Concept extends brand

The concept Group, a small Toronto firm with huge ambitions, is aiming to create a home furnishings super brand under the label, The Minton Collection.The Minton Collection is a 200-year-old line of fine English bone china, marketed around the world by...

The concept Group, a small Toronto firm with huge ambitions, is aiming to create a home furnishings super brand under the label, The Minton Collection.

The Minton Collection is a 200-year-old line of fine English bone china, marketed around the world by u.k.-based Royal Doulton.

Three years ago, two veterans of the wallpaper industry, Bill Wilson, a former president of North American Decorative Products, and Ian Levack, an interior decorator and wallpaper designer, pitched Royal Doulton on a plan to expand the firm’s well-known china patterns into the realm of home furnishings.

Apparently, Royal Doulton liked what it heard because in June 1992, it granted Wilson and Levack, through their newly formed company, The Concept Group, worldwide rights to market wallpapers, furniture fabrics, bed linens and various decorative items using patterns identical to those popularized by The Minton Collection.

Since landing the deal, The Concept Group has been working flat out signing agreements with a wide network of manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

And that work is now beginning to bear fruit.

In the last few months, more than 500 u.s. department stores have begun stocking bed linens with The Minton Collection patterns.

Recently, Eatons in Canada signed on to carry bed linens and furniture.

And Canada Wallcoverings of Scarborough, Ont., Canada’s largest wallpaper distributor with more than 140 lines in stock, will soon begin shipping The Minton Collection wallpaper products to high-end wallpaper retailers and home decorators across the country.

The list goes on, and The Concept Group is only beginning to explore its manifold opportunities overseas.

Levack says he was aware the Royal Doulton name would open doors in the home furnishings industry, but, still, he is astounded by how enthusiastically the program has been greeted.

‘The fact is, the Royal Doulton name has amazing profile everywhere in the world,’ says Levack, adding ‘now that we’ve introduced these well-known patterns in areas such as wallpaper and linens, everyone is saying `why hasn’t it been done before.’ ‘

For its part, Royal Doulton will realize a direct financial gain from royalties based on product sales.

But it also stands to benefit from the attention the various home furnishing products will draw to Royal Doulton’s various lines of giftware, dinnerware and crystal.

Shona McLeod, public relations manager with Royal Doulton Canada, says there are obvious parallels between home furnishings and fine bone china in that both are used to decorate the home.

McLeod says Royal Doulton and The Concept Group will work together whenever possible to take advantage of mutually advantageous marketing opportunities.

For instance, Royal Doulton’s national chain of retail stores will display The Minton Collection wallpaper catalogue, produced by The Concept Group, and it will stock small decorative trim items from the collection.

Wilson explains that in all product areas except wallpaper, The Concept Group’s strategy has been to tap intermediary firms, which then assign manufacturing and distribution to specialty companies.

In the case of wallpaper, however, a product category Wilson and Levack know as well as anyone, The Concept Group will retain management responsibilities, signing agreements with manufacturers and distributors as required.

As part of its plan to generate interest in its wallpaper, the company has produced 10,000 glossy wallpaper catalogues to be shipped out this week to retailers and interior designers.

New patterns

With the Minton Collection up and running, The Concept Group is focussing increasing attention on adding new collections of patterns.

Already, it has several projects set to launch in 1994, including two more collections from Royal Doulton, The Royal Doulton Collection and Bunnykins, a children’s line.

In addition, Levack says the firm is negotiating for the rights to a popular child character from a well-known Canadian novel.

Levack declines to reveal the name of the character until the deal is signed, but, barring complications, he hopes to introduce the line next year.

Considering the wealth of popular patterns and themes, including tv programs, historical figures and fictional characters, that could inspire new collections, Wilson believes his company is well-positioned to become a significant player in the home-furnishings marketplace.

‘The quality of the products have to stand on their own,’ Wilson says.

After that, he says, what is done with the patterns is ‘one of those things that is limited only by one’s imagination.’