Kroger makes big move in toys; IHOP goes green for the Grinch; Micky’s 90th anniversary reflects power of licensing; New York Jets sign gaming deal With MGM; holiday online sales predications; 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. 

Kroger Makes Big Move in Toys

America’s largest grocery retailer, Kroger, is upping the stakes in the toy wars this holiday season with a new partnership to bring Geoffrey’s Toy Box to 600 Kroger stores.

Starting this month, Geoffrey’s Toy Box branded merchandise and displays will appear in participating Kroger stores with a selection of 35 children’s toys, ranging in price from $19.99 to $49.99. The holiday program will feature exclusive toys from Animal Zone, Imaginarium, Journey Girls, Edu Science, You & Me, and Just Like Home, which were former TRU brands. Geoffrey’s Toy Box has a portfolio of 20 exclusive toy brands.

There’s no doubt that the Geoffrey name resonates with consumers as does many of its brands and with Kroger’s weekly promotions and huge customer base, the grocery retailer will definitely drive interest and sales as well as pose a competitive threat to Walmart, Target and other retailers. Furthermore, if successful, Kroger can easily merchandise Geoffrey’s Toy Box brands year-round and focus on other big holidays and promotional events. And with 2,800 stores, Kroger also has a strong upside potential to expand this toy initiative significantly. This is savvy move that minimizes Kroger’s risks and investment as Geoffrey’s Toy Box handles all sourcing, production, et al, and maximizes its ability to drive sales and traffic.

“Geoffrey’s Toy Box delivers a unique shopping destination within Kroger stores,” said Robert Clark, Kroger’s senior vice president of merchandising. “We’re excited to offer Geoffrey’s Toy Box this holiday season to provide our customers with the opportunity to purchase a selection of toys once exclusive to Toys “R” Us.”

“We are thrilled to partner with Kroger to bring a curated collection of products from our beloved portfolio of brands to American consumers this holiday,” said Richard Barry, EVP at Geoffrey’s Toy Box, and former head of merchandising for TRU. 

bebe stores Joins with Bluestar for Brookstone Brand

Specialty women’s apparel retailer bebe stores has partnered with Bluestar Alliance to acquire the Brookstone brand and related assets.

Considering the success of other well-known and similar venerable brands such as Sharper Image and Polaroid which adapted the licensing model, Brookstone has the potential to follow a similar path to a strong multi-million-dollar brand In global retail sales of licensed merchandise. The iconic brand founded over 50 years ago is known for its innovative products in the entertainment, wellness, home, and travel categories, which can now be licensed exclusively to major retailers worldwide.

bebe stores and Bluestar have successfully worked together since 2016 when Bluestar acquired an interest in the bebe brand, trademarks and intellectual property.

As part of the acquisition, Apex Digital will operate Brookstone’s 30 airport stores, which will serve as a showcase for its products, as well as its e-commerce business.

“Brookstone is a unique brand with strong growth potential,” stated Manny Mashouf, CEO of bebe stores. “We are pleased to expand our already-successful relationship with Bluestar and can see the potential synergies with other brands in their portfolio. This investment, a direct result of our partnership with B. Riley Financial, which sourced the deal, will create a strong platform for future growth and enhance our ability to generate free cash flow to maximize our dividends to shareholders.”

According to Bluestar Alliance, London Luxury is the brand’s first new licensee in the bedding, home textile and memory foam categories.

With $2.5 billion in retail sales and more than 250 licensees, Bluestar’s portfolio includes department store retail brands including Tahari, bebe, Kensie, Catherine Malandrino, Nanette Lepore, Joan Vass, Michael Bastian, English Laundry and Limited Too.

IHOP Goes Green for The Grinch

IHOP Restaurants unveiled its holiday menu inspired by Illumination Entertainment’s and Universal Pictures’ new film, Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, which hits theaters November 9.

This is a fun and creative licensing and promotional deal that will reach millions of consumers and drive traffic to almost 2,000 IHOP restaurants and movie theatres. More importantly, it proves the power of such popular movie franchises and characters, and more is on the way from Illumination/Universal. Other upcoming films include The Secret Life of Pets 2 in June 2019, Minions 2 in July 2020, and Sing 2 in December 2020.

Based on the holiday classic, IHOP’s culinary team created various fun food items that include:

  • Grinch’s Green Pancakes: Two Grinch green buttermilk pancakes topped with sweet cream cheese icing, red candy hearts, crowned with creamy, green whipped topping.
  • Minty Who Hot Chocolate: Hot chocolate with mint syrup topped with creamy green whipped topping and red candy hearts.
  • Who-Roast Beast Omelette: Our big, fluffy omelette filled with shredded beef, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, sautéed jalapeños, onions and golden hash browns topped with tangy BBQ sauce, more shredded cheese and a Serrano pepper. Served with three Buttermilk pancakes.
  • Whoville Holiday Cheesecake French Toast: Two King’s Hawaiian® rolls, French-toasted and layered with creamy cheesecake filling, raspberry topping and creamy whipped topping.
  • Mt. Crumpit Kids Combo: One Grinch Green buttermilk pancake topped with sweet cream cheese icing, red candy hearts and green whipped topping. Includes one scrambled egg, one bacon strip and one pork sausage link.
  • Young Grinch Minty Who Hot Chocolate: A kid’s sized hot chocolate with mint syrup and topped with creamy green whipped topping and red candy hearts.

“The holidays are such a special time for families and creating a delicious menu that reflects the fun and whimsy of Whoville in Dr. Seuss’ beloved story about the Grinch is the perfect way for us at IHOP to celebrate the season,” said Alisa Gmelich, vice president, marketing at IHOP. Plans NFL Player Visa Cards has partnered with the NFL Players Inc., licensing and marketing division of the NFLPA, to feature images of top NFL players on Visa prepaid cards. currently has over 200 player image cards available, including superstars such as New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott and Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers.

This is another clever way for NFLPA to create opportunities for its players and connect with fans. It also offers a continuous revenue stream as new players enter the league. reported it will be rolling out hundreds more cards as the season progresses, including standout rookies.

“It’s great to see NFL player licensing extend into diverse new categories,” said Steve Scebelo, vice president of business development and licensing for the NFLPA. “We are always looking for new ways to build licensing opportunities for NFL players through alliances with partners such as, who are leaders in their category.”

“Consumers want a more personalized payment experience and provides an opportunity to express yourself through a wide variety of card art designs,” says CEO, Tim Coltrell. “People are looking for a new way to bank on the go, and our goal is to provide an easy-to-use, affordable banking solution that reflects the individual passions of consumers. The NFLPA cards are a great example of giving consumers a more engaging and fun banking option.”

Mickey’s 90th Reflects Power of Licensing

One of the most iconic and impactful characters and brand franchises in the history of licensing is celebrating its 90th anniversary this month with numerous events and hundreds of exclusive licensed products.

Since Mickey Mouse’s big-screen debut in Steamboat Willie on Nov. 18, 1928, the character—along with Minnie Mouse—has been the foundation of the Walt Disney Company. While a few other brands and characters have enjoyed similar longevity, none have had the impact on retail sales, marketing and promotions, as well as the growth of a parent company, than this duo. In recent years since their acquisitions, one can argue that Marvel and Star Wars franchises have generated billions in retail sales of licensed as merchandise as well as theatrical revenue, by Mickey and Minnie, remain the foundation of the company and its theme parks especially, and they have earned the recognition for company’s nickname of “Mouse House.”

Furthermore, the Mickey Mouse franchise has been the benchmark for licensing for decades and deservedly so. It’s current licensing initiatives, coupled with its content and promotional events, provide further evidence of the impact the franchise continues to have in the licensing sector worldwide.

This Sunday, Nov. 4, the ABC Television Network will air a two-hour prime-time special, Mickey’s 90th Spectacular, featuring musical performances, tributes, and rare short films never before seen. In addition, there are numerous events scheduled at its theme parks and resorts from Nov. 16-18.

In licensing, Disney has unveiled hundreds of exclusive products and collaborations with popular brands including Lacoste, Levi’s, rag & bone, Van’s, Pandora, Beats, Oreo, and numerous other top licensees. 

New York Jets Sign Gaming Deal with MGM Resorts

A new, integrated gaming partnership between the New York Jets and MGM Resorts reflects the changing mindset regarding sports teams, casinos and fans.

The first deal of its kind identifies MGM Resorts as official gaming partner of the Jets and will also facilitate various cross promotions between the two companies. It will likely result in similar deals with NFL teams as well as with leagues and teams in other sports.

The partnership provides Jets fans access to a mobile play-along predictive game “I Called It presented by Play MGM.” With MGM Resorts’ partnership, the enhanced Jets “I Called It” game will now include pre-play options, upgraded in-play features, expanded prizing, and deeper leaderboards featuring Jets fans.

“We are proud to partner with an iconic brand like MGM Resorts and its renowned properties to bring a world-class gaming and entertainment experience to our fans,” said Jets president Neil Glat. “This unique partnership also enables us to further engage our fans in the mobile and digital world.”

In addition, MGM Resorts will sponsor and receive access to the Jets 360 Production Studio at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. The Play MGM Studio will be the year-round multimedia home for Jets content across Jets 360 television, digital, and social platforms.

“We could not be more excited to join with the New York Jets for a first-of-its-kind partnership in the NFL,” said MGM Resorts chairman and CEO Jim Murren. “We look forward to working with the Jets to innovate gaming, increase our customer base through cross marketing opportunities and provide NFL fans with a one-of-a-kind entertainment experience.”

MGM Resorts will also provide a wide range of hospitality for Jets season ticket holders and Jets Rewards members, including premium entertainment experiences and luxury hotel rooms at its Borgata property in Atlantic City, and other MGM Resorts properties.

The New York Jets will provide stadium signage, social and digital sponsorship and advertising in Jets TV shows and gameday radio broadcasts that will help promote MGM Resorts to fans.

Target Launches Magnolia Holiday Line

Target unveiled this week its Magnolia Home line designed by HGTV Fixer Upper stars Chip and Joanna Gaines. The holiday line includes décor, wreaths, ornaments, dinnerware, accessories, and pillows and further extends the collection over last year. For Target, this collaboration with the well-known home design celebs has been a winner and differentiates the retailer from its competitors.

Stats of the Week: Holiday Shopping and Top Products

According to Adobe Analytics data, U.S. online sales will increase 14.8%, totaling $124.1 billion, while offline retail spending is expected to increase a modest 2.7%. The report also states that Cyber Monday will set a new record as the largest- and fastest-growing online shopping day of the year with $7.7 billion in sales, a 17.6% increase over last year.

“As online shopping surges with another record-breaking holiday season, the retailers with compelling websites coupled with physical store locations will have the advantage,” said John Copeland, head of Marketing and Customer Insights at Adobe. “Many shoppers want to interact with retailers’ products and the brand in-store, and the ability to pick up online orders in-store within a matter of hours can’t be underestimated.”

Adobe predicts one percent of SKUs will drive a record 70% of sales during the holiday season, 30% more than during the rest of the year. 4K TVs, as well as retro video consoles and games such as Tekken 3, Ridge Racer Type 4 and Final Fantasy VII, are expected to perform well for the second consecutive year. Top toys include Fingerlings, Fortnite Monopoly, Grumblies, Hatchimal Hatchibabies, Jurassic World Jeep Wrangler, LEGO Harry Potter Hogwarts Great Hall set, and Pomsies.

In the Aisles This Week

Costco has been in the Holiday spirit for several weeks already and is well-stocked with on-trend licensed toys. Selection from top licensors include: Hasbro’s Bumblebee truck, Disney’s Star War’s, Black & Decker tool workshop, Marvel’s Black Panther and Avengers sets.

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