Marvel merchandise to hit Walgreens

Spider-Man, Iron Man among characters involved in deal

Marvel Entertainment will partner with Walgreens for a direct-to-retail merchandise program at 6,000-plus drugstores as part of a strategy to expand its product lines and reach new customers.

Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man and other classic Marvel heroes 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. The 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 company has found direct-to-retail partnerships a great way to supplement sales during tough economic times. (Traditionally, managing retail accounts has been more the licensee's job.)

Marvel last year developed Spider-Man bedroom decor for Pottery Barn Kids, and this month it launched at Old Navy an exclusive line of T-shirts for boys and toddlers featuring Silver Surfer, Wolverine, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk and other superheroes.

"We're interested in building collections and brand statements," said Paul Gitter, Marvel's 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 such branded statements because they are presented as collections, rather than 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 the sense they are getting something tailored to their audiences.

"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 has signed a worldwide licensing agreement with Marvel for use of the Hulk, Spider-Man and Iron Man characters in its textile collections. Marvel also has international deals with clothing retailers French Connection and H&M.

Alt-retail partners and products might be expanded into the Marvel universe through "more of a branded approach" that could include TV advertising, point-of-purchase and ties to films or other media, Gitter said.

"(Products) will have a presence on the shelf and be surrounded by marketing to make a statement," he added, declining to elaborate.