Walmart is bullish on entertainment licensing and has upped its position in pop culture merchandise; Yankees’ star tops MLB merch sales; NRF releases holiday forecast; a possible Toys ‘R’ Us comeback; and other licensing news highlights of the week.

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. 

Walmart Expands Collectables Licensing

The world’s largest retailer has long been a strong supporter of licensed products, especially in the entertainment category. In its most recent strategic move, Walmart will not only create a collectables section in the entertainment department, but also establish the exclusive brick and mortar retail destination for Loot Crate, the popular subscription box service.

This is a smart move for both Walmart and Loot Crate to leverage their strengths and deliver exclusive products to fans. In a way, it’s like having a mini type of a Comic Con event year-round in 4,000 Walmart stores. More and more licensors should be evaluating this move and looking to develop innovative ways to be a part of this initiative.

The collectables section will offer customers the opportunity to purchase in-store themed collectable boxes from Loot Crate. At launch, beginning Oct/ 15, Walmart will offer six different boxes, priced at $19.88 each, with unique themes: Best of the 80s, Space Out, Merc with a Mouth, Not of this World, Gaming Treasures, or Gaming Legends.

Pop culture fans are passionate about their fandoms and look for ways to incorporate it into all aspects of their life. We’re introducing a new assortment to serve fans in a way we haven’t before. Our new collectibles section will be a destination for our customers to find exclusive merchandise at the best prices for all fandoms, with more to come!” said Brent Duwe, senior buying manager, Walmart U.S.

“We’re excited to curate fandom experiences with our partners at Walmart,” said Chris Davis, CEO of Loot Crate. “Loot Crate creatively collaborates with top licenses to deliver collectibles that are unique, and something that super-fans could only find at fan conventions, but now they can fill out their collections at Walmart stores nationwide.”

Walmart will also offer exclusive themed boxes from CultureFly featuring Harry Potter, Fallout, Rick & Morty and PlayStation.

“Working with Walmart to bring new CultureFly boxes to their new collectibles section has been exciting,” said Edward Erani, CultureFly co-founder. “I am confident that consumers will fall in love with the assortment and feel like they are walking a mini comic-con at their local Walmart.”

In addition, products from Funko and McFarlane Toys will be relocated from the toy department to the new collectibles section.

“We’re thrilled that Funko products will be joining the brand-new collectibles section at Walmart stores across the country,” said Brian Mariotti, Funko chief executive officer. “Collectibles is a brilliant addition to the merchandise display as is evident by the millions of people that shop pop culture favorites. We are eager to showcase Funko’s vast assortment of Pop! products in this new area and continue bringing joy to Walmart customers.”

Walmart Adds Niche Plus-Size Brand

In its initiative to add new fashion brands, Walmart announced the acquisition of Eloquii, the specialty online, on trend fashion retailer of women’s plus-size apparel.

“Today, more than half of women age 18-65 in the U.S. wear size 14+. We know they’re looking not just for basics, but also for on-trend pieces that allow them to express their individuality. This is a segment of the market that has been historically underserved and neglected. We believe she deserves better. Today we stand in solidarity with her by acquiring a brand whose sole focus is to exceed her expectations,” wrote Andy Dunn, SVP of digital consumer brands, Walmart US eCommerce, in a blog post.

Eloquii joins a portfolio that includes ModCloth, Bonobos and Allswell and will be part of Walmart’s ecommerce division.

“DNVBs [digitally native vertical brands] are an important part of our strategy because they offer unique and differentiated products while building strong relationships with customers,” added Dunn.

Eloquii was founded in 2011 as part of The Limited and was re-launched online in 2014 as an independent direct to consumer brand.

MLB Reveals Top Jersey Sales

New York Yankees star Aaron Judge topped the list of 20 most popular jerseys, according to Major League Baseball.

Judge ranked No. 1 again in the second season of his career. He was followed by Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, Cubs infielder Javier Baez, Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw and Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts to round out the top five.

Other highlights include:

  • Braves 20-year-old phenom Ronald Acuna Jr. rounded out the top 20, becoming the youngest player to do so since MLB and the MLBPA began releasing these rankings after the 2010 season.
  • Angels rookie Shohei Ohtani also made the top 10 in jersey sales, ahead of teammate Mike Trout.
  • Yankees star and last season’s National League MVP Award winner Giancarlo Stanton cracked the top 10.

Here’s a list of the 20 players with the most jersey sales in 2018:

1. Aaron Judge, Yankees
2. Jose Altuve, Astros
3. Javier Báez, Cubs
4. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
5. Mookie Betts, Red Sox
6. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
7. Kris Bryant, Cubs
8. Shohei Ohtani, Angels
9. Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees
10. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
11. Mike Trout, Angels
12. Buster Posey, Giants
13. Bryce Harper, Nationals
14. Freddie Freeman, Braves
15. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
16. Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
17. George Springer, Astros
18. Francisco Lindor, Indians
19. Carlos Correa, Astros
20. Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves

The list is generated based on sales of Majestic jerseys from MLBShop.com, the official online shop of Major League Baseball, since Opening Day 2018.

Barnes & Noble Explores Sale

While trying to remain relevant to its shoppers, Barnes & Noble will Launch a “Hatchimals Day” Event as it explores options for its future. On Saturday, Oct. 6, Barnes & Noble will tell the story of the Hatchimals Hatchibabies featuring interactive demos, play activities and free giveaways.

But the story of its future is far more compelling. The bookseller’s board of directors has begun a formal review process and established a special committee to evaluate several bids and interest to buy the company.

One scenario that might make the most sense is for rival competitor Amazon to buy the stores, although the mega retailer was not identified as one of the suitors. Considering the recent strategic moves of Amazon into brick and mortar retailing including its own book stores, its 4-star store which recently opened in New York City and its intention to open as many as 3,000 Go stores over the next several years, it makes the utmost sense and the price is incidental.

Also, consider Starbucks, Toys ‘R’ Us, and even Apple all for various reasons. Remember that Barnes & Noble operates 629 bookstores in 50 states and any buyer could subsequently sell any of the stores it doesn’t want.

The key point here is that the future of B&N will be decided soon and it’s very unlikely that the retailer can continue to survive on its own.

Will (or Can) Toys ‘R’ Us Make a Comeback?

If enough support for TRU wasn’t there when it filed for bankruptcy last year and liquidation in March, what are the reasons that any company will support its decision for a comeback now.

The iconic retailer, now known as Geoffrey LLC and owners of the Toys ‘R’ Us and Babies ‘R’ Us brands, may be beloved among consumers, but can it regain the support of many key suppliers, including the big guys Hasbro, Mattel, and MGA?

In fact, Isaac Larian, president of MGA, who tried to keep TRU going, has stated in various reports that the new company is “dead to him” and he will not sell his toys to them.

The underlying question remains that if TRU couldn’t survive now and couldn’t execute a major turnaround, what makes any executive believe that it could once again open and operate stores successfully at anywhere close to the scale it once had?

Geoffrey LLC could license the brand names respectively to entrepreneurs who in turn would operate a franchised TRU or BRU effectively, or it could license the names to other retailers who could operate a store within a store concept.

These are all highly questionable endeavors, but there’s no doubt that the TRU and BRU brands are highly recognizable, highly valuable and highly respected, so it’s likely that some type of comeback will be attempted.

But as so many other retailers have adopted major toy strategies for this holiday not only to grab share of the $11 billion left behind by TRU, but also to test the waters for future expansion in the toy sector. The competition is more intense now than it was prior to TRU’s demise.

NRF Forecasts Strong Holiday Sales

The National Retail Federation expects holiday retail sales in November and December to increase between 4.3% and 4.8% over 2017 for a total of $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion.

“Our forecast reflects the overall strength of the industry,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Thanks to a healthy economy and strong consumer confidence, we believe that this holiday season will continue to reflect the growth we’ve seen over the past year. While there is concern about the impacts of an escalating trade war, we are optimistic that the pace of economic activity will continue to increase through the end of the year.”

Holiday sales in 2017 totaled $687.87 billion, a 5.3% increase over the year before and the largest increase since the 5.2% year-over-year gain seen in 2010 after the end of the Great Recession.

The NRF reported that its holiday forecast is consistent with its annual retail sales forecast for 2018 that sales will increase at least 4.5% over 2017.

Bluestar Wins Brookstone

Bluestar Alliance, along with Apex Digital, placed the winning bid in the recent auction for Brookstone, over a partnership of ThreeSixty Group and Hudson Group and previously Authentic Brands Group, which last month had offered a $50 million baseline bid.

According to a statement from Brookstone, “The Buyers’ bid includes cash and assumption of liabilities that Brookstone values at approximately $66 million to $74 million, plus additional value in the form of waivers of approximately $85 million to $126 million of secured and unsecured debt.”

Bluestar plans to “maintain substantially all of Brookstone’s existing airport retail stores and distribution center, as well as an operating team in New Hampshire, continuing Brookstone’s legacy as a long-standing New England based brand.”

Innovative Product of the Week

Lifeprint Products has partnered with Warner Brothers Consumer Products to launch the Harry Potter Magic Photo and Video Printer. The product provides consumers with the ability to embed video inside their favorite photos and print them out or share online. The printer’s accompanying iOS and Android App will feature Wizarding World themed content, including Augmented Reality facial filters that will allow users “to make their face to look like Mad-Eye Moody, play around with colorful Spectrespecs, try on different Death Eater masks, and show their Hogwarts spirit with House scarves.” The Lifeprint App will also feature Wizarding World Themed digital photo stickers.

Other articles worth reading: There’s been a lot written about the cannabis market and its opportunities for licensed products. Here’s an interesting perspective from retail analyst McMillan Doolittle.

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