How To Become A Licensing Legend

At Market seminar, leading designers share secrets to sealing profitable partnership deals

“If you are shy, licensing isn’t for you,” said internationally-acclaimed designer Libby Langdon while co-hosting the “Ins and Outs of Licensing” roundtable in October with Dallas-based designer Denise McGaha and licensing specialist, Dwayne Clark. “You must be a shameless self-promoter with a thick skin if you want to be successful and sought-after as a licensing partner by top brands.”

1. Polish Your Platform

Brands want names, and even if you don’t have massive media exposure, you must be able to show that you have worked hard to build your signature style. “You need to be valid enough to become a product,” said Langdon. “I wrote a book, ‘Small Space Solutions,’ and had a column in House Beautiful for two years. I’ve had articles in the leading shelter magazines and appear regularly on makeover TV shows.” She encourages designers to blog, build an online following, do show houses, write articles, curate a portfolio, and actively work Market to expand their platforms.

2. Find a Niche

“Your product must be unique and fill a need, that you as a designer, can’t source,” said McGaha, who has collaborated with several top manufacturers, most recently introducing a collection with Materials Marketing comprised of seven mantel designs in six different stones and finishes. “I designed my custom carved mantels to be delivered in eight weeks, at a price point not previously available. These features appealed to my partners and introduced them to a new category and source of revenue.” The power of the product isn’t in the name on it, said Langdon, “The audience must like it and want to live with it in their house.”

3. Network, Network, Network

“Licensing deals happen for those designers who aggressively utilize their connections to build their networks,” said Dwayne Clark, president of DC Interior Design Management Group, an agency he founded in 2014 to fill the void in the industry for agent representation for designers, manufacturers, and showrooms. “You need a sensational concept, but you also need to prove your influence and the new audience you bring to your manufacturing partner. Dialogue with friends in different territories and types of businesses. Focus on building your tribe by leveraging media, Market meetings, and promotional opportunities to build a critical mass of those who follow you and validate your taste.”

4. Play the Long Game

Typical licensing deals don’t happen overnight and building a business relationship that results in an agreement takes time and perseverance. “I was hired as a Brand Ambassador for Currey & Co. after I had provided them insight as their designer market started to grow,” said McGaha. “When they suggested that I partner on a collection, I agreed but said I wanted to complete my Brand Ambassador role first. It created an organic path to the next level, which I encourage other designers to consider. Also, never underestimate how much time it will take to design your collection. It allows you to diversify, but it does take you away from your clients.”

5. Earn your Royalties

“Licensing fees vary based on type of product and price. The highest I’ve seen was 22%; typically, they range from 2 to 8%,” said Clark. “If you don’t have an agent, hire an attorney specializing in this area. Confirm you’re with a financially stable firm that can sustain disappointment if it takes a few Markets to build sales.” Some companies have in-house marketing teams while others may expect designers to be more hands-on. “I’m full-throttle with my licensing partners,” said Langdon. “I go through the showroom teaching the sales team how the product is used, promote it on all my platforms, and talk about it all the time.”

Want to learn more about licensing your brilliant concept with an influential home furnishings partner? Check out our Educational Events for seminars featuring top designers who have built nationally recognized brands and created lucrative licensing partnerships. Seminars for Spring Market are usually posted by mid February, and Fall Market seminars by mid August.