The Licensing Book

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On Ellis Island, An Eight-Year-Old Licensing Relationship Pays Dividends

By Bryan Joiner

Last month, Lowe’s, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Park Service celebrated the re-opening of the Ellis Island Ferry Building with Save Ellis Island, a not-for-profit group designed to save the landmarks at the former portal to the United States.  Save Ellis Island funded the project with federal and New Jersey state funds and private donations, including that of Lowe’s, which has donated $2 million to the National Trust since 2005.

At first glance, this does not appear to be a licensing story, but to see the connection; you have to go back to 1999.  That’s when the National Trust, which is represented in the licensing arena by MODA International, first teamed up with Valspar to produce a line of licensed historic paint colors.  The line was introduced as a co-branded venture at Lowe’s under Lowe’s American Tradition label.

As it turns out, there was a significant market for the exact paint colors used at historic sites, says Miriam Lennett, director of business development for the National Trust.  “It’s exciting for the consumer.  If they buy the specific color that was in Woodrow Wilson’s dining room, they can tell their friends and feel connected to history,” says Lennett. 

With that agreement in place, the National Trust and Lowe’s kept in contact over the following years.  Representatives from the National Trust traveled to Lowe’s headquarters to have ongoing discussions about branding and messaging, and in 2005, that work paid off.  Lowe’s had decided to support historic preservation projects in the northeast by establishing a fund to be administered by the National Trust.  “They created the fund with the National Trust because they knew that we could help them make a positive impact in their communities.  Historic preservation and home improvement are very closely related, so it made both business and philanthropic sense,” says Lennett.

Lowe’s agreed to give $1 million to the National Trust in both 2005 and 2006, and the Trust dispensed the funds among 10 preservation projects in the northeast.  The National Trust accepted applications from preservation projects across the country and recommended them for funding if they met specific goals.  Save Ellis Island qualified, and received a $100,000 grant.

Michelle Alfandari, president of MODA International, said the result illustrates how licensing deals can blossom beyond the licensor-licensee relationship when both parties are looking for something that makes business sense, if not dollars and cents.

“MODA’s approach is to use licensing to achieve our clients’ business objectives.  Sometimes these objectives are not limited to incremental revenue or protection of the trademark but includes other measurable and tangible benefits,” Alfandari says.  “In this particular case the Lowe’s contribution that supports the core mission of the National Trust is one such tangible by-product of a successful licensing relationship.  There are times as an agent when a client will prioritize their licensing objectives and in some cases that may mean heightening awareness, more so than generating revenue.  So we may look at a licensee that’s going to provide more exposure, maybe without significant revenue.”

The National Park Service/Ellis Island received great revenue; for Lowe’s, the exposure means something more.  Lowe’s is now inextricably linked with an iconic place that brought hope to millions.  It’s the type of exposure that money can buy, but only if you have the right relationships – and it all started with licensing.

Reprinted with permission of the publisher.  The Licensing Book, May 2007 issue, Adventure Publishing Group and Total Licensing Ltd.

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