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License to dream

It's fascinating to see what is happening in the world of licensing as it applies to home textiles.

And the home textiles application is somewhat unique when the licensor's activities are analyzed compared to other home product areas.

Add to that the change in licensing marketing that focuses on one retailer as the conduit for a licensor's creations. It takes home textiles licensing far away from what it had been.

Take for example the extraordinary proliferation of retailer-specific programs. We have B. Smith at Bed Bath & Beyond; Laura Ashley in apparel and Ruff Hewn in apparel and home textiles, both at Saks department stores; Villager at Kohl's; Crazy Horse at JCPenney; Yankee Candle at Linens 'n Things; the Olsen twins at Wal-Mart; and, of course, Martha at Kmart — soon to be joined by Joe Boxer across a wide array of home and apparel products. And this is just the tip of the licensing iceberg.

Of course, this does not take into account the enormous energy poured into license-specific programs at Target — the most recent of which is the Todd Oldham Dorm Room collection for Back-to-School.

And beyond this are the private-label brands that so many retailers are trying to establish or reinforce.

This is where it gets tricky. The marketing and presentation efforts must be different for each. With one set, retailers are dealing with a name that is more or less identified at the consumer level, for one reason or another.

With the private label brand, unless it is something like Kenmore or Diehard at Sears, obviously not in home textiles, and somewhat less potent like Charter Club at Federated, there are few in-house brands that have been nurtured like their outsider counterparts. The investment in promotion and presentation dollars has to be intensive and ongoing — the state of the retail environment not withstanding. Few retailers have the budgets and the corporate stamina to pursue this trail.

And yet with all of this retailer-specific, proprietary activity there still is the ultimate dream. For a certain segment of the home textiles world, the dream of one day being part of the family of Ralph, Calvin, Donna, Tommy and the like is still where they think it all will happen.

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