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Sam Johnson, General Manager of Worldwide Licensing at JCB, on the advice he’d give his younger self…
Sam Johnson. For those that’ve never been curious enough to find out, what does JCB stand for?
They’re the initials of Mr. JCB: Joseph Cyril Bamford; he founded the company in 1945. He started it all himself from a lock up garage in Staffordshire – and we remain a proud family owned British company to this day… Albeit now with 10,000+ employees around the world!
Impressive. And you, Sam, have over 20 years’ licensing for this iconic brand! But how did you get into the industry?
I’ve taken the Steven Gerrard approach to licensing haven’t I?! The answer is – like many people – I got into the licensing industry by chance. I began my career at JCB as a buyer straight from university. A few years along, I was asked to join our fledgling licensing business without really knowing what that was… Time flies!
And in that time, you’ve made JCB work for toys, apparel, collectibles, plush and other products. Would you walk us through some of the touchstones?
Our licensing programme has certainly evolved over time but essentially is focused around two core audiences – professional workers, or those involved in trades; and kids and young families. So, on the one side we have professional-quality tools, workwear, safety footwear, lighting and that kind of kit.
Right! That’s not to be forgotten; there’s a lot of quality work gear there…
Exactly. And on the other side, of course, we have children’s ride-ons, toy vehicles, models, apparel – even furniture! So, we’re serious AND fun!
What are some of the stand-out lines for you?
We have stand-out lines across many categories… They include our 18-volt brushless drills, stylish workwear and telescopic ladders. That said, I have a particular soft spot for our Joey JCB Junior bed. Thousands of parents have trusted the JCB brand as their child progresses from cot to their first bed and we never forget that responsibility.
I’m looking that up… Ha! That’s cute! Very funny! That’s a great idea. I suppose then that leads to the next question because – to the uninitiated – the brand might look quite limited. How do you keep it fresh?
The strength and appeal of the brand is not only its significant heritage but its constant commitment to innovation. That’s in products, distribution, marketing… Mr JCB’s motto was “Jamais content” and we hold as true to that as we can in our licensing business.
Whoa! Help me out there! Je ne parle pas francais… Jamais content means what? Not contented?
Close enough! It means never content… Which is why we challenge ourselves – and our licensing partners – to always improve, and always keep in tune with what the customer craves. We also try to do things a little differently when it comes to engaging our customers. On the kids side, for instance, we’ve invested in social channels; we have branded experiential areas at theme and farm parks, and a dedicated website at www.jcbexplore.com
Brilliant. We’ll just put a link to the website in there. You mention your partners. I guess the toy market is the obvious starting place for JCB… What’s the most surprising thing, do you think, in your portfolio?
Well, the digger bed is pretty unique! And people are always surprised by how many batteries and workwear socks our licensees sell each year – running into millions. Performance and power!
And are there any areas where you won’t take the brand?
Plenty! We have to remain firmly focused on our two core tribes so anything outside of this is unlikely to distract us to be honest. A product might be tough and durable but – if it has no real connection to our audiences – we don’t expend energy on pursuing them.
Makes sense. Conversely, then, are there some areas of licensing you’d love to get into? What are you hoping to try should the opportunity arise?
We’re constantly exploring those areas relevant to our customers wherever they are in the world. One area where we’d like to expand is in the digital gaming arena. We already have elements covered such as Farming and Construction Simulator, but there’s potential to broaden this and plans are afoot.
Great answer! We have to start wrapping this up, Sam, but there are a couple more things I’m curious about. First, what advice would the you of today give the you that first started working on the JCB brand?
Be prepared to fail – but learn fast! Our licensing programme has evolved and achieved success because we’ve focused on the right products for the right audience… But that doesn’t mean to say we’ve not learnt hard lessons along the way.
A tantalising answer… I might come back to you on that! Finally then, what’s the oddest thing you’ve done for the brand?
Well I’ve dressed up and performed as a transforming Robot/JCB Fastrac Tractor at a farm park launching a JCB zone… The kids seemed both scared and enthralled! I’ve also been known to ride around on JCB toy tractors at various pop up shows and once accidentally bumped into a well-known celebrity who was a VIP guest of JCB. I was mortified! Fortunately they saw the funny side!
Brilliant. Sam, this has been nothing but a pleasure; thank you for making time for us… I hope we can tie in again when we do an article on hard lessons.
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