Shaun the Sheep, The Gruffalo and the RNLI: Playpress’s Matthew Wright on what makes brands right for Playpress

Playpress founder Matthew Wright on what his family business looks for in a licence

Hi there! Thanks for joining us. You’re Matthew Wright – the design brains behind Playpress… For those not in the know, what is that?
A world of sustainable, buildable playsets, made in the UK for ages 4-90

Who makes up the rest of your team?
It’s all in the Family! As you rightly say, I do the design work. My brother, Kingsley, works making sales and running the day to day. Our mum Karen researches and also runs day-to-day operations. Finally, our dad – Melvin – sells, develops and looks after licenses and corporates and charities.

Wow! That’s a proper family business. How easy is it to work so closely with your family? What are the biggest challenges?
Oh, boy! Well… The advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Like any team, we can clash of course. It’s also easy to end up working far more than 50 hours a week! But that’s fine, I think, because we love what we do. And we’re very lucky, as we can also call on three other brothers who have marketing and IT skills.

Even the ancillary team is family! What would THEY say is the biggest challenge working with you?!
Sometimes, we don’t communicate what we want very well. I can keep a lot of info in my head and I can unreasonably expect other people to know instantly what I’m talking about. They might also say that I’m too much a perfectionist. And certainly dad sometimes makes the assumption that he’s told us all what he wants, when he hasn’t!

Matthew Wright, Playpress
I think – to be fair – that’s a pre-requisite to becoming a dad! So now, one of the reasons you’re on the Brands Untapped radar is that you have a fantastic partnership with the good people of Aardman. How did that come about?

Yes… We love working with the licenses, and we’ve been very choosy about our partnerships. We’ve had great support from Magic Light , the RNLI and others…

What are you looking for in a licensing partner?
We want content owners who can deliver support as well as own assets that fit our style. Aardman certainly fit that bill. Costs of set up for us are high and it always needs someone with good skills to convince us, and Ian from Start Licensing was very competent at that.

He’ll be pleased to hear that! Ian’s excellent and – just as importantly – a lovely, lovely guy as well. The Aardman product I’m looking at is the Shaun the Sheep Mossy Bottom Playset. What were some of the challenges getting that off the ground?
Like all Aardman shows, Shaun the Sheep is so well produced, and such a high quality, so there’s that to live up to. With few similar play sets around, the ideas came quickly – and the speed of response and support from their team made it very easy to be honest.

How did you feel when it became a reality?
Being such a young company, one is always excited when a new product launches! And being able to take it markets outside the UK is fun.

Matthew Wright, Playpress
Am I right in saying you also hold two Julia Donaldson licenses: Zog is one… The other is The Gruffalo. Again, how did that deal come together?

In that instance, Magic Light approached us. It’s been a breeze ever since… Again, they’re a terrific partner. A pleasure to work with. And we should shortly be doing another Julia product with them – watch this space!

I certainly will. In fact, I will invite you to come back and tell us about it nearer the time. Maybe we can do a deep dive into the development…
Love to!

Looking back to 2019, you picked up a Play Creators Festival Award from Mojo Nation… That was for your work on an RNLI playset. It’s a really unusual license! So when you’re looking at these extraordinary properties, how do you know they’re right for you? What criteria are you looking for in Playpress products?
At first – as with the Science Museum, the RNLI and their French equivalent – we were keen to work with those that had their OWN distribution, as well as giving us the ability to sell it…

Sorry – just to clarify: why was that?
To let us assist with the costs, basically. And we’re delighted to still be selling with the RNLI and receiving orders for 2023. Our approach hasn’t changed much – we still want to work with those that either have their own distribution or can assist . BUT, clearly, the asset and content has to be right for the type of product we make.

Matthew Wright, Playpress
Right. And in that respect, are there certain types of playset that you won’t look at? Things you feel are incongruent with your brand?

We like to work with these magical, fun properties. We like that promotes a nice message. And we love working with charities and organisations that make the world a better place. Apart from the absolute obvious things, we can look at most things now… But would we want to make tanks, for example? Would that really fit with us?

No, quite. I think not. We need to wrap this up, Matthew but I want to thank you for your time – I love your products. So, let me ask you this… What one question could I have asked you today that I didn’t?
Am I enjoying this? And have I any regrets about setting it up?

I think I know the answer, but go on…
Yes, I’m absolutely enjoying it — and no I have no regrets!

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