Synonymous with freedom, the open road and limitless adventure, Route 66 is a slice of Americana that’s recognised the world over.
LicensingSource.net catches up with Job van Dijk, co-founder and managing director of boutique licensing company Tempting Brands – worldwide brand owner for ROUTE 66 – and Rob Corney, group managing director of Bulldog Licensing, about their plans to grow the brand in the UK market.
Can you tell us about the back story to Route 66? When did it become a lifestyle brand and how did you recognise that it had so much potential in that area?
JOB: It all started back in 1993 when I started a software company with the name ROUTE 66. I was contacted by a Dutchman by the name of Groeneveld, who said that I needed a license to sell ROUTE 66 software. We struck a licensing deal with him and stayed in contact ever since. In 2006 – he was in his early 60’s then – he contacted us to see if we would be interested in running the brand licensing business for ROUTE 66. We agreed, and that is how Tempting Brands was born in 2008. With the ambition to do brands that are well known to the general public simply because the name is well known and has a good vibe to the target audience. Meanwhile, our longest running ROUTE 66 licensee is for sunglasses with Primetta GmbH, a daughter company of well-known UVEX. Primetta is now in its 27th year of ROUTE 66 sunglasses and is still setting record sales year after year. And next to ROUTE 66 which is so incredibly well known whether you ask someone in the UK, in China or India, we meanwhile have also launched Marie-Antoinette and Hi Puppy.
Why do you think Route 66 has such strong potential in the apparel sector? Is there a particular demographic it ‘speaks’ to – Gen X? Millennials, Gen Z? Male/female? Or a particular sector it sits well in? What are you looking for in future apparel partners?
JOB: ROUTE 66 is a timeless, ageless brand for men and women alike. The versatility of ROUTE 66 assists our licensees in leveraging the consumer audience in a dynamic market where something can become trendy and old fashioned overnight. Our currents partners in Europe covering products like cosmetics, apparel or eyewear branded products are renowned companies with broad distribution and well considered products and marketing strategies. For our future partners in the UK, we would love to find a strong partner who can bring ROUTE 66 basic clothing items to the UK. Those products are currently sold by European retailers in millions of units.
The Route 66 brand is just starting out its journey in the UK, but it’s been hugely successful elsewhere. Can you tell us a little about your highlights in international markets?
JOB: Our longest running ROUTE 66 licensee is for sunglasses. Primetta GmbH, a daughter company of well-known UVEX. Primetta is now in its 27th year of ROUTE 66 sunglasses and is still setting record sales year after year. ROUTE 66 sunglasses can be found in any gas station in Germany. We have another long-lasting partnership for sunglasses and readers that we are very proud and which will soon reach its 15th year anniversary. FGX, part of Essilor-Luxotica, has made available in European gas stations and retailers, a ROUTE 66 eyewear collection designed in Italy. The ROUTE 66 brand has done extremely well for more than a decade at K-MART in the US where more than 600 different ROUTE 66 items were sold. We also currently have great DTR relationships with Woolworth in Germany and with TEDi throughout Europe for a wide range of products. Another highlight is the presence of ROUTE 66 fragrances in personal care retailers like DM, Rossmann, Muller and BIPA in 20+ countries. Together provide distribution of the brand to more than 13,000 points-of-sale throughout Europe.
Can you tell us why you think Route 66 is such a powerful brand, and why you wanted to take it on? How does it ‘sit’ in the Bulldog portfolio? And how do you see it developing in the UK market?
ROB : Bulldog has always represented a wide range of brands from our market-leading baby brand That’s not my… through to brands for all ages such as Care Bears and Sesame Street. On the non-character side of the business, we felt Route 66 had a huge opportunity to establish a permanent space in the UK fashion market before extending across areas including home, stationery, gift and HBA. The brand is already a huge hit on apparel and we’re now expanding into these additional markets.
You’ve recently secured partnerships in the apparel area with licensees including Brand Alliance and Roy Lowe. Can you tell us a little about those deals? And are any other partnerships in the pipeline you can let us in on.
ROB: The apparel ranges from Brand Alliance have been a huge hit, which is no surprise when you look at the success of Route 66 in other territories. From grocery to high street and fast fashion, we’re seeing huge sales every single quarter and the commitment continues to build despite the obvious market challenges right now. Roy Lowe are in initial sell-in now but we’re expecting to see similarly great results when their socks hit the market – in Germany alone, the brand sees sales of 7m pairs of socks annually so there’s great potential for this agreement here. Partnerships in other categories are in the works now and we’re in advanced discussions in areas including stationery, home and gift so watch this space for more announcements soon.
Can you tell us a little about the resources/style guide you have available for the brand?
JOB: The ROUTE 66 Style Guide is objectively a remarkable collection of our finest artworks. Famous meanwhile for its breath of materials and the fact that we print the over 400 page book, the guide has been developed starting with 2008 and refreshed periodically. We have our own team of designers who are working hard to bring together a rich content to satisfy all tastes. From hundreds of ROUTE 66 shield variations and sophisticated calligraphed phrases to unique vintage and authentic compositions – every style is in! To get the latest trends in and keep the hype up, we update our comprehensive guides every 2 years and provide access not just to the last Style Guide but also to every previous guide that we published.
The next year is going to be tricky for manufacturers/suppliers/retailers – are you adopting any strategies in the face of economic uncertainty?
JOB: Our strategy to deal with these challenging circumstances have already been set in motion early on during the pandemic. We are seeking distribution of non-food items with food retailers to make sure that distribution is uninterrupted by lockdowns. We’re also well underway to sign up DTR’s with mass market retailers for not just one product category but a wide range of product categories. This way, we become less vulnerable for lockdowns and ups and downs in particular product categories. Another step we’ve already taken is to improve the overall flow of our licensing activities. Product approvals, artwork deliveries or product concept development are all handled with the goal of reducing time to market in mind. We have succeeded to reach our goal being a responsive and flexible licensor.
ROB : Undoubtedly there are significant headwinds going into 2023, but despite this, brands with a strong track record will always bring with them opportunities. The launch of our Route 66 ranges so far have proven to be phenomenally popular with both men and women and, whilst we can see that the market generally is likely to see some contraction in the next year, Route 66 provides a safe opportunity for buyers to back so we are expecting to see continued growth on this brand.