Marvel Superheroes to Invade Walgreens

Marvel Entertainment will partner with Walgreens for a direct-to-retail merchandise program at 6,000-plus drugstores, as part of a new strategy to expand its product lines and reach new customers.
Characters from Spider-Man Classic, Iron Man Classic, Hulk Classic, Marvel Comics Retro, Marvel Heroes, the Iron Man movie and the Hulk movie properties will grace toys, automotive accessories, pet products, photo department accessories, food gift sets, novelty candy, night lights, snow globes, holiday decorations, table and chair sets, wall decals, tumblers, posters, inflatables, flashlights and other products. Merchandise will hit shelves in spring 2010.
In 2008, Marvel rang up $5.7 billion in worldwide retail sales of its licensed merchandise. Recently, the entertainment company has found that pursuing direct-to-retail partnerships is a great way to supplement sales in tough economic times. (Traditionally, managing retail accounts is more of the licensee’s job.) Marvel last year developed Classic Spider-Man bedroom decor for Pottery Barn Kids (pictured) and this month, it launched an exclusive line of T-shirts at Old Navy for boys and toddlers, featuring Silver Surfer, Wolverine, Captain America, Incredible Hulk and others superheroes.
“We’re interested in building collections and brand statements,” said Paul Gitter, president of consumer products North America. “These [alternative] retailers don’t traditionally carry licensed merchandise—they’re not interested in taking an item here and an item there.”  
Marvel—whose library contains more than 5,000 characters—gets more say in these branded statements because the selection is presented as a collection rather than some store-scattered SKUs. “When you’re dealing directly with the retailer, you have a much greater sense of collaboration and how it ultimately looks on the shelf,” said Gitter, adding that the strategy complements Marvel’s mass market business.
Retailers like the direct relationship and, of course, the sense that they are getting something tailored to their specific audience. “There’s more margin in it for them, they like the collaboration and they feel there’s a sense of partnership working with the brand owners,” Gitter said.
International retailer The Carrefour Group signed a worldwide licensing agreement with Marvel for the use of its Hulk, Spider-Man and Iron Man characters on its textile collections. It also has international deals in place with French Connection and H&M.
Alt-retail partners and products may be expanded into the Marvel universe through “more of a branded approach” that could include TV advertising, POP and possibly even ties to films or other media. “[Products] will have a presence on the shelf and be surrounded by marketing to make a statement,” Gitter said, but wouldn’t elaborate.