5 Minutes With Karen Hewitt, Co-founder, Character.com

Karen is the co-founder of Character.com, an online retailer specialising in selling licensed products. She will be Brand Licensing Europe in October to discover the next big licenses, to meet brand owners and licensees and to network with licensing professionals from all over Europe.

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Karen Hewitt

In what ways has brand licensing contributed to Character.com as a business?

Character.com is in the slightly unusual position of being one of the few retailers whose entire business is driven by character licensing. So rather than something we dip in and out of, or only run a few top licences we live and breathe licensing on a day to day basis and it really is the core of what we do.

What model of brand licensing does Character.com use and why does it work in your favour?

We currently work with licensees rather than pursuing DTR. Our strength is in online retail sales and as a growing business utilising the production experience and support of our licensee partners has been invaluable.

What are the challenges of securing brand licenses for Character.com

As on online retailer we are not as limited in shelf space as a traditional retailer, which means we can carry a much wider range of licences, so it can be much trickier finding those niche licences that can still be great wins for us.

How does brand licensing address some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?

It can have a really important role as the reach of the brands and characters that we utilise is still really strong. The demand is still there – we just need to find new ways to satisfy that demand.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

For us Brexit is the biggest risk. Currency volatility and possible customs and duty issues would cause us major problems in the case of a “no deal” Brexit so we are really hoping for some sort of deal.

Describe your role and responsibilities at Character.com

I’m a Co-Founder along with my husband Steve. My main day to day responsibilities are as the Buying Director, managing a great team and trying to identify the next Peppa Pig or spot the latest trends.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before?

I had no experience in brand licensing as I spent many years in London working as a press officer in the Deputy Prime Minister’s office but I returned to Swansea to start a family and only found out about the mysterious world of brand licensing when we started Character.com.

What got you into retail in the first place? Why do you enjoy it?

I love the fast-paced environment with new properties always coming to market and evergreen brands re-inventing themselves. The ever-changing retail landscape presents challenges and rewards that keep me busy.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

It’s so completely different that it’s tough to draw comparisons. The drive that I needed as a press officer lends itself to helping me stay motivated to overcome the challenges that come with running a business.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Long lead times means making long term forecasts on what lines and brands are going to work for us so many decisions are business critical which really adds to the pressure.

And the most rewarding?

When you get the decisions right! Also knowing that my staff are happy in what they do and I’m presenting them with the best and most rewarding opportunities I can.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Go in with your eyes open, as the retail environment is changing fast but there are still really exciting opportunities out there. Make sure that you enjoy what you do and always do it with passion – if you don’t believe in what you do, your consumers won’t either.

Brand Licensing Europe is the definitive event for the European licensing industry, running from 9-11 October at Olympia London. Retailers can register to attend BLE for free at https://bit.ly/2M5t8Gn

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