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Building a Licensing Program from Scratch

Through MNS Creative's inaugural year exhibiting at Licensing Expo and subsequent launch of its first licensed products, find out how a growing entrepreneurial character brand found licensees and built a thriving licensing program from scratch.

Total retail sales of Whatif Monster's
licensed merchandise

Monthly retail sales of Whatif Monster-branded headphones as a result of a Licensing Expo deal

Created by author and illustrator Michelle Nelson-Schmidt, the Whatif Monster is a character in the children’s book Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster and is a small green creature that fills Jonathan’s head with worry and doubt. However, the book and the Whatif Monster aim to provide a message that will resonate with children and adults alike. 

Why did you decide to bring the Whatif Monster to the licensing industry?

    Michelle Nelson-Schmidt: I wanted to create children’s picture books and develop my brand from there. I always had licensing in the back of my mind and when the Whatif Monster book came out in 2012, I made sure to retain all of my licensing and merchandising rights because I had a feeling with this particular book that I was going to be able to license it. After the book’s initial success, I was asked over and over again for Whatif Monster products because people just fell in love with the monster, so I started doing small factory runs of my own and that’s when I realized the need was there.

How has licensing helped drive the success of the brand?

    MNS: It has helped immensely! I already have two complete, already manufactured and out there, licensed products as a result of the show. CozyPhones, which are soft headband headphones for kids, and WiperTags, which is a really unique item. We met via the Licensing Expo Matchmaking Service and his products targets one of my biggest demographics.

Are you able to share any information such as revenue, sales, royalties, etc. from licensed products?

    MNS: I just found out that CozyPhones is selling about $7,000 Whatif Monster headphones a month since its launch. As far as my book and plush, the Whatif Monster has made about $2 million in retail sales since 2012, but total sales for all of my properties is close to approximately $3 million. I just had a new book come in July, Cordelia, that sold out its first print run in five weeks.

Have you secured any deals since Licensing Expo? Are there any deals currently in negotiation as a result of the show?

    MNS: We’re currently in early stages with a company that makes Valentine’s Day cards. They’re very interested in Cordelia and my other brand, Dog and Mouse. I’m also working with a board game designer out of California to develop a Whatif Monster board game and another company in Canada that is interested in creating an online game and app. I also started working with the very last people I met at the show. They’re a brother team, one’s an animation production company owner and the other is a Kickstarter expert, so we’re working together to raise funds on Kickstarter to create a pitch cartoon for the Whatif Monster.

How has exhibiting at Licensing Expo helped you grow the Whatif Monster brand?

    MNS: It was absolutely necessary, which is why I’m already signed up for next year. It got me the exposure I needed because my basic marketing is done through children, parents, and teachers, since those are the people I see the most when I travel school to school. I’m not at the business level and tend not to be able to meet those people unless it’s a happy accident, so going to Expo put me in front of the people I need to be in front of at the right time.

Did you utilize the show’s Matchmaking Service? How was your experience?

    MNS: Yes! It helped to know that I was coming into the show with meetings. Plus, it was nice because when I was in meetings, I looked busy and people walking by had to come back, so it was a perception thing as well. Both CozyPhones and WiperTags, as well as the Canadian company, were all direct results of the Service. I’ll definitely use it again in the future and now that I understand how it works, I’d recommend it to everyone.

How many meetings did you hold on site?

    MNS: I had 15 meetings set up before the show from the Matchmaking Service. I also had several walk by meetings, including about four to six really meaningful conversations and some that turned into sit down meetings. But the Matchmaking ones were the bulk of it, for sure.