• Jennifer Marks

Brands Going Bland

Emailing back and forth last week on the subject of the auto bailout, I came across a piece of commentary by Scottish journalist Alex Massie:

"The perception that GM and Ford and Chrysler build crappy cars is just another obstacle to recovery. And of course it's a perception that, even if out of date, is predicated upon the bitter memories of the crap cars they really did build. Turns out it takes a while for that perception to fade. One more reason why you shouldn't crap on your own brand."

Naturally, my thoughts turned to home textiles.

We have brands that have come unmoored from their source material — be that a person (Liz Claiborne), a place (Bombay Company), or a thing (Mudd).

We have celebrity brands that extend into product areas that have nothing to do with the famous one's fame; e.g. Kathy Ireland humidifiers.

We have come to a point in the volume retail world where a home textiles brand is worth only what any single retailer is willing to consider it's worth, and then only as an exclusive. At the independent specialty store level, just about any home textiles brand that can be found at a volume operation carries a taint and is unwanted.

And yet, everybody chases brands. Many suppliers would like to develop their own name into a nationally recognized brand, but since so few volume retailers are interested in assisting the endeavor, both parties search for brand names that already exist, whether they're still in active service or off warming a bench somewhere.

If this whole in-with-the-old practice keeps up, we're going to run out of brands to license!

Except for celebrities.

And interior designers.

And any 'personality' who has spent more than three minutes on camera at HGTV.

Honestly, my reaction to 90% of the Celebrity Launches Home Collection announcements that come across my desk is "Who's s/he?"

Despite the current sales environment — with retailers large and small pushing back orders, postponing tests and reordering at less than replenishment levels — I don't foresee any slack in brand deals going forward. If anything, they'll likely accelerate.

So I'm looking forward to a year full of magical, unexpected licensing surprises: Mentos sheets (refreshing!), Method towels (smell better than soap!), Dr. Scholl's kitchen rugs (gelin')…

No finder's fee necessary, folks, but thanks anyway.

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