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Anthony Marks on what makes Back to the Future, Willy Wonka and Harry Potter bankable brands for Fanattik
What’s your background? And how did you get into licensing?
The first step in my career was spending five years in the merchandising division at Manchester United. Back then, all licensed products were developed in-house so that was a great entrance into licensing for me.
And when was this, roughly?
That would have been until around 2000. From there I spent over a decade as a buyer and product developer in the toy industry, working with pretty much every brand from Dora the Explorer to Dr Who.
Which starts to explain where you are now… So along with your wife Louise, you’re the co-founder of Fanattik. How did you meet? And how did you get started?
We met in a bar after work one night in Manchester. She had not long moved up from London for a marketing role. Louise was very supportive of my vision so not long after we were engaged, I took my savings and left a job I genuinely enjoyed to create the company from scratch. She took care of the bills for a few years until we really started moving forward. Now, she’s fully on board as my partner in crime – and Marketing Director.
Brilliant! And after eight years of growth, you recently moved premises. What else has changed at Fanattik?
Yes, we’ve evolved quite a lot in the past eight years. I learned the hard way that you can’t do everything yourself, you need to invest in a team of people to help you grow… So I’ve gone from being a terrible micro-manager to a great delegator.
“I’ve gone from being a terrible micro-manager to a great delegator.”
As for the product offering, we started out creating licensed limited-edition prints. We’ve now expanded to a much broader range of licensed gifts and collectibles – each with their own special Fanattik twist to make it something that will appeal to the fans. With the extra team members and warehousing needed to cope with retailer demand, we outgrew our initial premises some time ago. It took a while for us to find the perfect building, which we moved into just over a month ago.
And where are you retailing?
You will find our licensed gifts in bricks-and-mortar retailers in the UK, ranging from Hamley’s to HMV, and online from Argos to zavvy.com. We also have retail partners in several European countries, with licenses such as Yu-Gi-Oh! We’re shipping product to retailers as far afield as New Zealand and Canada. So we’ve come a long way from the beginning where I was working out of the spare room and garage!
For sure. So now you’re a licensee for video games, film studios, drinkware and barware… You create gifts, home décor and collectibles in a range that’s A-Z: from aliens in Alien to zombies in Shaun of the Dead! How do you know what’s right for you? How do you know what’s going to sell?
We took a strategic decision to work with evergreen brands that have multi-generational appeal. Many of our biggest-selling video-game brands are around 25 years old… And two of our biggest film properties are approaching their 30th anniversary.
Is that right? The oldies are goldies?!
Right! And we recently signed a licensing agreement with Rocky which celebrates its 45th anniversary this year. Next year we have the 40th anniversary of Knight Rider to look forward to.
Gawd… I didn’t realise this conversation was going to age me so horribly!
Should I have warned you? Sorry! I should give a trigger warning! But with those brands there are both new and existing fans out there looking for product. We feel retailers that have come on board with us on this retro journey have really benefited.
Another really important factor when deciding what’s right for us is how our whole team feels about an IP. They’re all big pop culture fans and they put their passion into every single product. That genuine enthusiasm and fandom can’t just be replicated, and it’s not something you can do with a brand-new release – the fans that buy our products really appreciate that.
Yes, I think that absolutely shows in the website. You’re clearly careful on what you offer. And on that, is there one area that is more risky for you than any other? An area that’s not for you?
One area that’s not for us is toys. I spent many years working in the toy industry… I found it too restrictive. I prefer to go with my gut, and you have much more freedom to do that in the gifts and collectibles area.
“I prefer to go with my gut, and you have much more freedom to do that in the gifts and collectibles area.”
Similar question then, I guess: is there anything you don’t ever want in your portfolio?
I’d never say never but as mentioned earlier, the latest film or TV series release is not for us. Our focus right now – and for the foreseeable future – is on brands with heritage. These are the ones that have performed incredibly well since the onset of the Covid pandemic.
Fair enough! You were very frank about micro-managing earlier… Let me ask you: what’s was one of your biggest mistakes, do you think?
I don’t mind admitting one of my biggest mistakes was not getting investment at the beginning… Trying to do everything on a shoestring budget resulted in a slow upward swing for us, although – touch wood – we got there in the end.
And what is it that you do invest in now?
Now with less budgetary constraints we invest heavily in product development and are more than happy to explore new licensing categories. This year for example we’re entering multiple new areas including board games, glassware and clocks. We want to offer retailers a good mix of products to meet as many of their licensed-product needs as possible.
Is there one licence you’re always giving the wide eye?! Thinking, “That would be wonderful!” Or anyone you really want to work with?
Star Wars. I am a huge fan, and I was gutted when I was outbid for a lifesize ‘Han Solo frozen in carbonite’ recently as I rather fancied it for the walls of the new HQ.
The brand fits with everything Fanattik is about but as I and the team have genuine love for the brand, we would only want to work with them when we know we can do a range justice. Perhaps a few more years of growth and we will be reaching out to them!
Great answer. Anthony, we need to start wrapping this up shortly but what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
In the early days, I was scared to dive in with both feet, taking on the odd consultancy role here and there. That really distracted me from growing my own business… Therefore, it took longer than I had hoped to get Fanattik to the place it’s at now. Overcoming my cautiousness and trusting my instincts was a challenge; one I’m happy to say is very much behind me.
And what’s ahead of you? What’s next?
Several our brand partners have extended our territories to cover North America! We’ve also just secured an important retail partner in the Middle East, so exports will continue to be a focus for Fanattik in 21/22.
Brilliant. I’m gonna ask you one more question, two I’d you count the second, I but I want to thank you for your time Anthony – and your openness… Very honest answers. Okay… What’s the one question I should’ve asked you that I didn’t?
Gaming, or film properties?
And what’s the answer?!
We always lent more towards film properties, but we noticed a change in consumer demand around five years ago and then gaming exploded due to Covid. Fanattik is a gift and collectibles licensee for Capcom, Microsoft, Bethesda, Studio MDHR and more, so we are well positioned to supply gift retailers that want to take advantage of this growing market.
Wonderful! Thank you Anthony; much appreciated.
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