Small manufacturers rush to cash in on crazes

September 04, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- If you're looking for a basic, no-frills air freshener for your car, they're easy enough to find.

But if you truly must have the official Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles car air freshener, then you have to come to Mark Simon.

Mr. Simon is president of Marlenn Corp., a Baltimore manufacturer with the exclusive license to manufacture Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles car air fresheners, one of 600 licensed products cashing in on the Turtles craze to sell everything from pudding pies to boxer shorts.

"We sell generic air fresheners," Mr. Simon said, "but when you put a popular character or a corporate logo on it, that immediately creates an awareness among consumers and obviously enhances the product."

In the licensing industry, the raw materials are T-shirts, key chains, collector's plates and hundreds of other knickknacks. Add to that a -- of hype and the finished product emerges: T-shirts, key chains, collector's plates and knickknacks adorned with a licensed image such as Bart Simpson or Garfield.

It is an industry built on whimsy.

"This is not a science, it's more of an art," said Mark Freedman, president of Surge Licensing in Long Island, N.Y., who licensed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. "Everyone in this business thinks they have the next Ninja Turtles or the next Cabbage Patch, but no one ever knows. There's no formula to it; you just sort of get a gut feeling and you say, 'This is crazy enough to work.' "

The licensing industry has grown to $66 billion in retail sales last year from $11 billion a decade ago, and there are more than 10,000 licensed names or images in the United States, said Murray Altchuler, executive director of the Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association.

Mr. Altchuler said sales of licensed merchandise were expected to grow at a rate of 5 percent to 8 percent a year for the next three to four years, continuing to outpace growth for general retail merchandise.

In short, licensing works like this: A company or individual legally protects a name, image or slogan, such as the Teenage Mutant '' Ninja Turtles, through a copyright or trademark, then leases it to a manufacturer or other business for use with a product, promotion or service.

The theory is that while a consumer might pass by a plain, white T-shirt, the consumer will be more tempted to buy a T-shirt emblazoned with Mickey Mouse.

Consider Mr. Simon's air fresheners, which dangle from the mirrors of cars. "There's so many reasons our consumers buy air fresheners," he said. "Some just want to have a nice, fresh, clean scent in their car. But if they're buying a Playboy air freshener, they may identify with the Playboy lifestyle."

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