Practically all successful licensing programs have two common elements: a recognizable brand and/or a likable character. Candy-making giant Mars, Incorporated is fortunate to have both. 

“Mars, Incorporated has so many iconic brands that consumers love,” says John Capizzi, general manager of retail brand activation for Mars Retail Group (MRG), which manages the company’s licensing and retail programs. “The M&M’S brand represents colorful fun, and consumers of all ages connect with our M&M’S Characters.” 

The M&M’S Characters, which have been featured in a series of successful television ads for nearly six decades, first began to emerge as a licensing phenomenon in 1997, the year the first M&M’S World store opened in Las Vegas. “At that point, our M&M’S Characters were really starting to develop personalities, and that store proved our chocolate consumers had a desire to experience the brand in new and different ways,” Capizzi says. “The overwhelmingly positive reaction of consumers entering our M&M’S World stores gave us the confidence that we could expand licensing into everyday retail, not just within the candy aisle but in a variety of different categories and channels.”

The place to shop in Los Angeles is Kitson. Over the past 15 years, the company has continued to offer exclusive, dynamic fashions and merchandise that exudes the essence of Los Angeles and draws a fair share of attention from celebrities, stylists and wardrobe departments. “L.A. is a big part of our background,” owner Fraser Ross says. “When there was ‘Sex and the City,’ it was always said that the fifth girl was New York City. I always say there is a marriage between Kitson and L.A.”

Ross started the company in 2000 as an entertainment/concept store that sells items such as clothing, accessories, books, perfume and toys for a broad audience. Kitson offers trending items for men, women and children of any age, and items change regularly depending on what is hot now. “We sell from soup to nuts, cradle to grave,” Ross says. “We are like a mini department store that carries a lot of commodities and appeals to all demographics. For example, Kitson has a book called ‘Fabulous at 50’ and ‘Keep Calm You’re Only 21.’”

When consumers choose KitchenAid, they can be assured the brand’s products are designed with high-performance features and quality design to help them in their culinary adventures.

“KitchenAid is for people who are passionate about cooking,” says Mike Huie, global business unit director for KitchenAid. “Our products are now available in 100 countries, and we are working to expand our presence in China, Europe, Latin America, Australia and India, while continuing to grow in the U.S. and Canada. 

“Almost three years ago, we went from licensing our cookware and bakeware to becoming the sole manufacturer,” he adds. “Since then, we developed 10 different lines of cookware and three lines of bakeware, including around 450 to 500 different pieces that we’re launching on a global basis this year.”

The Cat brand is one of the most prolific in the construction and mining sectors. Its Cat logo is iconic, and Caterpillar is the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives. At the same time, Caterpillar has embarked on ambitious licensing efforts throughout its history to help the brand grow beyond its roots.

“Our licensing team is relatively small, consisting of six program managers, three product analysts and one contract and royalty administrator managing our 60 licensees around the globe,” Brand Advocacy and Licensing Manager  Kenny Beaupre says. “Today, our programming has grown, as Cat consumer products are available in not only the freestanding retail stores but also in 100,000 retail outlets selling nearly 50 million items of Cat merchandise.”

As far as Books-A-Million is concerned, reports of the death of the brick-and-mortar bookstore have been greatly exaggerated. “There are bookstores that are still growing,” says Shannon Tyndall, former vice president of real estate for the Birmingham, Ala.-based retailer. “We’re looking forward to 2015 and think it will be successful for us, which hasn’t been the case with a lot of bookstores in the past few years. I think bookstores are here to stay, which is great for us and great for the community.”

The company reported sales of $129.2 million during the 2014 holiday shopping season, an increase over the $127.9 million reported in 2013. “People are still buying books, they’re just doing it differently,” Tyndall adds.

If you are what you eat, then the 630 independent Equity Members comprising the $8 billion Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG) Inc. cooperative want to keep their customers healthy by providing healthy food for them. To do that, the co-op established Valu Merchandisers Co. (VMC), a wholly owned AWG subsidiary dedicated to providing AWG members’ more than 3,000 store locations in 32 states with a comprehensive selection of quality health and beauty care products, general merchandise and natural, organic and specialty foods at the lowest possible cost.

“The biggest trend we’re seeing right now without doubt is the natural and organic trend,” VMC Executive Director Greg Oldright observes. “The largest growth in organic and natural is in the conventional channel, which is the majority of our customers. The national food chain has had its heyday and is very strong, but a lot of the new growth is coming out of the conventional channels.”

7-Eleven Hawaii is in an expansion phase with plans to quickly grow its store count and truly become “your neighborhood store.” “Our research efforts are focused on locations in neighborhoods where 7-Eleven Hawaii has or does not have a presence,” Real Estate Asset Manager Ryan Fujitani says. “Our plan is to define convenience according to each neighborhood profile.”

The concept of convenience dates back to the 1920s and The Southland Ice Co., a Dallas-based company owned by the family of the modern day 7-Eleven store founders. The Southland Ice Co. became Southland Corp. in the 1930s and in 1947 the stores were renamed for their hours of operation, which were from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. 

Whether it was early morning or late at night, Texas shoppers could stop at 7-Eleven for ice, cold drinks and groceries. By 1978, 7-Eleven stores were open 24 hours a day and the first store opened in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. “While the company’s ownership has changed, the business model remains the same today: to offer our customers value, variety, freshness and innovation,” the company says.

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