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Rob Corney on a New Landscape for Licensing in Retail

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Rob Corney, group managing director, Bulldog Licensing, shares his view on the U.K. licensing and retail landscape today.

As the U.K. emerges from lockdown, blinking in the bright lights of the new world, many are reflecting on the resilience of the market and its potential to recover. 

The emergence of COVID-19 as a threat was something which spread across the world like the mounting shadows of a summer’s evening. The encroaching challenge could be seen approaching and yet the onset of darkness hit everyone hard as the rapid chill closed markets with incredible speed. 

Understandable concern flooded every link in the licensing stakeholder chain. The U.K. lockdown from March 23rd was rigid, reflecting the significant viral spread across a territory which prides itself as one of the world’s major travel hubs. Non-essential retail closed overnight and those retailers which remained open shrank space for non-essentials to cope with the surge in demand across groceries and home products.  

Yet the apocalyptic conditions which seemed to face licensing at the beginning of lockdown gave way to a more positive overall picture. The market is undoubtedly mauled from the effects and retailers with no online offering are only now looking at re-opening on June 15. Forecasting became a game of penny toss and launch plans were wiped from the slate leading to chaos for budgeting across the spectrum. But those retailers with an online offering have continued to see good sales of licensed ranges throughout the disruption and licensees are beginning to report very significant levels of ordering as retailers are once again able to start thinking of the future. 

Quite what the future will hold is subject to wild speculation. The country is beginning to look a little more normal and the U.K. government financial aid packages for businesses have given a much-needed boost to help survival and growth for many. Some are predicting a V-shaped bounce as was seen in some countries in Asia after SARS and MERS, though neither of those viruses caused the complete pause across the entire system which coronavirus has brought. Some are predicting the effects could be felt for years to come with wide-scale job losses holding back economic recovery.  

In reality, a mixed picture is likely.  

The British spirit is not easily cowed and, whilst de Vieuzac intended to sleight the nation when he described us as a ‘nation of shopkeepers,’ he missed the vital fact that we are, at heart, a nation of shoppers.  

Having put the credit cards on ice for ten weeks and with the government furlough scheme picking up the salaries of millions of employees throughout, there is a nation of people who are desperate to get back to normal and to revisit old spending habits, if only to make sure their kids’ PJs have sleeves which once again pay a salubrious homage to their wrists.  

Undoubtedly there will be more caution. People will shop with concern for both corporeal and pecuniary health. But the recovery will come and those classic brands which give adults a sense of comfort, or kids’ brands which expand their horizons for play and fun will once again be the staple for shopping baskets everywhere. 

The bright lights may cause us to blink for a little while to come, but the new world will rapidly chase away the evening shadows. The resilience of the licensing community will help us all to grow anew. 

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