First, a word of warning for prospective licensees: if you wish to do business with Crayola, wear comfortable shoes. Initial business won't be conducted through a series of email threads or conference calls, instead, all potential partners are asked to take a tour of the company's indoor family attraction, Crayola Experience. And with good reason. The Crayola Experience presents the breadth and depth of the Crayola product world in a way that needs to be seen.
Currently, there are four Experiences in the U.S.–Minneapolis, Minn.; Orlando, Fla.; Plano, Texas; and Easton, Penn. The latter is where the corporate office is, as well as the nearby Crayola manufacturing facility. But it’s not a museum where visitors look but don’t touch. At the Crayola Experience, children of all ages spend hours immersed in more than 25 attractions and interacting with various Crayola products, which are spread out across four floors and 65,000-square-feet. There’s a station where you can make a mold out of your hand using Crayola wax, a jungle gym where you can draw on the floor using Crayola chalk and Crayola dry-erase markers, a station to name and wrap your very own Crayola crayon and an activation that allows visitors to bring coloring book doodles alive in 4D glory thanks to Crayola’s collaboration with HP. Visitors can also learn how crayons are made during a live show, and much more.
On the first floor is the Crayola Store, which is a testament to the wide scope of Crayola’s licensing deals. There, visitors are welcomed to an array of product, ranging from branded apparel for infants and adults to home goods like blankets and art projects. Kidrobot DIY Munny vinyl figures are packaged with Crayola markers, and in the center of the store are gondolas packed with Crayola-licensed product including Crayola construction blocks, a line of Crayola Dough, art easels, crafts and activities. Unlike most gift shops, the items for sale at the Crayola Store aren’t merely souvenirs to put on display at home. Crayola wants you to use their product.
“Crayola Experience is the physical manifestation of our mission,” says Warren Schorr, vice president, global licensing and business development, Crayola. “Crayola is so much more than the crayons and art tools we make. Our brand is all about creativity, self-expression and innovation. We have been supporting educators and helping parents raise creatively alive kids for 115 years.”
The touchstones of Crayola’s licensing program support the principles behind 21st century skills: creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication. For Crayola, none of these can be achieved with a passing fad. Crayola’s extensions are meant to be long-term.
“It’s important not to have a one-off product, but to have a pipeline of innovation,” says Schorr.
Crayola’s recalibration of its licensing program stemmed from a focus group of tweens and teens that execs at Crayola assembled. One young woman in particular said something that struck a chord with the company. She said: “I didn’t leave you, you left me.” While Crayola produces licensed consumer products for the grade-school set, the company had not taken into account that those who once turned to the company for a creative outlet would grow and still seek out and use the brand as adults.
Once the company recalibrated, the number of licensees were whittled down, and quality, not quantity, became an essential factor to Crayola.
“We started by focusing on the key categories and licensees that were the core of the business, and we brought the program in-house,” says Schorr. “We began developing key strategies for each category with an objective of creating long-term, ownable spaces for the brand centered around our key business partners.
“Once we made the changes, we started to see significant growth and began adding licensees that could support our category objectives,” continues Schorr. “Over the next three years, we are going to see a further transformation for Crayola in not only power and reach, but the importance of the brand in people’s lives. The brand can be a part of your life forever, and not just one part of your life.”
The credo can be found in Crayola’s latest venture into adult writing tools and bullet journaling, which is a custom notebook for organization. Crayola’s licensed initiatives in crafting and stationery often support internal core initiatives. This year, they are launching Take Note, pens designed to help you do bullet journaling, supported by partner Pacon, a supplier to retailers like Michaels, among others.
We’re picking the partner who is already a category leader and they’re developing journals and other products that go with our tools,” says Schorr. “Crayola then provides a full solution. Finally, we can then develop an online site to showcase the tools and tricks to better journal.”
In the next few years, Crayola’s licensing will go into markets that may, at first glance, seem surprising. One such example? Licensee IdeaPaint, which the company has partnered with Crayola to make a better dry-erase paint.
“Crayola has been working on this project for three years,” says Schorr. “This is an example of how long we spend and how much effort we put into the right project. It took that long to make a dry-erase paint that is not only versatile and long-lasting but environment-friendly.
The Crayola dry-erase paint can be used all over the home, including kids rooms,” continues Schorr. “Crayola is going to reinvent the entire dry-erase category, and we already have retail partnerships lined up. What’s really cool is, in addition to the traditional white, we now have a clear dry-erase which allows consumers to create a dry erase surface in any color they desire for their home.”
Continuing with its all-encompassing licensing programs Crayola goes from home to health and beauty. Crayola’s 10-plus-year program in oral care and its bath play line are both cornerstones of their business that continue. And stemming from the success of its collaboration with Clinique, and most recently, Coty’s Sally Hansen Insta-dry nail polish, Crayola will announce an new beauty partnership with an e-retailer in June.
Another key piece of Crayola’s licensing ecosystem is publishing, and in the last year and a half, Crayola has released 24 books, ranging from craft activity to young adult, from partners including Simon & Schuster for fiction and storybooks, Lerner for school library books and Bendon for coloring activity. Three more book partners will be announced later this year.
However, they’re not avoiding all trends. Crayola is getting into the scented products game with a line of pens, pencils and printed products supporting the Crayola Silly Sense line with new partner Sentco.
Crayola is also launching a co-branded halo program with its licensees.
“Retailers want a point of differentiation, and sometimes licensors have very short lead times or are test-and-learn properties. Crayola can work with its licensees and retailers to create solutions,” says Schorr. “We manage the entire process. This is entirely an incremental business. Crayola can show moms something new and different, powered by a brand they know and trust, that will allow licensors, retailers and manufacturers to get incremental sales.”
Creative learning initiatives are also a hallmark of the Crayola brand. As a supporter of education, Crayola recently launched a variety of initiatives including CreatEd, which is a teacher professional development program; Crayola Imagination Academy, an after school enrichment program; and is developing a licensed line of activity kits that support STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) initiatives with a make-your-own remote control.
Crayola has more collaboration in the works for in 2018. The company recently announced a new partnership with Mattel for Barbie creativity platforms, and DIY plush with Wicked Cool Toys. In October, Crayola will premiere a console video game across all platforms, a new back-to-school promotional partnerships and a QSR promotion for holiday.
In short, licensing with Crayola is indeed a colorful, engaging experience.