance it had. We may have had the vision but Jacqueline and her fabulous team at Gilbert Designs made it happen.

With the likes of Disney and Warner Bros in attendance we were never going to match the scale and opulence of the big rights holders. Our ambition was more modest; to create an environment that was distinctive, welcoming and showcased our brands and skills as retail designers as well as licensing agents.

And so from a few crates, some carefully sourced props, sheets of MDF and two days of toil emerged our cosy High Street of brands.

Show Day One

Showtime! I’m frustratingly awake before the larks! The joy of an eight-hour time difference.

We arrive on the stand an hour before opening to polish off the visual merchandising. Rupert, my business partner, has just flown in dragging with him two ancient and well-loved suitcases crammed full of props. I have no idea how he’s managed to rustle up his grandmother’s wooden tennis racket or his dad’s prep school ankle-high football boots but he has, and they make a fabulous flourish to our Cambridge University corner.

The show starts slowly. Thankfully we’ve been here before. There’s an unpredictable rhythm to trade shows. One minute it’s madness, the next a ghost town. The downtime periods can be unsettling but they’re actually a godsend – the chance to catch your breath, to process the deluge of information that’s come before.

For most of us at the show one conversation could make the trip. A positive visit from the lovely people at Walmart or Target and frankly we can pack our bags and go. The licensing industry is dominated by the big retailers, and whether you’re an agent or a licensee you need their favour.

By lunchtime things are really moving. We’re having some great conversations. It helps that we’re selling iconic brands, rich in heritage and oozing personality. We don’t need to explain the brands they sell themselves. Our job is to convince retailers and licensees alike that our brands can take the giant leap from their core market and into new categories.

Day Two

They say Vegas is a 24-hour city. Well Rupert and I can vouch for that. The day started early… really early. As the bedraggled stragglers emptied out the last remaining shekels from their pockets we shuffled wearily through the casino and into the conference hall – shirts freshly pressed. It was 4am and both of us had managed only three hours sleep. Late nights, jet lag and pre dawn rises – a heady cocktail.

Rupert and I had agreed to be filmed by ABC 13, a local outpost of the national broadcaster. Should we do it? We weren’t sure – but then again what did we have to lose? As the new kids on the block we need all the coverage we can get.

I’m nervous about being filmed. I give presentations in my sleep but never to camera and certainly not before dawn and with acute jet lag. Will I freeze on cue? Much to say – but where to start?

Thankfully it was all rather painless. I was interviewed by a charming Las Vegan who looked more like Clark Kent than Jeremy Paxman. Filming over we grabbed a coffee and headed back to our room for a couple of hours before the madness began.

Day Three

The final push…. some tired bodies and minds today. We’re one man down as Rupert has jetted back to the UK.

Watching the team in action I couldn’t be more proud. Emma and Hayley have worked their socks off. It takes persistence to work a show. You don’t see the light, eat rubbish and you have to repeat yourself all day. It’s not the real world, particularly when an 8ft tall blue fluffy ostrich appears on the stand.

Has it worked? Who knows. The true answer will come once we’ve filtered the approaches – but my instinct says yes. We’re going home tired and satisfied. Will we be back? Yes. But we’ll make changes. We’ll be choosier about our position in the hall, we’ll add more Hot Pickle branding to the stand, add windows, have better snacks, more water…

But we’ll be back (although I may just leave the 4am filming to someone else).

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