Fire and Police Try to Market Goods
by Patricia Winters Lauro, New York Times
LICENSING 2002 International, which opens tomorrow at the Jacob K. Javits
Convention Center in New York, is an annual circus-like trade show that
thousands of marketers searching for the next big thing, whether it is a
superhero like Spider-Man or an offbeat phenomenon like Teletubbies.
But this year, Powerpuff Girls watches and pajamas will be sharing space
with licensed merchandise based on some real-life heroes: New York City
police officers and firefighters.
For the first time, the New York City Police Department and the New York
City Fire Department will be exhibitors at the show, as they accelerate
their moves into the commercial licensing business to benefit their
charitable ventures. Their presence is prompted in part by the tragedy of
Sept. 11, which spurred demand for police and fire merchandise that the
departments simply did not have to sell, mostly leaving the market to
At the show, the New York Fire Department Fire Safety Education fund
featuring a 95-foot ladder truck revealing an array of merchandise from
17 licensees, including Billy Blazes Firefighter dolls by Fisher-Price,
bottled water and fire department computer software games by Activision
Value Publishing. The New York City Police Foundation whose booth
will be visited by the police department's K-9 unit, which will serve as
models for a stuffed animal line by Applause will be showing
merchandise from its 20 licensees, including toys, caps and T-shirts and
upscale collectibles like Code 3 miniature helicopters.
The Fire Safety Education Fund program is so far guaranteed $1 million
annually in royalties from sales of licensed products, and has a goal of
accruing about $4 to $5 million each year, said Stephen Ruzow, a director
the Fire Safety Education Fund. The fund receives a royalty of about 15
percent of retail sales. The New York Police Foundation which is
receiving 5 percent to 15 percent in royalties depending on the product
said it was too early to estimate how much it would raise. But
licensing-industry analysts said the unauthorized merchandise alone
circulating with New York Police Department logos has been worth millions.
(The New York-based International Licensing Industry Merchandisers
Association, estimates the licensing industry represents some $93 billion
retail sales in the United States.)
"There is such a demand," Mr. Ruzow said. "These are the new heroes now
and they are real-life heroes."
But to some at least, the timing is also the problem it is too
soon after Sept. 11.
"I think they run the risk of cheapening the essence of what they stand
for, and their heroic message by doing novelty merchandise," said Seth M.
Siegel, co-founder of the Beanstalk Group, a licensing and consulting
company in New York.
Mr. Siegel said he was especially concerned about the use of the police
department trademark, which could be misconstrued as giving regular citizens
an air of authority. But not having a program presented a litany of other
"To a certain extent they had to do it to protect their marks," said
Marty Brochstein, executive editor of the Licensing Letter, a New York-based
trade publication. "One of the things that drives many corporate licenses
they have to show they are protecting their marks, otherwise they will lose
Another issue is control. Pamela Delaney, president of the New York City
Police Foundation, said the police department has found distasteful some
unauthorized merchandise that has traded on Sept. 11. By retaining The
Joester Loria Group, a New York-based licensing agent, the department said
it believes that it can create merchandise with the style and quality
befitting its image.
"This isn't a matter of greed, it's a matter of integrity to make sure
the department controls what belongs to it," Ms. Delaney said. "I guess
could do that without a royalty, but the department has needs, and in the
American spirit of capitalism, it seems to be a very appropriate way to
Both departments have special labels indicating official merchandise
lawyers have been notifying retailers about unauthorized merchandise. Still,
experts say stopping the flow of knockoffs is a huge problem.
"Big-time licensees like the N.F.L. have armies of lawyers," said Jack
Trout, a marketing consultant and author based in Greenwich, Conn. "I wish
them well, but I don't know that they are up to it this bootlegging
is a very difficult thing to stop."
Both departments had been discussing licensing programs before Sept.
Fisher-Price, in fact, already was in production on the New York Fire
Department version of the Billy Blazes doll for Toys "R" Us. (Fisher-Price
and Toys "R" Us have since chosen to donate all proceeds of the doll to
fire department, which is expected to amount to $1 million.)
Now, the departments are considering assigning international licensing
rights, and the Fire Safety Education Fund wants to branch into home
furnishings and children's wear.
"There's a lot I won't do because it's not the image I want to project,"
said Marjorie Morris, licensing director for the Fire Safety Education Fund.
"Whatever I do, it has to protect the image of the fire department. They
deserve our honor."
Toys are a big and growing area of licensed merchandise and one that
into a broader trend toward more realistic heroes. Fisher-Price's Rescue
Heroes line, launched in 1998, now encompasses everything from Rescue Heroes
toothbrushes to a Rescue Heroes cartoon series on Kids WB network, said
Laurie Oravec, a Fisher-Price spokeswoman. Sales spiked after Sept. 11,
Fisher-Price said Rescue Heroes was the top-selling preschool item through
May based on unit volume. Rescue Heroes is adding four more fire department
characters to its line, including Smokey the Dalmatian. A New York Police
Department Rescue Hero is also coming to market next year, Ms. Oravec
As Joanne Loria, a partner of the Joester Loria Group, said: "Children
have really recognized that there is an option out there besides superheroes
to look to for hero worship. It doesn't have to be someone who flies."