A few minutes with Kathy Ireland

Posted by Marty Brochstein on May 21, 2012

Licensing Expo keynoter Kathy Ireland, the model-turned-brand mogul who is President and Creative Director of kathy ireland Worldwide, gave us her thoughts on how the company looks at potential licensees, as well as how the company views the retail landscape.

What characteristics do you look for in a potential licensing partner and what is your vetting process for those partnerships? What points or attributes do you take into account?

The most important quality in any relationship is integrity and mutual respect. How people are treated, is very important. Integrity and respect start with the people manufacturing the products in the factory. How are they being treated? It continues with the people who pack boxes, drive trucks and clean the factory at the end of the day. One thing I’ve learned, factory inspections do matter. You learn a lot, as a licensor, when you show up unannounced. Happy people, who are working in a clean and beautiful environment, bring better products to market. I have never seen an exception to this.

Vet your licensees carefully. Have they been involved in litigation? In all our years, we’ve never sued a licensing partner. If a brand goes into business with the wrong people, that will be a very costly and damaging mistake. We’ve learned this advice the hard way… you can have it for free. Finally, check with the Better Business Bureau, to see where they stand in terms of customer service.

At kathy ireland Worldwide, we have team members who work with our licensing partners on customer service issues, every day. Make sure you have a plan for customer service, quality control, labor relations, matching production to prototype… and then after making your plan, get on it. Trust and verify. Your best licensees will appreciate the effort. The ones that don’t are a red-flag… at least to us. One more thing; don’t be dazzled by guarantees. If the products aren’t successful, those guarantees will dwindle and evaporate. Licensing must be a win win situation.

The retail landscape has changed dramatically since kathy ireland Worldwide brought its first product to market. What should companies do, or do differently, today to help pave the way for success at retail?

Powerful questions. We have always anticipated changes at retail. Our distribution strategy is deliberately elastic. Many years ago we placed our entire brand with one company, when they went bankrupt, we were in trouble. Everyone has to conduct business in their own way. We prefer having personal relationships, which are often smaller, with individual, independent retailers versus a total dependency on one organization. Executives change. Shopping patterns change. Retailers change their assortments. The brand they love one day may be perceived by the very same retailer as out of fashion tomorrow. Build a brand that can stand on its own, wherever it is sold. Be aware of the internet and use it wisely, it’s not going away and neither are all the brick and mortar stores.

We choose, at kathy ireland Worldwide, to not sell anything on kathyireland.com. Our website is an information channel, because, we don’t wish to compete with our retailers. We want to serve them. Our mission statements have grown from “…finding solutions for families, especially busy moms”, to include “…finding solutions for people in love” and “…finding solutions for people in business.”

Licensing is an extraordinary business. It is a brilliant mechanism which allows countless, gifted designers to bring their vision into the world. We must work as licensors to be team players. Many licensees fear brands. They become concerned that they have all the work to do and the licensor collects revenue, as passive income. We never want a passive income. We work side by side to make our programs the best they can be. An extra effort, an expression of appreciation, authentic design talent, and a genuine desire for retailers, licensees and our customers to be happy and successful. It’s a cornerstone of every long term licensing program.

Think about it, Disney is number one by far in the world of licensing, and doesn’t everyone think of Disney as one of the happiest places on earth? That’s no accident; that’s decades of doing things the right way and pleasing countless families. Everyone in the licensing business can be inspired by the Disney Way. Everyone at kathy ireland Worldwide learns from, is inspired by and celebrates our number one Global Licensor, Disney.