Tomato Source’s Emma Beeson on designing a medallion celebrating 100 years of Britains Farm Toys

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes talks to Tomato Source’s Emma Beeson about the design process behind a limited-edition medallion celebrating 100 years of Britains Farm Toys.

Britains Farm Toys celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

The brand – which is now owned and operated by toy company TOMY – is centred around die-cast models of farm vehicles, farm sets and models of farm animals. It has a rich history and heritage.

The brand works with global companies such as JCB, Ford and John Deere to create faithful replicas of their farm vehicles, while also demonstrating a real commitment to innovation with the recent introduction of the Farm in a Box products.

Emma Beeson, Tomato Source

Start Licensing were approached by TOMY to help them develop some licensing partnerships to help mark the anniversary. One of the partnerships developed was with product sourcing company and licensee Tomato Source.

They have designed, created and launched a limited-edition medallion featuring a Fordson tractor to mark the anniversary.

In this two-part interview looking at how this licensing relationship developed, we talk to Emma Beeson from Tomato Source to get her perspective and insight on the design process, how Tomato Source embrace the opportunity and the workings of the fan market.

Next week, we will hear from TOMY themselves to get their perspective on the deal and how they approached the anniversary.

Emma Beeson, Tomato Source

Hi Emma. Tomato Source describes itself as the hybrid licensee. Can you explain the thinking and approach behind this?
We began life as what you may term a more traditional promotional premiums organisation where everything we created was to support wider campaign marketing activity – be that increase sales, footfall, frequency of purchase or reward loyalty. Understanding consumers, their connections to brands and their behaviour triggers was important to ensure success to these overarching activities.

Over the years, we have been able to take this learning and apply it to retail product too, because ultimately the same objectives apply. A history of working with licensors, brands and retailers has rooted this hybrid approach. We understand all three eco-systems and how they integrate and work together really clearly. This allows us to identify and harness new strategic and tactical opportunities that shift passive consumers to passionate fans through product.

When looking at an opportunity like the one with Britains Farm Toys what is your evaluation process around the opportunity and your product ideas?
Heritage, history, emotional connections with a fan base… Are they there? Is it real? Authentic? Is there genuinely a story to tell? Will it make a difference? These are all key elements to understand – we always want to ensure success and although these are not necessarily a magic formula, they are the pillars we look for.

When you alighted on the medallion as the product you wanted to develop, what were the challenges and considerations in regards to product development and design?
It was important to create something that didn’t cannibalise the existing product offering from Britains, but complemented it. It needed to be a product that would sit well within the Britains Farm Toys family so collectible, a keepsake… Something that would have an ‘heirloom’ quality to it so that it can be passed down to future generations who share the same passion for farming and Britains Farm Toys. Being a metal item would also resonate with collectors of Britains’ diecast tractors.

However, there are a lot of commemorative medallions in the market so we knew ours had to delve deeper into the history of the brand to really justify its place in a collection. After a lot of research, we hit upon this really interesting historical moment where tractors moved from having metal, spoked wheels to rubber tyres. We incorporated this feature onto the reverse of the medallion which visually really works and has a fascinating historical context.

Emma Beeson, Tomato Source

The medallion you have manufactured is housed in a commemorative folder. How important do you think presentation and authenticity are when marketing a product to collectors?
It’s hugely important. Not only do we like to centre everything we do around storytelling, it’s important for fans to be taken on a journey too – and you can’t always communicate that in the actual product piece alone.

So much thought went into the design of the coin so we were keen to share some of that thinking on the packaging. The fold-out wallet offers a detailed explanation of the design process, while also presenting a timeline of the last 100 years.

The packaging not only offers a way to protect the item, but the colours and design tie in to Britains’ commemorative diecast tractor. It was important to us that the medallion works visually as a piece in a larger collection of centenary items.

More broadly what do you think are key trends in the fan merchandise market? How do you ensure you are giving fans what they want?
Fan merchandise has to have a reason for being. There was a period in time where virtually anything would sell on the proviso that it had the franchise of the moment on it – historically with so much centred around large tent pole releases.

Over the past few years, with the huge shift towards on demand towards streaming, speed to market has become increasingly important – look at Squid Game as an example. This instantaneous expectation from fans for quality product to come to market, though still there, is becoming more and more tricky. And it’s hard to know what is going to ‘be big’ and create demand.

That balance between speed and quality is challenging. Quality is now also encompassing a deeper desire from consumers for sustainability, which demands more consideration in the product development journey. We have to continue to build this in with everything we do so I think we will see that come through more and more – and it can be challenging for brands and properties to achieve this because a simple binary approach cannot be taken.

I think we will see a trend – and some may suggest a continued trend – towards more evergreen brands and properties. Retro seems to be always on trend and there is more heritage in these brands to play with. It allows for more authentic storytelling in product, which is what fans are asking for.

Are there any lessons you have learnt from the Britains project that you will be able to build on in other projects?
This was our first medallion manufactured in the UK opposed to overseas and that reinforced to us some of the capabilities that are on our doorstep. Everything was produced less than 100 miles from Tomato Source HQ, which helped to reduce the travel miles involved in moving the product and therefore reducing the carbon emissions of the project.

Having proved this, we are keen to continue demonstrating that well curated pieces can be kept closer to home from a production perspective, and for some brands will deliver a stronger story to fans.

Another lesson is that communication channels and distribution channels are quite – and still continue to be – fragmented. Being able to find a singular ‘home’ where all your fans are is quite difficult, so having a community is critical. It’s why a truly integrated marketing support campaign around product is essential.

As a licensee, a genuine partnership with the licensor is essential to maximise all communication channels available. In the instance of Britains Farm Toys, many of the fans are not engaged or present on social media, so a move back to more traditional PR in trade and consumer publications was an essential part of the communication strategy.

Finally how has the medallion been received in the market and how is it selling?
It’s been really well received and we have had some great feedback. We are distributing through a number of channels – direct to consumer through third party shopping platforms and also via trade into independent retailers.

The independent trade has really got behind this as a special piece and they are delighted to be able to bring something new to the fans of Britains Farm Toys. It allows them to feel part of the celebrations too.

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