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Will Marston tells us how he got into wholesale licensing – and which brands are working well online.
Will, thanks for making time. Tell me: who are you and what’s your background?
Thanks for having me, Deej. I’m the CEO of Star Editions. We hold the wholesale print, gift and greeting-card licences for several high-profile vintage brands. We also have The Gruffalo, Peppa Pig, Monopoly and a range of children’s entertainment brands. In terms of my background, I was actually a copywriter for ten years. I had my own ad agency before I was dazzled by the bright lights of licensing and manufacturing.
You didn’t set out to be a CEO in licensing, then?
I wish I could say I had a “grand plan”, when I sold the agency! But really I just knew I wanted a change of scene. My love of art, photography and illustration, meant I wanted to start selling art prints and set up a gallery.
But that led to licensing?
Yes; it was my first taste of it. I licensed many of the illustrators and photographers I’d worked with in the previous decade, and started selling their work as limited-edition prints in the gallery. Then – as demand grew – we sold them into other galleries as well.
And you mentioned some of your licences earlier, but there are others?
Yes, fast forward 12 years and we now hold licences for Miffy, The BFG, Simon’s Cat, The Beano, Mr Bean… Around 25 other children’s and entertainment brands.
So let’s say a property comes to you and wants to talk… How does the conversation go? Are you full of suggestions about what they could do? Or do they already have a specific plan in mind, usually?
Star Editions has a unique way of working. With every licence we work with, we always offer a direct-to-consumer and a business-to-business offering. First and foremost, we’re now usually approached to build and run the print-on-demand business for each of our brand partners.
“Star Editions designs, builds and runs print-on-demand offerings for over 50 brands… And we love it!”
Is that right? That’s where it starts?
Yes, for sure. Online is so huge now. All of these brands need their own shop with direct-to-consumer offerings. And this is what Star Editions does best – we design, build and run the consumer web shops and print-on-demand offerings for over 50 brands. And we love it! The moment we see what are the bestsellers, favourite designs and top products, we can then take that information over to our wholesale division and take that to market with our trade customers.
Great! We can drop in some site addresses at the end of this so people can check out how it works. And can you give us a recent example?
Yes – right now, we’re working with WHSmith Travel. They wanted to know the bestsellers for our Travel Poster Collections – and, in particular Dave Thompson works. So we just ran the report by chosen demographic and location, and gave them the 10 bestselling designs and product types.
Sorry – just to clarify, they must’ve been doing this for a very specific reason?
Yes! So they could – with absolute confidence – selecting and order the right ranges for their airport stores. It’s a pretty tremendous insight we can provide to both our brand partners AND our clients.
Got it. That is brilliant! And I’m curious then, which brands tend to work best for you?
Honestly, right now – online – EVERYTHING is working. We have a really strong pedigree when it comes to children’s brands, specifically book brands – Roald Dahl, Moomins, Miffy, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, The Gruffalo… Actually, all of the wonderful Magic Light titles! So I guess that is a specialty of ours.
We also have a number of charity partners. We manufacture for Oxfam, WWF, Scope, WAP, Amnesty International and English Heritage – assisting with their online and in-store offerings, either for stock products but for print on demand as well.
Conversely, are there any areas you look at and think: that isn’t for me!?
We’ve turned down a few opportunities recently as we felt the match just wasn’t quite right.
Well – without being indiscreet, on what grounds?!
Our sustainability and full eco-credentials are extremely important to us. Sometimes this clashes a little with more price-conscious brands. We don’t insist on – say – only using organic, vegan-approved cotton, but we always have that option… And we like to encourage our recycled, recyclable or reusable mantra. We recently set-up www.StarEarth.co.uk to clearly define some of our preferred product types and we know this has been really helpful for our customers.
Pull: “I’ve been very lucky in that we’ve been able to land all of our dream partners to date…”
Oh wow. Okay… practising what you preach at the very least. So which client would you consider a dream to land? Who isn’t yet doing something with you that you think could be? Maybe even should be?!
I’ve been very lucky that we’ve been able to land all of our dream partners to date. I remember knocking on the door for a few years before the Roald Dahl estate agreed to work with us. Gruffalo and Peppa Pig were both long-term brands that we had in our sights – and then they both knocked on our door, so we were very fortunate there. I do have a few more in mind, but watch this space, as early discussions are looking promising!
I’m trying to work out if you’re modest or lucky! Let me ask you this: what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
2020 certainly threw some curve balls at us and so definitely a challenge for me personally. Actually scaling up in a pandemic was harder than I ever imagined… Demand grew and we had to recruit safely and quickly. We’re a family business and I work with my two brothers every day.
You work with your brothers?
Yes – exactly! For the last 12 years. And everyone assumes that working with family would be the biggest challenge, but it works for us. I think everyone works better with people they like… Persuading my brothers – and their wives – to quit their day jobs and come and join me on this adventure, was the biggest challenge I think, to date.
I don’t doubt it… Alright, we need to start wrapping this up, I think but what’s next for you? That you can talk about, obviously?!
I THINK I can talk about this… I hope so! We have recently signed an EMEA print-on-demand partnership with Moonbug. We’ll also be launching both Blippi and CoComelon web stores.
And really exciting! Two powerhouse YouTube sensations; really exciting to see where these go. Many more in the pipeline – and we have some fantastic new products launching here, with personalised books probably being the one I’m most excited about.
Brilliant. Finally, then, what’s the one question I should I ask you that I haven’t yet?
I guess the same question that I get asked most by brands, shops, artists, charities and just about everyone with a website, is: “How much will it cost for Star Editions to take over my web shop and run it for me?”
Good one! And easy to answer…
Ha! No, sadly there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. We have a plug-and-play, print-on-demand app for companies who have their own web and product design teams in-house – and we can just give them the playbook to follow.
But even then, if New Product Development is required, and personalisation functionality built in, then we normally have to build this ourselves from scratch… So I’m afraid there is no quick answer to this! The first step for anyone is to just get in touch with me. I’m all ears when it comes to what our clients want to achieve. Once I’ve heard the brief, we can cost up and schedule a solution and offering that suits them.
Brilliant., Thank you Will; I’ve enjoyed talking. And if people want to visit your sites and check it all out they should go to where?
They should go to https://mrmen.com/, or https://shopsanrio.com/ or https://shop.wwf.org.uk/ that’s us!
And that’s you! Thank you very much, Will.
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