The Brand Radar: National Trust, Sarsen Stone Group and innovation in heritage licensing

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how creativity and authenticity fuel innovation around heritage brands, highlighting the National Trust Tile Collection from Sarsen Stone Group.

The licensing industry is one that is a little light on data. As someone whose first job was working as a media buyer at a London media agency, I can find it a bit frustrating sometimes. I miss the days that I could refer to ratings data, TGI profiles and audience shares.

In licensing we tend to work on assumption and ultimately, I suppose, sales performance. It’s difficult to draw conclusions with much certainty but you tend to get a feel for market dynamics.

One of the trends that I have observed in recent years is the growth in heritage licensing. Museums and institutions like the V & A, The Science Museum and The Natural History Museum have done a fantastic job of flying the flag for heritage licensing. This has opened up the category for other heritage brands and has also made licensees more receptive to this type of licensing opportunities.

One of the heritage brands that is at the forefront of this new movement is the National Trust, a conservation charity founded in 1895. The three founders of the National Trust saw the importance of the nation’s open spaces and wanted to help preserve and protect them for everyone. It’s an independent organisation and now looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 780 miles of coastline and hundreds of places of interest.

As a charity, the National Trust relies on income from sources such as membership fees, entrance fees, holiday lets, legacies and sponsorship. They have also looked at new sources of income and identified – and fully embraced – brand licensing, with partners including Barbour, Sanderson, Little Greene and Vango.

Their clothing collaboration with Barbour won an award at last year’s Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Awards as the Best Brand Licensed Adult Apparel product.

Ian Downes, Start Licensing
The Barbour Collection was available exclusively through John Lewis and performed well sales-wise, contributing over £25,000 to the National Trust – a good reminder that fundraising is a core part of their licensing efforts.

Equally, it seems that the National Trust is also keen to celebrate its heritage and look forwards in terms of the type of products it licenses. They have teamed up with camping and outdoor equipment specialist Vango to create a range of environmentally friendly tents and sleeping bags.

Ian Downes, Start Licensing
The tents and sleeping bags are made from a new fabric that incorporates recycled PET plastic bottles. This partnership is a good fit for the National Trust on a number of levels, including its link to outdoor life. Indeed, one aspect of the partnership sees the tents being used as pre-pitch camping options at a number of National Trust tent campsites.

The National Trust approach licensing in a focused way and seek to incorporate their brand into their licensed ranges as much as possible. A great example of this approach is the National Trust Tile Collection by Sarsen Stone Group.

Ian Downes, Start Licensing
This collection captures National Trust heritage in tile form with Sarsen offering authentic recreations of ceramic, porcelain and natural stone designs inspired by National Trust’s houses, gardens and properties. This approach to licensing is refreshing and, I am sure, rewarding. Consumers and retailers seem to be placing greater value on authentic partnerships and products; they want to know the backstory to the products they are buying.

Sarsen Stone Group have explored and embraced the full range and diversity of the National Trust’s estate. The collection includes products such as Shoreline, a rectangular ceramic tile with a handmade effect and a glazed finish inspired by the National Trust’s 780 miles of coastline.

Ian Downes, Start Licensing
The colour palette for the tiles dials up locations such as the Giant’s Causeway and the White Cliffs of Dover. The individual tiles in the Shoreline collection have names such as Shingle, Chalk White, Sea Kale and Shallow Water. It’s a clever way of conveying a sense of the National Trust’s sites and the atmosphere they create. It also ties the product into an emotional feel-good connection, which should translate well in sales terms.

Sarsen Stone has also dived into the National Trust’s historic heritage and they seemingly made a number of site visits to research tiles and to garner inspiration. One of these trips resulted in them developing the Dyrham Dairy Collection.

Ian Downes, Start Licensing
Inspired by a collection of original delft tiles in the basement dairy at Dyrham Park, Sarsen Stone have developed a Delft collection which features motifs of different National Trust landmarks, along with flora and fauna. This is a great way of tapping into the National Trust’s history and cements the authenticity of the partnership.

It’s worth noting that licensees are looking for partnerships like this to create a marketing push and to connect with consumers – but they are also looking for creative inspiration. In a category like tiles, the National Trust has a wealth of inspiration for Sarsen Stone’s design team to tap into. Equally the designers are able to take this inspiration and create a product offering that reflects contemporary trends.

Sarsen Stone Group’s National Trust Collection also includes a number of other design themes based on well-known National Trust houses such as the Red House in Kent, Arlington Court in Devon and Glendurgan Garden in Cornwall.

Ian Downes, Start Licensing
This is a collection that is both comprehensive and creative in equal measure. You get the sense that both sides of this partnership have spent a lot of time thinking through the composition of the collection, with an emphasis on reflecting National Trust’s property portfolio, but never losing sight of the fact that this has to be a collection that consumers and retailers will want to buy into.

They have also thought about the presentation of the range to consumers. One aspect of this is investing in a high-quality brochure that features the whole collection with background notes and sets a context for design choices. This reflects how consumers will want to shop the collection and sets off the range well.

This is a great example of heritage licensing and one that has placed an emphasis on creativity linked to authenticity.

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