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Church of Merch: Merchmaker brings customisation to toy retailers - ToyNews
Staying ahead of trends is arguably the single most relevant challenge to modern retailers, but instead of railing against the online space, the UK’s leading toy chain, The Entertainer, is embracing a new paradigm to their business with a partnership with Merchmaker. Here, Jack Ridsdale catches up with the firm’s head of online to learn more.

We can all remember the day we got our first personalised football shirt. The sheer excitement as I unwrapped a Manchester United shirt with my own name emblazoned on the back on my eighth birthday was enough the make me truly forget the fact that I had two left feet and embrace the fantasy of stepping into the shoes of my favourite players. Now, in today’s digital marketplace, firms have taken this timelessly enchant- ing concept to new levels, giving all manner of licensed products an original spin.

Unless you are firmly plugged into the comings and goings of the licensing apparel space, chances are you are unfamiliar with Merchmaker, the online platform that allows customers to personalise licensed goods including pyjamas, mugs, bags and more.

Merchmaker’s offering represents the latest new niche for the UK’s most prominent retail chain, The Entertainer, allowing the brand to reach out into new categories. Indeed, this sideways manoeuvre could be indicative of a newer, broader product offering, embracing not only new selling platforms but new products outside of the world of toys.

No one can speak about Merchmaker’s unique take on licensed goods more enthusiastically and knowledgeably than the firm’s co-founder and chief commercial officer, Charlotte Clisby.

“We provide online retailers and content publishers the opportunity to offer their customers an unlimited amount of products from emerging or household brands without having to give up shelf space, commit budget to purchase stock, or provide warehousing,” explains Clisby. “We can plug our platform into any existing ecommerce system and allow that retailer to offer our full portfolio as if it was their own products whilst also offering the option for the consumer to personalize these products.”

In a world in which trends move at a mile a minute, embracing this more immediate, direct to consumer model of selling can help retailers with a longer product delivery cycle serve a wider variety of demographics.

“Retailers working with our platform can make product available at the very early stages of a brand and really capitalise on the demand from fans for product before wholesale licensees are able to get to market,” she elaborates. “They don’t have to wait to come on board with a brand before it is proven to be a success as there is no risk of them ending up with unwanted product. Our platform is a great way
of jumping on growing trends such as the popularity of vloggers and YouTubers.”

The Entertainer already offers a line with YouTube sensation JoJo Siwa, in collaboration with Merchmaker, alongside such family favourites as PAW Patrol, Barbie, Star Wars and more.

“With our print-on-demand business model, Merchmaker has been able to offer their customers brands where investing in wholesale product was perceived as too risky,” she continues.

“They were excited about the ability for us to jump on new trends, for example our JoJo Siwa range and our recently launched unicorn range in time for Christmas. Being part of the grow- ing trend that is personalisation was also key – 1 in 3 consumers now want person- alized products and therefore it is a huge focus for many retailers across the world, and is only growing bigger and bigger as time goes on.”

The Entertainer’s head of online, Rob Wood, echoes Clisby’s enthusiasm for the new offering, highlighting the benefits of catering directly to consumer demands.

“We’re delighted in the way our Create Your Own business has started and really excited about our plans for 2018,” said Wood. “The Entertainer prides itself on being the place to go for the latest trends and Merchmaker’s print on demand model means we can get the product to our customers faster than ever before. And because
we don’t need to commit to stock upfront, we’re also able to trial lots of niche product ranges and offer our customers an even wider choice.”

The fact that Merchmaker’s CCO jetted off to NYC last month for the licensing summit to give a talk alongside such big hitters as Hot Topic and Loot Crate speaks volumes for the growing importance of Merchmaker’s speedy business model in today’s pop-culture obsessed retail space.

“Retailers working with our platform can make the product available at the very early stages of a brand and really capitalise on the demand from fans for the product before wholesale licensees are able to get to market,” says Clisby. “They don’t have to wait to come on board with a brand before it is proven to be a success as there is no risk of them ending up with unwanted products.”

“Social media means trends take off faster than ever and being able to react to these hot brands and produce product in real time is a game changer,” agrees Wood. Looking ahead to The Entertainer’s developing range in their Create Your Own category, Rob Wood hints towards a near endless potential including seasonal items and new licenses from the world of premier league football.

“We’ve got loads of exciting stuff on the roadmap already including Easter eggs, party supplies and birthday countdown calendars,” adds Wood. “But the exciting thing about print on demand is that we don’t necessarily know what this year’s

bestseller will be yet - we’ll be keeping our ear close to the ground for the next hot trend and then moving very quickly to turn it into product.”

As the market for on-demand, customizable product lines increases, Merchmaker finds itself in a uniquely open playing field, with ambitions that stretch far beyond their current alliance with the UK’s toy industry leader. Similarly, the diversification of The Entertainer’s online services secures their place as an innovator, further steeling them for the day when brick and mortar retail fades from prominence.

“We will also be looking at how The Entertainer can take their personalisation tool the next level and what other ways you can customise or personalise a product,” Clisby enthuses. “We’ll also be launching the Merchmaker platform with new retailers and content publishers throughout the world and growing our license portfolio in entertainment and sport as well as new categories such as gaming and music brands.”

“In terms of what this has done in the toy retail space, it’s not just toy retailers that we’re now in discussions with," she concludes. "Our model works high street retailers, online retailers, grocers and content publishers and we plan to launch with a number of these in the UK, US and in South East Asia during the course of 2018.”

It's understandable to assume that many brands will be eager to jump in with Merchmaker, given the potential in their concepts and there is just as much room for growth for retailers, with an eye for new trends, as well as diversifying their existing product catalogues.

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