MB Talks with Dominik Piotrowski – CEO & Founder of LEGO Licensed Distributor, YAMANN and Newly Founded Brand, Bablu
Content Type: Gifting
Consumer, Events, Gifting, Industry, Interview, Toy Industry
Posted on 13 April 2023
With global revenue primed to break the $300billion mark for the first time this year and near double digit growth forecasted, the Toy industry is bursting with potential. Potential that many brands, old and new, are looking to build upon.
One such company, a LEGO licensed product distributor rooted in over thirty years of toy distribution, is currently navigating this highly competitive market. Most recently they have made a bold move, birthing their second distribution brand in four years.
MacGregor Black caught up with CEO & Founder of YAMANN, and the newly formed Bablu, Dominik Piotrowski to discuss the ins and outs of the global toy distribution industry. Including, licensing agreements, partnerships and what it takes to launch a successful brand in this fast-paced, billion dollar market.
MacGregor Black: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today, Dominik.
Let’s kick things off with a simple one, what exactly does licensing involve?
At some point, this brand owner decides that they don’t just want to create their own products anymore, they’re big enough that they can allow other manufacturers to create and sell products using their intellectual property. Such as, their branding, patents, and trademarks. Which is great for the manufacturers because they get to use globally recognised branding. But it’s also beneficial for the brand owner, as they get to expand their experience for their customers.
Usually, for the end customer, there’s no distinguishable difference. All they see is their favourite movie or game characters and assume the product was created by the brand themselves. More often than not, it was manufactured by a completely different company.
Now here’s where it can get slightly confusing. Many people confuse licensing with partnerships…
Licensing is essentially one company renting out their branding to another company, whereas a brand partnership will see the two companies come together with a collaborative approach. Usually, resulting in a range of products using both companies’ branding. LEGO have quite a few brand partnerships with the likes of Adidas, Nintendo, and Moleskin, that you’ve probably seen before.
MacGregor Black: Can you tell us more about what YAMANN does?
Absolutely! YAMANN is a LEGO licensed product distributor in Poland. So, we work with the manufacturers to distribute their licensed products to retailers.
As soon as the LEGO licensed products are with YAMANN, we manage the entire process from that point onwards. So, YAMANN manages the relationships with buyers, the product placement on shelves, right through to territory marketing. We’re responsible for pretty much the entire customer experience.
YAMANN’s relationship with LEGO is a legacy and a huge part of our brand purpose. It’s really important that we stick to that. But we do still want to grow and explore different opportunities, which is why we’ve just officially launched our daughter brand, Bablu!
MacGregor Black: Congratulations on the launch! So, can you tell us more about what Bablu does?
Only cool stuff…
MacGregor Black: Is that the company tag line? ‘Only Cool Stuff’…
Haha, you guessed it!
Bablu is a distributor of top brands and sought-after licenses! The company has been in the works for a while now, but we officially launched at the International Kids’ Time Toy Fair in Kielce. It was fantastic!
MacGregor Black: Tell us more about Bablu? Why did you decide to launch the brand?
Like I said, YAMANN’s core identity is LEGO. Introducing non-LEGO products into YAMANN’s portfolio just didn’t fit with our identity. This is where Bablu comes in.
Launching Bablu meant that we could build a separate brand with a diverse catalogue of cool products and suppliers. Over the last two years, everyone at Bablu has been scouting Europe for brands we’d like to add into our portfolio. So far, Bablu is working with several strong licenses, with the likes of Hot Wheels, Pokémon, Chupa-Chups and Gabby’s Dollhouse, and we’re also working with some really cool independent brands like Waboba, Wild Planet and Mitama.
Sourcing the coolest, rarest, most exciting products on the market is Bablu’s number one goal. We visited numerous industry trade shows like, Distoy, The Toy Fair, KIDS’ TIME, and Nuremberg, to find the best partners. I definitely owe your consultant, Abbie Richardson a dinner! She recommended a few of those shows and they really paid off.
MacGregor Black: We’ll make sure to let her know! It sounds like you’re working with some really interesting brands, what are the factors in your decision making when sourcing new products?
Well, I’m very much a ‘gut feeling’ driven person. One of my personal mottos is, follow your gut, look for goosebumps. But, aside from that, it’s going to trade shows, speaking with people in the industry, keeping your eyes open for products that are unique and rare on the market.
Before I go to any tradeshow, I ask my team to run through the agenda so I can get a few different perspectives about what’s happening in the market. That helps the process massively because they might send me to see something different, or speak to someone I might not have spotted on my own. Teamwork is a huge part of what we do.
Another big part of the process is also, of course, market research. We speak with buyers in Poland to get their opinions and feedback on our ideas. They’re the experts and they have so much experience.
We have strong personal relationships with our buyers, something that many of the bigger wholesalers can’t offer buyers because they just don’t have the time. I think cultivating personal relationships is how both companies get the most out of the interaction, it’s honest, it’s friendly and it’s fun. This is something we’re really proud of at YAMANN and definitely an element we want to carry over into Bablu. You know, I met a buyer last week and it was just like meeting an old friend, that’s something I love about my job.
MacGregor Black: What are you expecting to see in the licensing and distribution industry in 2023, and where does Bablu fit into this?
Well, the industry titans like LEGO, Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig, Harry Potter, and Minecraft will remain strong in 2023. All of those brands are regularly releasing new licensed products and partnerships. But what we have noticed is, there’s a few new kids on the block looking for a slice of the market share too, like Gabby’s Dollhouse. They’re growing rapidly at the moment!
What we’ve also noticed is a rising consumer interest in Anime. As a result, Pokémon has seen a huge revival and we’re seeing more demand from titles like, Naruto, Jujutsu Kaisen and My Hero Academia.
At Bablu, we’re staying up to date with the latest trends to guarantee we’re seeing the most rare and exciting products on the market, and there’s some independent brands out there that are making some really cool, well-designed, surprising products. Bablu brings the best of these two worlds together. We have some really strong licensed products in our portfolio, but we’re also courageous enough to introduce new brands to the market.
We have something for each of our customers to love.
MacGregor Black: Thanks for sharing your time with us and we look forward to seeing YAMANN & Bablu’s success in 2023 and beyond.
Just a few short generations ago our planet’s natural resources seemed cheap, easy to acquire, and plentiful, with the consequences of our actions too often an afterthought. The hard truth is that the responsibility has fallen upon each one of us to make better decisions, as the choices we make in our everyday lives, known or unknown to us, have a cumulative impact on the world we live in.
Fast forward to present day and with the domino’s beginning to fall, the race to repair, redesign, and replace has begun.
With the combat against climate change now one of the most important conversations of our generation, a rising number of corporations have pledged to increase their sustainability efforts in the name of ‘going green’. But what does that really involve? How does a business ‘go green’? And why are some of our favourite household brands slow to following suit?
What does ‘Going Green’ really mean?
To understand what it takes for a business to go green, first we must understand what the term means. In short, when a company decides to ‘go green’ it means they are making a conscious effort to reduce/offset the negative impact their operations have on the environment.
Why Would a Business ‘Go Green’?
As mentioned in our last article, ‘MB Insights: Vertical Farming – Is the only way up?’, many of the earth’s natural resources are depleting. From the soil we plant in, to the fabrics we weave, it’s reported that there aren’t enough materials to sustain the population’s ever-growing demand for commerce. Therefore, aside from the main incentive of, sustaining the delicate ecosystem that is our planet, businesses are continuing to go green for a number of different reasons.
One reason for adopting a greener strategy is, for the cynics among us, because it’s expected of them. In 2021, Deloitte conducted a study to explore how consumers are adopting a more sustainable lifestyle and found that an overwhelming 61% of consumers had consciously reduced their usage of single use plastics. The study also revealed that nearly 1 in 3 consumers claimed to have stopped purchasing certain environmentally impactful brands or products entirely. A clear sign that a growing number of customers are judging their favourite brands, based upon their impact on the environment.
Studies have also shown that such practices aren’t just influencing our shopping habits. A further investigation revealed that 74% of employees interviewed, say their job is more fulfilling when they’re provided with the opportunity to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues. Evidence that developing a sustainability focused corporate social responsibility programme is not only directly influencing customers, but also candidates. So much so, that ‘going green’ is now one of the top five internal practices that encourages an positive corporate culture.
Going green isn’t just a positive change for the environment, it’s also good for your wallet! Although a number of large upfront costs are difficult to avoid, in the long-term, efficiency saves money. As companies look to reduce their energy consumption, minimise their use of wasted materials, and decrease their carbon footprint, with that eventually comes a reduction in operational costs. Not to mention the potential for a higher sales value, as consumers actively seek out ‘greener’ options.
But perhaps the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. With many complex moving parts, and a large initial outlay, there comes a reduction in available capital, which in turn brings risk, a dampened ability to react, and a potential need to reduce costs elsewhere. For example, people. Which raises the question. Would you begrudge your favourite company for choosing survival over sustainability?
As mentioned earlier, both consumers and employees are favouring businesses based on their environmental impact. Unfortunately, this leaves us with the opportunity for businesses to appear to be more climate conscious than they really are. Typically, these companies only one goal in mind…fattening their profits. When companies use ‘green’ as a status symbol, this is often referred to in the industry as ‘greenwashing’. A term coined in 1986 by environmentalist, Jay Westerveld. One such example of this is the oil giant, Chevron. With the release of their TV, radio, and print advertising campaign in the 1980’s, the company proudly declared its dedication to executing positive environmental practices. Yet in reality, they were regularly violating the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act bills, while continuing to ‘spill’ tons of oil into wildlife refuges.
Something brands should be wary of crossing is the thin line between promising eco-friendly practices and actually delivering on them. In a world where consumers increasingly demand accountability, it is all too easy for companies to accidently ‘greenwash’ their brand. Despite having the best initial intentions, situations like these arise as implementing a whole new sustainability strategy may not be a quick or smooth sailing process for some businesses. Ultimately leaving the company overwhelmed, underprepared and under-delivering on their promise.
Finally, big or small, it’s clear to see that businesses can benefit from being more eco-friendly. For those sitting on the fence, a tip in the right direction might now come in the form of legal and regulatory compliance standards. For example, the UK government has recently committed to achieving a net zero society by 2050. Something that can only be met with the uncompromised support of businesses across the country.
Is It Easy Being Green?
Is it easy being green?
If we were to ask Kermit the frog, the answer would be no.
If we were to ask the businesses out there that are making eco-friendly changes, the answer would probably still be no.
However, we’re all familiar with the phrase, ‘nothing good comes easy’ and it’s safe to say that although it may be tricky, making greener choices has its benefits. So, what are the choices that businesses have and how do they make them?
One of the first, and arguably most important things a business might look at when starting their sustainability journey, is reducing their carbon emissions output. There are many ways to do this, one of which is a business dialling back on the amount of energy it consumes, or its partners consume. For example, if there’s a piece of equipment, large or small, that can be swapped out for a more sustainable alternative, such as energy saving light bulbs, motion sensitive lighting and smart thermostats, make the change! Or perhaps powering operations with renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, or trading petrol fuelled HGV’s for hybrid or fully electric fleet vehicles.
You know that meeting that definitely could have been an email, well… put it in an email! And if that can’t be done, switching to online meetings, or even offering a working from home option could not only this save businesses money, but also requires less travelling from the team– meaning less harm done to the planet – and… side bonus, no changing out of your PJ’s! As more and more people lean towards a remote/hybrid role, with sustainability (and PJ’s) being a huge factor in their decision, working from home is looking like it may be here to stay, with some businesses even claiming an increase in staff productivity as a result. According to a study performed by global job site, Indeed, searches for remote work have increased by more than 500% since February 2020, and job postings mentioning remote work have increased by 180%, now totalling 10% of all job posts on the site. Of course, this has been heavily influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, which could also be another key driver in the demand for increased climate consciousness, with many people believing the lockdown gave the planet ‘a break’ from human interaction.
In order to meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of the future, not only do we need to improve sustainability in the workplace, but we also need to review and improve on the products being produced, including how they’re packaged. Many organisations are already making huge strides towards combating this issue, such as the global home, gift, and party accessories specialists, Talking Tables. Founded in London in 1999 by Clare Harris, with the ethos of bringing people together around the table, Talking Tables is a clear example of a company that truly takes responsibility for the impact their operations have on the planet. With sustainability at the heart of their brand, supporting the planet through their business success was a natural step for Talking Tables, who are keen to lead by example.
One of the first things the company wanted to improve on was their packaging. In particular, reducing the ‘P’ word, plastic. With packaging becoming a prime focal point for those that wish to be more conscious of their personal environmental impact, a great start to becoming more sustainable is swapping out plastic packaging for natural, biodegradable, or recycled alternatives. And so that’s exactly what Talking Tables did. After thorough research, the brand now packages most of their paper tableware products, such as paper plates and napkins, in card-based packaging. Producing an effective, attractive, and recyclable alternative. Along-side cardboard, another alternative is compostable packaging, which can be made entirely of bio-based polymers and non-toxic wheat or corn materials. However, Talking Tables avoided the use of bio-based polymers, such as PLA, due to fact that there’s a limited amount of bio plastic recycling facilities in the UK and an increased risk of potential contamination to plastic recycling streams.
Once their packaging got the ‘green’ light, Talking Tables were able to look at the overall design of their product and how they can make their range eco-friendlier. For those of us with a house party or two under our belts, or for the American Pie fans out there, the famous red party cup is legendary. But what most consumers don’t realise is that the well-known cups, aren’t quite as much fun for the planet. In-fact, most party cups contain an inner plastic lining that means they can’t be recycled and could even take a whopping 1,000 years to decompose. An issue that Talking Tables had to address. Thankfully, not only have they successfully created the world’s first recyclable party cup but have also taken further steps towards a ‘plastic-free’ status across 95% of their product roll out, as well has having launched a range of home compostable napkins.
In the case of Talking Table’s, a key factor to their success has been partnering with the right suppliers. A practice that a number of multinational corporations have adopted, pledging to only work with suppliers that adhere to social and environmental standards, who in turn must expect the same from their suppliers. Therefore, creating a cascade of sustainable practices that flow smoothly throughout the supply chain. Ironically, one of the most prominent difficulties issues suppliers currently face, is automation. The more a supply chain is designed for mass production, the more likely it is that it’s automated, therefore the more difficult it is to make small changes to that cycle. As a result, some companies turn to overseas suppliers that use less automated equipment, although this still leaves them with the issue of transporting the goods across larger areas, which ultimately tips the scales back toward increasing their carbon emissions output. Therefore, cultivating loyal relationships with local suppliers becomes hugely important when it comes to relying on them for support when making changes.
Talking Tables’ Director of Supply Chain, Daniel Fagan, comments on the need to build long-lasting relationships with reliable suppliers and how this affected their environmental goals:
“When looking at the sustainability of our products and packaging, we found that one of the most important things to us was collaborating with the right suppliers. Over the years we’ve built long-lasting relationships with our partners, some of which we’ve worked with for over 10 years, and when the time came to looking at our collective environmental impact, everyone was all too happy to help. I think these trusting relationships and the loyalty we’ve built with them have played a huge part in the support we’ve had during our sustainability mission.”.
To work out exactly how they were impacting the environment, Talking Tables sent out detailed surveys to their suppliers, asking about their waste management, their use of hazardous materials and chemicals (if any), and any other impacts they may be having on the planet.
“From there, we worked hand-in-hand with our partners to make improvements and set action plans for our operations moving forward. Every two years, we hold a suppliers’ conference, as well as regular workshop sessions to keep everyone on the same page. As sustainability isn’t always at the forefront of supplier’s minds and they can often face issues like rising material costs, transport issues and high shipping costs, it’s up to businesses like us to drive the mission by supporting them through the process and keep them wanting to support us on our journey.” Said Daniel.
We asked Daniel, if he was to offer a piece of advice to businesses going green, what would it be?
“As well as being really passionate about my role, a key thing for Talking Tables is that a lot of the energy and drive around sustainability has come from the founders, Clare, and Mark. They are truly invested in wanting to make a change and for any company wanting to go green, you have to have the buy in from the top.”
“For us, what worked really well was breaking down everything we planned to do. Each year we’ve set specific pillars of strategy, with sustainability being one of them, and within that we built out all the key areas we want to go for that year. Whether that be a target on reducing the percentage of plastic we have in our products, or on boarding new or recycled materials. I think breaking it down annually, then breaking that down again to around 90 days helped us put it all in a digestible format and made it easier to communicate to the wider team.”
After chatting with Talking Tables, we can all rest easy knowing that there are businesses out there with a true passion and commitment to combating climate change. So much so, that Talking Tables are even on track to becoming officially B Corp Certified. A designation that signifies they are ‘leaders in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy’. A clear statement that the brand continues to invest in social and environmental practices, even offering all team members two volunteer days, a wellness budget and funding towards any training they wish to complete.
As you’ve probably worked out, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to a business going green. The whole process depends on whether the sustainability changes being made are affordable, accessible, manageable, and dependable. All of which can be difficult to achieve for certain types of businesses but is vital to the longevity of our existence. At some point in the cycle, the responsibility also falls upon consumers to take accountability and make greener choices.
However, with companies like Talking tables pioneering advancements in sustainability, there’s certainly hope for a greener future.
The rest they say… is up to us.
If you would like to speak with our team of dedicated Gifting & Accessories specialists, contact us on 0191 691 1949 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org