The madding crowd

Carole Sloan, June 14, 2004

The name game continues unabated.

The buzz over national brands versus private brands versus licensing of brands is at an all-time peak.

And the annual licensing show last week in New York certainly didn't do much to temper the boil. If anything, it just created more of a dilemma for home textiles retailers — one of the prime targets of the licensing bonanza.

We've just had the first volley in the Pillowtex derby with Target pulling in Fieldcrest — the ultimate irony now that it is selling the Marshall Field's business, the birthplace of the Fieldcrest brand.

More titillating is the scenario being unveiled in the Royal Velvet horse race. It looks like Kohl's preempted the script with its announcement that it would be a Royal Velvet player. The big question is who the other players will be — or will there be other players who will be comfortable with Kohl's???

Then we go into that bubbling pot called licensing. The candidates seem to be coming out of the woodwork — TV performers and shows, cartoon characters, magazines, liquors and foodstuffs and, of course, the perennial TV characters.

And the field of licensors is taking myriad approaches. For the movie folks, more is better and the more distribution they get can from sheets, towel and top-of-bed pleases them no end. The question is how will retailers in this era of controlled distribution play in the everyone-into-the-pool mentality?

Then there are the passive licensors — like car companies, food companies, magazines and the like — to some it is a stretch to think of sheets and towels in association with stuff like cars. But then look at Eddie Bauer and its home line, and it also has a strong car-licensing program.

Put all of this licensing stuff into the same pot that has to contain the national brands — albeit few in the home world — and the burgeoning private brands at retailer after retailers, and one wonders where all the marketing ammunition will be found.

Obviously the major licensors have huge budgets and years of track records; and the key national brands have some of the firepower. But the key question is how do the retailers, with basically their own private label or what they prefer to refer to as private brands or former national brands, get the budgets to compete. Those are marketing challenges that cannot be developed overnight.

Stay tuned.

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