Using her retail experience and making full use of new marketing opportunities, Cindy Bailey, chief executive officer, Art Impressions, is creating brands that make a cohesive retail statement.
"As a vertical brand development studio, Art Impressions takes a unique approach to its business, which plays into our creative strengths," says Bailey. "In addition to creating the content, we design many of the products and even produce samples, often before seeking out licensing partners. The result is a cohesive collection of products across categories that are designed to be merchandised together."
Bailey says the company's solid retail background allows it to identify retailers' needs and design programs to meet those specific objectives.
"We add value as a partner because we can create turnkey programs customized to individual retailers," says Bailey. "We support them with creative marketing strategies, such as tying in a microsite to a retailer's website, coordinating in-store promotions or collaborations with our sponsored brands and YouTube celebrities or creating customized gift-with-purchase campaigns.
"There are so many cross-promotional opportunities now that enable you to really connect with the consumer yourself," she continues. "We can now reach consumers every day with social media and drive them to our retail partners."
This fully integrated approach has made Art Impressions' SO SO Happy property a retail success story.
"SO SO Happy is a lifestyle brand that taps into young people's universal desire for love, acceptance and respect," says Bailey. "It's all about positive messaging that values individuality, inner strength and being true to oneself."
Art Impressions donates 10 percent of all profits to groups that offer meaningful support to kids in crisis.
When developing the brand two years ago, Art Impressions designed a full line of products around the property and worked closely with manufacturers to develop a cohesive, fully integrated merchandise program that retailers could easily incorporate into their stores.
In-store Shops are Successful
Pop-up shops were brought into Fred Segal, Munkey King, Puzzle Zoo and a number of other retailers. Art Impressions plans 20 more in-store shops this year in the U.S. alone, and concept shops will be added in Europe, China and Japan.
In mid-June, Art Impressions began roll-out of dedicated in-store shops at Toys 'R' Us stores nationwide. The shops include multiple product categories such as a selection of t-shirts from Jem Sportswear; tote bags, backpacks, lunch bags and hard-sided suitcases from Accessory Innovations; hair accessories and jewelry from High Intensity; socks and slippers from Planet Sox; watches from Xtreme Time; stationery from Rock Paper Pencils; and a selection of the brand's popular character plush.
Art Impressions is supporting the brand with a multi-faceted marketing campaign featuring promotional partnerships with recording artists, national music tours and Internet personalities, and cross-marketing campaigns with nationally recognized brands such as MasterCard, Jones Soda and Taco Bell.
A series of 26 animated music shorts, which can be viewed online and in stores, are in development. The company has just signed an agreement with Hallmark for a line of social expressions, paper/party goods, wrap, ornaments, stationery, gifts and arts and crafts activity kits to be sold through all distribution channels worldwide. A major publishing deal is also in the works.
Another big focus for the studio is the re-launch of its now wholly-owned Skelanimals brand.
"Skelanimals hits the magical middle point between dark and edgy and cute and cuddly," says Bailey. "What started as a hot teen property has evolved into a brand that appeals to consumers of all ages. Now we are opening the brand to more channels of distribution."
Bailey says the company will soon announce a new partner that will develop a Skelanimals animated series.
The brand recently shipped an all-new Skelanimals DC Heroes line in collaboration with Toynami and Warner Bros. The co-branded products are available in beanie, deluxe and clip-on plush. Carel has signed with the brand for apparel and nightwear in France, RCL is creating a line of computer accessories in South America and Targmex will produce school bags, totes and mobile accessories in Mexico.
Outside the U.S., Starbright will represent Skelanimals in Italy; Team! Licensing will cover Germany, Austria and Switzerland; and Dream Theatre has signed on to represent the property in India.
New Property Debuts
Art Impressions' newest partnership is with Julie West. The San Francisco-based artist, who has a strong pop culture following, has developed a new brand that Art Impressions is debuting at the Licensing Expo.
The whimsical design collection features animals, smiling fruits and other imaginative characters. The new brand is targeted to children as well as their style-loving parents, and is well-suited to apparel, fashion accessories, stationery, home décor and textiles.
West has recently collaborated with clients as varied as Kidrobot, Nike, Jansport, Arista Records and Disney Vinylmation. Her creations have also appeared on Hasbro's 25th anniversary My Little Pony collection.