A Conversation with Kids Industries’ Gary Pope

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Gary Pope highlights his thoughts on the licensing industry in this exclusive interview.

Gary Pope is co-founder of Kids Industries, an award-winning insight, strategy and creative agency that helps businesses and brands to connect with the family market. Its clients include Disney, eOne, Kellogg’s, Tesco, Aquafresh and Save the Children.

Gary is also presenting never-before-released content and stats exclusively to retailers attending Festival of Licensing, which runs from October 6-29 online and is free to attend. Kids Industries is one of around 200 companies exhibiting at the virtual celebration of the global licensing industry.

License Global recently spoke with Pope about the impact that COVID-19 had on the licensing industry and what the company has planned for this year’s Festival of Licensing.

License Global: What are the biggest changes to the retail landscape we are experiencing due to COVID? 

Pope: We all know there’s been a seismic shift in the popularity of online shopping, but – at Kids Industries – what we’re really interested in is how that fits in the context of family and children. A recent survey we’ve done found that, mums – particularly in lower income demographics – who are not normally online-shoppers, have also transitioned online. 

This consumer demographic is traditionally driven by price and promotion and, in order to take advantage of that, they have felt a need to shop instore. Following lockdown, they discovered that online shopping actually made life easier from a family perspective, especially as the kids were home 24/7. They don’t have the resources to bulk buy, so now they do a weekly online ‘tentpole’ shop and supplement that by popping out locally to pick up bits and pieces.

It’s another reason – and the perfect excuse – to not take the kids to the shops, which – let’s face it – is not a pleasant experience for anyone. When I was a kid, I have very unfond memories of being dragged around the BHS lighting department with legs like lead and a face like thunder, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone – parent or child.

But what this also means, is that fewer children are engaging in bricks-and-mortar retail environments and this has huge implications for the next five, 10, 15 years in terms of the global retail landscape. Child shoppers are truly embracing the digital space. They already were, but the pandemic is accelerating that shift.

We learn how to shop from our parents. But the next generation are digital natives, they embrace technology. That – and the impact of COVID – means they’ve realised they don’t need to go shopping. Why would they want to wander around shops for hours for shoes or groceries when they could be spending that time doing something they actually enjoy? The answer is, they wouldn’t, unless there’s a very good reason to.

How do retailers need to respond?

Pre-lockdown, we were already beginning to witness retail transitioning from a functional place of acquisition of goods, to an immersion place of brand and experience: becoming destinations in their own right. Look at Primark’s Birmingham Store, or Lego, which is actually opening new stores. They have realised that the shopper of today is both time poor and time compressed.

COVID has essentially taken on the role of ‘flux capacitor’ and accelerated the hell out of this realisation and transition and I believe we have maybe six years before we see the regeneration of the local high street coupled with the obliteration of the local town centre. Where the city centre is just about commerce, it will no longer exist.

Retail can be modelled around a Venn diagram that takes in physical, emotional and digital. Over the last 20 years, this was dominated by the physical – the shop. Digital was used to influence a store visit and to connect consumers with a brand. 

But we’re on this trajectory now where all three have got more powerful: so your physical space needs to be heading toward the standard of a Lego or Apple store, the emotional response of that brand has to drive you to the physical space, and the digital comms need to help you re-engage with that brand between visits and purchases to drive brand loyalty. But we also have businesses like The Entertainer that are making their stores even more child centric and a destination and they are doing this really well.

What impact is this having on families and how has their consumer behaviour and spending changed as a result? 

I’ve always said that, in times of trouble and discontent, a little slice of loveliness can go a long way to making us happy. If you’re five and want something to make you feel better, and that thing happens to be £2.99 and made of plastic, does that matter? As long as it brings them joy, no, which is way Playmobil is one company that saw such a beautiful uplift in sales over the last six months.

Things are tough out there financially. Consumers want more value. They want to give kids something they actually want and need and enjoy, rather than just more stuff. Particularly millennial parents, for whom creating memories and experiences is so important. Plus, Millennials are emancipated, activists making decisions with a little more forethought and understanding than previous generations, and this has a massive impact on consumer behavior and spending.

How does this vary across the U.K. and FIGS? 
Do you know what? It doesn’t. I’ve had numerous conversations with my co-owners in some of these territories and we’re all experiencing the same issues, albeit with some minor local variants.

What role does licensed product play in this? 

I’ve often thought that some people within the licensing industry can be a little bit short sighted where the reporting of a big conglomerate is more important than the engagement of a child with the brand, but I think that’s changing and I genuinely believe that licensing is the only industry that has a collegiate feel: there are good people with a grip on the consumer temperature and they are adjusting the kind of products they are making as a result.

The licensing industry needs to make products that enhance lives without draining cash, that allow kids and families to connect to the brand, that make sure everyone has a nice time: that’s an important role to play.

You're creating five mini docu-vlogs exclusively for Festival of Licensing – can you give us one teaser tip from each?

Yes, I am, they’re seven minutes each so super easy to digest on their own, but they all connect to tell one 35-minute story. Here you go:

  1. The Act of Shopping – The first episode looks at shopping, where it came from and why and the way it’s changing. We refer to Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 (The Observer) thinking (which is about thinking fast and slow, making decisions based on impulse and intuition) and  the six biases that influence human behavior online
  2. Supermarket Sprogs – We look at the development of children as consumers and the five stages they go through modelled on parental behavior. 
  3. Parenting is Tough and Expensive – This is the darkest of the vlogs. It’s bad out there, really grim, and it’s going to continue to be grim. This episode talks about understanding the motivations of parents and the pressures they are under and it contains lots of stats. The good news is it ends on a happy note because licensing has the power to give us all a bit of sunshine.
  4. Clicks, Bricks and Pandemics – How the move from physical to digital is accelerating at breakneck speed.
  5. Back to the Future – The final episode looks at why and how physical stores need to evolve and how.

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