Colonial Williamsburg Shifts Retail, Product Strategies

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Colonial Williamsburg Co. is adopting an “inspired by” approach to licensing as if shifts retail and merchandising to Aramark as part of a broader restructuring of the organization, says Williamsburg’s Melissa Fraley Agguini.

The company, the for-profit wing of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, will continue to license and approve products and doesn’t expect immediate changes in its roster of more than 50 licensees, says Agguini.

Yet the addition of Aramark comes as Williamsburg seeks to reverse what had been a money-losing commercial business. The Foundation’s overall business lost $277 million over the past five years. As a result, Williamsburg laid off 71 workers earlier this year and negotiated with Aramark and vendors in other areas to try to shore up its finances.

With the switch to Aramark, Williamsburg will deepen its “trend meets tradition” strategy that it embarked on last year, says Agguini.  Williamsburg will continue to license companies for reproductions of its collection, while also moving to put a more contemporary spin on some items.

For example, Kenian recently signed a license for reproductions of Williamsburg’s rattan furniture, including three chairs and a coffee table. But Olderegime is using 18th Century prints for more trend-driven scarves, pillows and hand towels. And Port 68 is readying inspired by vases, stools and mirrors, while Caskata has gained distribution this fall for its dinnerware with Williams-Sonoma, says Agguini. Aramark will oversee Williamsburg’s network of 19 retail stores, including those in the park’s Merchant Square as well as those in affiliated hotels and the visitor’s center.  It will have staff based in Williamsburg.

“One of the reasons the licensing program went forward with ‘trend meets tradition’ positioning was that pure reproduction just wasn’t resonating in the marketplace,” says Agguini.  “It is an opportunity. When we were part of the foundation there were a lot of different needs and now we are more an entity that understands retail.”


Colonial Williamsburg Co., Melissa Fraley Agguini, Executive Dir. Products, Retail and Licensing,  757-220-7543,