Licensing, marketing and retail expert/opinion leader Tony Lisanti, provides insight and perspective for the top headlines of the week. “Licensing and Merchandising Report” is a must read for top execs who want objective, straightforward and authoritative analysis.

Home Depot Builds Home Biz

Since it acquired The Company Store, a leading online retailer of home décor products, from Hanover Direct in December, it was just a matter of time before Home Depot raised its game across the home categories and established itself as an even more formidable competitor.

This week, the world’s largest home improvement retailer sent out an email promotion to its customers with the subject line: “Your New Décor Destination.” The email further stated, “We’re All About Décor. Your favorite home improvement retailer is about to come your new favorite décor destination.”

The promo featured several room and product photos in various categories including furniture, bedding and bath, wall décor, tabletop, home accents, plus a special link to The Company Store section of the retailer’s website.

While there were numerous brands, there were few licensed brands other than the Martha Stewart products.

With almost $95 billion in sales, almost 2,300 stores and a robust ecommerce business, Home Depot dwarfs many of the popular home specialty retailers such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, Wayfair and Cost Plus World Market as well as JCPenney, Kohl’s and Macy’s. The competitive landscape in home has just gotten even more intense.

Activision Solidifies Esports Strategy

More than two years in an exclusive story with Activision, I wrote about how the fledgling esports strategy would shape the future of Activision and offer new opportunities in the development of content, brand partnerships and licensed products. The company’s strategy has been playing out since then and now has ratcheted up several notches.

With its multi-year deal this week with Disney and ESPN, Activision Blizzard brings its Overwatch League to live prime time coverage and network audiences for the first time. And you can bet that this type of coverage will only continue to grow.

The deal will create numerous promotional opportunities and licensed merchandise over the next several years.

Disney Pre-Empts Prime Day

With its current sales promotion launched on Thursday, Disney Stores is hoping to drive sales of its licensed merchandise before Amazon Prime Day on July 16.

Disney Stores is offering a 25% off “Friends & Family Promotion” on hundreds of its products both online and in its stores.

With the recent liquidation of Toys “R” Us, this is a smart and timely move by Disney Stores to become more aggressive and competitive. As the world’s largest licensor and owner of many of the most popular franchises and brands, Disney has a unique opportunity to sell more of its own merchandise directly and it is well-positioned to do so.

Sports Stars and Fashion Gurus

The growth and popularity of athletes and their respective interest in fashion presents numerous opportunities not only for the superstars but also for retailers, brand owners and licensees.

The latest special report from Sports Illustrated, SI Fashionable 50, demonstrates the high level of interest among athletes from all sports in fashion. From the cover story on New York Giants’ wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to such newcomers to the list as Kyle Kuzma, Chloe Kim and DeAndre Hopkins, the Fashionable 50 exemplifies how sophisticated these athletes are and how important it is for them to look good both on and off the field.

Here’s a link to the 2018 SI Fashionable 50.

NFLPA Signs Tech Deal

The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and its athlete-driven business accelerator OneTeam Collective, have partnered with Octi, an augmented video company, which will create and distribute avatars for more than 2,000 active NFL players. The partnership will enable fans to create videos where they interact with the player avatars. In addition, Octi also announced a seed round of $7.5 million.

“The NFLPA and the OneTeam Collective are constantly looking to collaborate with the newest consumer technologies, and we were impressed by Octi’s team and the new platform they have built to change the way we communicate through video. Octi’s mobile AR technology creates a wide range of opportunities for players and fans. We are incredibly excited about our investment and partnership with Octi,” said Ahmad Nassar, President of NFL Players Inc. and Chairman of the Board of the OneTeam Collective.

Octi is the seventh NFLPA partner secured through the OneTeam Collective, which is designed to give innovative companies the opportunity to leverage the NFLPA’s exclusive group player rights, in exchange for equity.

Kroger Goes For a Dip

Kroger has partnered with fashion designer Joe Mimran to create the “Dip” apparel brand. During his 30-year career, Mimran launched Club Monaco, Joe Fresh and Pink Tartan.

“We’ve worked closely with Joe and his team to develop a line of clothing that works for today’s times—easy to buy, easy to wear, and easy to love. Effortless style, every day of the week,” said Robert Clark, Kroger’s senior vice president of merchandising. “Dip will transform our apparel business, further redefining the customer experience.”

I have always been wary of traditional supermarket chains being a major player in the apparel business, but maybe Kroger’s approach with a proven designer will be a better alternative than a basic private label strategy. However, the competitiveness with Walmart, Target and other retailers will be tough to overcome as those retailers have roots in the apparel business and they have been incredibly successful over the years. Dip, which will replace more than a dozen of Kroger’s private-label clothing brands, will launch this fall across America in more than 300 Fred Meyer and Kroger Marketplace stores. The brand will launch with men’s, women’s, juniors, kids and baby collections.

Deal of the Week

Authentic Brands Group and Invictus have signed a licensing and marketing services agreement to develop a collection of lifestyle-inspired cannabis brands that will launch initially in Canada and rollout in key international territories. “We are constantly looking for ways to innovate and activate some of the more specialized intellectual property within the ABG portfolio,” said Jamie Salter, founder, chairman, and CEO of ABG. “We’ve recognized that cannabis is a growing product category within the health, wellness, and lifestyle spaces and our partnership with Invictus allows us to test the waters in this important, emerging market.”

Quote of the Week 

Marijuana-infused Beverages

“We expect we’ll be able to make beverages and those beverages will be no calorie, they will cause you to feel upbeat,” Canopy Growth CEO Bruce Linton said in an interview with host Jim Cramer. “We’re talking about going into a bar and having a tweed and tonic.”

Last fall, beverage giant Constellation Brands took a 9.9% stake in Canopy Growth, a Canadian cannabis producer, hence possibly paving the way for marijuana-infused beverages when recreational marijuana becomes fully legal in Canada this October.

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