A few years back, I was contacted by a very large American company that had seen an image by one of our artists, that they saw in an ad we had run in an art licensing publication.
They were interested in seeing what else this artist had created, and in learning how they might go about licensing this image and similar images for their extensive line of products for sale in the United States and Canada.
Out Of The Blue
As I’ve been licensing artwork since around 1985, I’ve come upon just about every type of company and marketing apparatus one might run into.
With active promotion, it’s common and always appreciated when a company appears ‘out of the blue’ with whom we’ve never worked, and of course like every art licensing agency we’re interested in developing new relationships with strong new licensees.
What made this response different, however, was the particular niche that this company had in the American market and the manner in which they had traditionally sourced product.
Where Did They Find Their Products?
You see, the company purchased finished product ‘off the shelves’ from manufacturers in China and other countries in the Far East, then brought the product into the American market for sale to lower-end mass-marketers as well as some mid-tier regional and national chains.
Thus ‘product development’ for them meant, in essence, being there first at a Hong Kong or Shanghai product market to be able to pick out what they felt might sell well, then nailing down all the supply of those products so that they wouldn’t also be grabbed by their competitors.
There Are Problems With This Approach
I would compare their method of finding product to going to a flea market where one might find, let’s say, 500 pairs of slightly-flawed or off-size jeans being sold at deep discounts, because they were sold by the manufacturer at even deeper discounts in order to clear out unsold or unsellable inventory.
And there were other problems with this sourcing as well.
- Where exactly did the original art for the products come from?
- Did one of the excellent artists or sculptors in China do their own version of something they happened to come across at a trade fair?
- Might there be trademark or copyright problems down the line?
The Risk of Violating Copyrights and Trademarks
Certainly it wouldn’t be the first time that Chinese-made goods violated international copyrights.
And if you were to purchase the entire inventory of a line of product produced by a factory, what guarantee might you have that one of your competitors didn’t have on the boat a line of product that’s all but indistinguishable from what you’re trying to sell?
In an attempt to increase and stabilize its sales, the licensee had decided the previous year to begin developing its own proprietary line of product using art that they licensed, hence the strong inquiry that came in from our image in the licensing publication.
In the ensuing months we worked with this company to provide them with art and design so that they could launch a major multi-SKU line of product for Christmas of the following year.
The line was released at the first major American gift show of the year, the Atlanta Gift Show in early January, and the response was far above anything they had experienced previously.
How To Double Sales
When final sales figures came in, they were delighted to tell me that they had doubled their sales over the previous year’s offerings and had managed to place much of the line in a major well-established American card and gift mass-merchandiser.
Of course, while it’s true that they selected excellent art from a very fine and versatile artist and designer, they might have done just as well using licensed art from other agencies or directly from top American or British artists.
There's No Magic Bullet, Just Compelling Art
Our company didn’t have a magic bullet. What we had for them was a very strong artist, one of a number whom we represent and one of a far larger number of excellent artists who license their work either directly or through an art licensing agency.
We’ve seen this situation occur again and again over the years, and it always validates the fact that if your sales are slow and you just don’t have art that seems to work for you in the marketplace, then it makes sense to go beyond your normal art or product sources and find stronger art elsewhere.
Find Strong Art That Will Sell
The licensee whom I discuss in this article decided to take control of the first step in the production process – finding strong art that will sell.
This gave them the opportunity to take control of the next major part of the production cycle, which involved finding the right factory to produce the product and making certain, through however many prototypes and revisions, that the final product is as good as it can be.
The result for our licensee was a greatly enhanced customer base and dramatically improved sales.
And that’s what art licensing is all about, isn’t it?
Your Ace In The Hole
So when you're in discussions with a company that seems to be reluctant to license any art at all, whether from you or any other artist, just remember that you and all the great artists in America and around the world hold the key to that company's success in the retail environment.
Your ace in the hole is that you can help them increase their sales, and that's what product development is all about.
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