India central to our global expansion plans: Nicolas Loufrani, Smiley

nicolas loufrani

Smiley – the brand created 45 years ago has become the most adopted brand of the digital generation and licensed retail partnerships continue to be a substantial growth driver for it. In a candid conversation with License India, Nicolas Loufrani, CEO, Smiley revealed why India is a no-brainer market for the brand that has hit retail shelves with Lifestyle and Archies.

Talk to us about the journey of The Smiley Company with brand licensing.
Smiley was founded by my father Franklin in 1972. He created a newspaper promotion to highlight good news during a time when the news was depressing, and Smiley was used to highlight to readers the bright side of life through uplifting new stories.

This was the origins of our licensing program and 45 years on and the trend for using Smiley for promotional campaigns by brands has never been stronger. We’ve just launched 130 million bottles of Smiley branded water bottles into the market with Nestle Waters for their brand Vittel.

It was in 1997, that I joined the business and started experimenting with Smiley, to create animated faces that corresponded to these pre-existing emoticons and created the Smiley Dictionary, a directory of thousands of icons and these would become the world’s first digital Smileys. Using these as a base, we launched a new brand, SmileyWorld, made up entirely of expressive icons that could be applied to a variety of products and categories.

Today, The Smiley Company has become one of the world’s TOP150 licensing companies according to License! Global magazine, and SmileyWorld has become the adopted brand of the digital generation with billions of Smileys being sent across the world, resulting in massive growth for the business.

What made you think of India as a potential market for The Smiley Company?
It’s a no-brainer market for us. We have nearly one million fans in India on social media and this showed us the massive appetite for our brand in the market. Also with India being one of the world’s most digitally savvy markets and SmileyWorld being a brand dedicated to the digital consumer, it was a completely natural move for us.

With Lifestyle India and Archies averaging over 40 per cent growth for the past 5 years, and the full year for 2016 delivering a 59 per cent increase in India, the foundations have been laid. Now we are forecasting to expand rapidly over the next 2 years as demand continues to surge.

Why and how has licensing been an effective retail strategy for your brand?
Our licensed retail partnerships continue to drive the biggest growth for our business and that is why a major strategy for our business this year is to grow out our existing business with our major retail partners.

Direct to retail partnerships are a really exciting opportunity for us and we already have deals in place with some of the world’s leading globally distributed retail chains and with strong sell out continuing for Smiley, this area of the business is earmarked for continued development.

What is your ROI/ growth rate as a licensor?
We have enjoyed great growth in the last few years, this despite the general slowdown in the global economy. Last year we had 31 per cent year on year growth, whilst unit sales of products increased by over 40 per cent. We have set ourselves targets to continue that sort of growth in 2017, by maximizing our existing partnerships.

What are the strategies for pushing Smiley merchandise into Indian retail ecosystem?
We see Indian market is evolving at a fast pace, supported by an ecommerce boom and we recognize the immense opportunities in India across platforms – emerging bricks vs clicks and across categories.

Our strategy for India is to continue to roll out a good, better, best retail distribution model across our brands and to introduce more categories, outside of traditional apparel, accessories and gifting. We believe that the Smiley consumer in India is savvy and India is central to our global expansion plans for 2017.

How different will those strategies be from the global ones?
Our business strategy is to work with the biggest and best retailers around the world to spread happiness through creative and engaging products and a positive marketing message.

Smiley also adopts a global outlook but takes a local approach, by having national sales teams who speak a wide range of languages, in order to guide partners towards the best products for them and their markets in order to drive more sales.

Since Smiley has already been there in Indian market, what new categories are you planning to foray into?
We have established a strong and growing footprint in Back to School, home decor, publishing, promotions and food around the world and these are the categories we are most focused on growing in the Indian market.

Smiley Kids

What categories are the best suited for this IP?
The beauty of Smiley is it really is an all-encompassing brand that transcends ages, gender, ethnicity and nationality. Our mission is simply to spread happiness and that allows us to sit across all categories, products and markets. It really is a rather unique IP in that way.

How do you zero upon the ideal licensee for your brand? What are the parameters for doing so?
The key to our most successful partnerships is – like-mindedness, co-creation and sharing a common goal. If we find a licensee that comes to us with that vision, enthusiasm and a business plan to match that then they are the ‘ideal licensee’ for Smiley. We take every opportunity on a case-by-case basis and invest time into researching each and every opportunity. We only want to be involved with successful partnerships and products.

According to you what is the ‘trick’ to licensing?
Be well researched, know your markets, have the creative vision to do something different to the competition and always give 110 per cent in every project. You are only as good as the team you have behind you and we employ specialist brand teams coming from licensee specific industries, which allows us to understand the needs of each and every partner and offer them professional advice and guidance in creating structured collections, with best-selling products and on-trend designs.