Wildlife art comes to life in the hands of this wholesaler due to its artists-first approach to production. The founder of Wild Wings Licensing got his inspiration to start his business from duck stamps. Having collected the stamps for years, he developed an extensive network of wildlife artists because he had to approach them directly to obtain new pieces for his collection.
In the late ’60s, he realized that wildlife art was not as accessible to the average person as it should be; it was almost entirely found in original paintings and rarely as reproductions. His discovery became an epiphany as he realized he had a business plan that could give people access to wildlife art at more affordable prices.
Although Wild Wings Licensing was incorporated in 1968, it wasn’t until 1970 that its first limited edition art print, featuring an image of quail by an artist named Owen Gromme, was published. “Owen did the painting, and the founder produced a print, got a list of names from the Ducks Unlimited Conservation organization, and did a postcard mailing,” said Randy Eggenberger, president. “That constituted our first foray into direct mailing.”
In 1971, Wild Wings produced its first full-scale catalogue, which featured limited edition prints and original paintings. Three years later, Eggenberger started as a 19-year-old high school graduate. At that time, the company was producing several print editions per year and was selling to both retail and wholesale customers. Wild Wings popularity had grown to the point that rather than searching them out, frame shops and art galleries were contacting the company to purchase prints.
Throughout the ’70s, Wild Wings continued to grow by acquiring more artists and publishing their prints. In the late ’70s, the company published its first gift catalogue, which included both art images and what Eggenberger calls dimensional products. “We brainstorm ways we can leverage the art on additional products,” he said.
“The glue that holds our concept together is our artists’ imagery. Almost anything for the home is fair game if we can tastefully apply art to it.” From tabletop sculptures, sofas, tables, and chairs to mugs and tin signs, Wild Wings produces items that make the company look more like a general merchandiser than an art publisher.
Wild Wings’ target audience is the outdoors activist who values the natural world and likes to surround him or herself with products and representations of the great outdoors. And whether they live in rural locations or in a tower in New York City, their connection to nature is more than a passing phase.
“Our end consumers enjoy nature, they’re inspired by it, and it’s what they do when they get a chance to get away,” Eggenberger said. “They like to bring those images into their ordinary day-to-day lives. They’re who we think about when we merchandise.”
Although Wild Wings is a multichannel retailer and uses e-commerce to reach its audience, its catalogues are its primary marketing tools. In addition to its catalogue and web businesses, Wild Wings sells products through several thousand North American art and gift dealers who sell the products in their own retail stores.
Wild Wings also owns the domain names for several websites, including WildWingsLicensing.com, which is a portal for its licensing customers; WildWingsDealers.com, which is for its dealers; and WildWings.com, which is where end-consumers can purchase any items from its catalogue.
“We were somewhat pioneers in the web business when we first launched our site in 1997,” said Eggenberger. “By 1999, we had a full-scale shopping cart site. Although we mail 2 million catalogues per year, about 30% of what we call our catalogue business originates through the web.”
Eggenberger said he and his team use web and catalogue semantics interchangeably because of how closely related they are as channels of distribution. “We merchandise for both of them simultaneously,” he said.
In 2009, Eggenberger bought back Wild Wings, which was sold to Cabela’s in 2002. The reacquisition gave Eggenberger the chance to fine-tune the quality of Wild Wings’ catalogue, which he says boosted the company’s response rates almost immediately.
“We do our own merchandising product development and catalogue production inhouse, and we work with a studio called Gamut One Studios in Edina, Minn. for the photography,” he said. “We have to reflect the quality of the end product in the presentation to the customer, and our process ensures that.”
Catalogue and presentation are important to Wild Wings, but its success is contingent on the relationships it develops with its artists. The company currently represents more than 50 artists exclusively, and of that 50, 20 have been with Wild Wings for more than 20 years.
“Artists are central to our success; they define our company,” said Eggenberger. “Art is what we are and have always been about. Our ability to maintain longstanding relationships with artists is absolutely essential. It’s job-one for us.”
The key to keeping artists happy, said Eggenberger, is giving their art a chance to express itself to a broad population, and it’s a role Wild Wings happily accepts. The company does very little art direction, instead enabling the artists to chase their inspirations.
Some artists specialize in certain genres while others are broad in their styles and subject matter. Wild Wings lets each do what comes naturally to their talent but is always mindful that they need to make a living. “We’re focused on how we can maximize their income,” said Eggenberger.
By diversifying its portfolio of art, including prints and dimensional products, Wild Wings gives artists more chances to generate royalties. In addition, Wild Wings licenses its artists’ imagery to other manufacturers in categories or channels of distribution the company doesn’t have a strong presence in.
“We license our imagery to third parties, which creates an additional revenue stream and more exposure for artists,” Eggenberger said. “We look at the artists’ royalty stream as a combination of prints, dimensional products, and licensing, and they’ve all given artists some nice growth over the years.”
Focusing on its artists’ growth has enabled Wild Wings to grow and maintain a steady business for more than four decades. “It’s not easy to stay in business for 42 years,” said Eggenberger. “We’re proud that we’ve been able to, but every day is a new set of challenges. You can’t stop swimming or you’ll quickly go downstream.”
Home to one of the most widely read children’s publications, this company is licensing its brand to new products that are aligned with its core mission. If you were a child at any point over the last 64 years, chances are you read Highlights for Children or at least recognize the brand name. Highlights’ iconic magazines and books taught many of us how to read, the values of curiosity, and the virtues of creativity.
Read more: Highlights for Children
This brand management firm knows how to make the best brands shine even brighter. For the nearly 1 million fans that added to the thread “Saban is what saved the Power Rangers! The power is back!” on the Rangerboard.com fan page, nothing could best the development of Saban Brands in May 2010 and the follow-up announcement that the division had acquired the Power Rangers franchise.
Read more: Saban Brands
From the screen to the page to the ballpark, this popular brand knows how to market food in an entertaining fashion. In 2006, Food Network pumped up its efforts to expand its reach beyond its popular cable television programming. In less than five years, that effort has brought the Food Network brand into the world of book and magazine publishing, retail stores, and even ballparks.
Read more: Food Network
With 100 years behind it, this nonprofit finds ways to meet the demands of a changing marketplace. In 2004, the Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) licensed product sales at retail were approximately $400,000. By the end of 2009, that number had grown to nearly $38 million. What this proves to Dave Harkins, associate director of business development, is that there can be great opportunity for nonprofits if you know how to present a product to a market.
Read more: Boy Scouts of America
This video game publisher is expanding its activities in media and consumer products to grow its brands. Capcom Entertainment, Inc., a subsidiary of Capcom Co. Ltd., markets, develops, and distributes interactive entertainment software for all gaming platforms in the US and develops Capcom’s brands into non-gaming media and consumer products in the US. Seon King is senior director of Capcom Entertainment’s media and consumer products department, which heads up these developments.
Read more: Capcom Entertainment
This licensing agency’s ability to develop and manage corporate licensing programs has helped many leading brands grow, expand retail presence, and gain consumer loyalty. The brand equity possessed by any trademark is the most important asset a corporation can have. For nearly 30 years, Nancy Bailey & Associates (NBA) has offered an unparalleled level of trademark licensing service and expertise, helping some of the most recognizable brand names in the world branch out into new product categories. In 1982, Bailey created NBA after working in the corporate world as director of advertising for Burger King. She started the company’s licensing program, which was a promotional licensing concept of placing logos on items like T-shirts. NBA’s early clients included Burger King, Pizza Hut, Baskin Robbins, and 7 Up, and the work was often simple brand awareness licensing.
Read more: Nancy Bailey & Associates
Only two years after a major restructure, this e-com technology provider continues to improve its platform. To describe the business platform of California-based MashOn is no easy feat, but Philippe Benoliel, president and CEO, has it down to a science. “We are a technology company playing in an almost traditional bricks-and-mortar business. On the one hand, we have a strong technology slant because we’re developing software and e-commerce, but on the other hand, we’re dealing with product and physical goods.”
Although the company has been around for five years, for all intents and purposes, MashOn is also a start up. Two years ago, Benoliel and his 26-person team rebuilt the technology solutions provider from scratch.
Prior to that, the company’s primary products were online games. After seeing the attachment gamers had to their characters, the company developed PC-based Comic Book Creator, which enabled gamers to interact with branded content to create their own comics on their computers.
In 2008, Benoliel and his team took that concept and expanded it, first bringing the entire application to the web and then building a creative platform that would enable different audiences to interact with a variety of branded content and create items relevant to them.
“The online component we brought to the market with MashOn can be embedded on websites and packaged with a variety of contents, whether photos, videos, or sounds, to allow end users to create what is relevant to them,” he said.
The key to MashOn’s strategy is in how it removes the risk for licensors while giving them a better ROI. With the economic shake up of the past few years, licensing and merchandising have taken a hit.
“Licensees typically looked at larger retailers as their primary source of income,” said Benoliel. “But with the current state of retail, fewer licensees are willing to pay large upfront guarantees, and large retailers are taking on fewer brands.”
If you’ve got a proven brand like Spider Man, he said, you’re probably doing fine. But if you’re launching a new brand or re-launching an old brand, fewer licensees are likely to come and write a check for a guarantee and then take a risk on producing merchandise. The result is a reduction of royalties to licensors and of merchandise available for new properties.
“The model we came up with is one where we can partner directly with the brand owner,” said Benoliel. “Our creative platform gives us the ability to create product on behalf of the brand owner while giving the end user the ability to interact with the brand, and create their own merchandise based on that brand, within a controlled environment.”
Essentially, MashOn packages its technology with its clients’ contents, and the application lives on the client’s website. “We don’t have to be a destination; we are branding the client’s application for the client’s use,” Benoliel said.
Although only two years into its new platform, MashOn continues to make improvements. Recently, the company extended its creative platform with digital manufacturing capabilities. It can now take a product that has been created or designed and manufacture it as a “one-of”—essentially, it can manufacture on demand.
With this new capability, MashOn can take on properties and create designs while removing the inventory risk for itself and its clients. “We can test out designs in the market, still produce a high quality product, and bring properties to the market that would not otherwise have merchandise,” Benoliel said.
There are six major lines of product MashOn manufactures on demand. First are paper products, including greeting cards, calendars, posters, and photo books, which can be manufactured with recycled paper if requested. Second are vinyl products like device skins for phones and iPads and wall skins.
Third is apparel, which is MashOn’s biggest line. From T-shirts to sweatshirts, blankets to Snuggies, apparel represents more than 70% of the company’s revenues. Fourth are lenticular products, producing images that appear in 3D or that appear to move when the product is moved.
The fifth product line is custom-printed sports balls. The most popular products in this line are mini baseballs, which are used for gifts and even baby announcements. The final line Benoliel describes as miscellaneous, traditional promotional products like mugs, mouse pads, and baseball bats.
“You’ll find one of three things in our stores: products that were pre-designed but manufactured on demand, user-generated creations, and inventoried product,” said Benoliel. “Our e-commerce environment manages the orders for both on-demand and inventoried products; it’s all a turnkey solution for our clients.”
Keep it creative
Beginning September 1, MashOn will release the newest upgrade to its platform: it’s moving from Flash to HTML 5. Although Flash offers many capabilities, it also has limitations.
Flash applications are fairly demanding on resources, and they don’t work on everything, such as iPads and iPhones. By redeveloping using HTML 5, MashOn’s applications will be “lighter” and will work cross-platform.
Benoliel said the transition is a significant step for the company, even though it was a costly investment. “I’m a big believer in standards, especially open standards, which is why we needed to make the investment,” he said. “We’ll be one of the first, if not the first, full-featured application that delivers this technology on any platform, whether a PC, Mac, iPad, or Droid phone.”
In the past couple of years, MashOn has grown 250%. Although execution is key, the creativity and technological acumen of the company’s 26 employees, most of who are around 25 years old, are what have made its evolution and success possible.
“We’re about people who will be proactive, dynamic, innovative, not scared of challenge, and certainly not scared of change,” said Benoliel. “By merging e-commerce with traditional retail, we are bridging a gap; there will always be a need for a lot of creative input.”
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