2023 Marks Blue Chip Brands’ 20th Anniversary

Anthony Harvey began his licensing journey straight out of University in April 1993, and now 30 years later he has built a highly successful licensing company Blue Chip Brands, which works with world-class brands across many categories. So much has changed between 1993 and 2023 in both the brand licensing industry and the world at large. The Bugg Report was able to speak to Anthony recently and put together the following feature article which highlights Anthony’s journey from way back when up until today. We hope you enjoy the ride!

Anthony Harvey (Owner Blue Chip Brands) started his licensing journey straight out of University in April, 1993 when he began as a Junior Property Manager with what was then Lee Walsh Marketing and went on to become Licensing Works. Anthony had no real grasp of what licensing was all about, even when he accepted the position. At that time, the economy was a mess, unemployment rates were high and as a graduate, Anthony took the first job that he was offered.

Back then there were no computers or mobile phones, so communication was via landline or fax machine, and contracts and artwork approvals were via international courier. Artwork was sent to licensees in bromide format which involved cutting out images from A4 sheets!

Asked about his early days in business, Anthony noted that he was very fortunate to have John Walsh and Bob Lee as mentors:

“It was very much a family-oriented company and at times it felt more like that I was a son rather than an employee. After twelve months in the business, I started travelling to international trade shows (Licensing Expo in New York, Magic Show in Las Vegas, SuperShow in Atlanta and the UK Licensing Shows & Gift Fairs).”

Anthony explained that looking back now, he was very lucky to get to travel around the world, visit so many wonderful places and meet some great people along the way at such a young age. He mentioned that he always looked young for his age but still found that it was a little embarrassing being asked for ID when ordering an alcoholic drink on a United Airlines flight, particularly as he was travelling in business class!

Some of the brands that Anthony was responsible for managing in the early days included Peanuts (until Tom & Yvonne won the rights!), Garfield, and what quickly became possibly his all-time favourite — Mr Men & Little Miss.

Anthony explained:

“I had great fun being involved in taking these children’s literary characters and establishing them in adult novelty/fashion categories with a great bunch of licensees led by Mitch Dowd Design, Top Heavy and Crystal Craft. So much did they become intrinsically linked with my licensing journey that they even made a guest appearance at my wedding reception in the form of a Mr Happy and Little Miss Naughty character costume. Not the most sophisticated of wedding attendees it has to be said.”

Blue Chip Brands

Some of the other key licenses that Anthony was fortunate enough to be involved with during his ten years with Licensing Works included the US Colleges, which afforded him the opportunity to be involved in the sports licensing business, Carlton & United Breweries and establishing programs for Jim Beam, Ford Motor Company and what was then World Wrestling Federation.

Anthony explained:

“I remember when WWF superstar Mick Foley (Mankind) came out to Australia for a promotional visit and Playcorp booked a private dining room at Cecconi’s Restaurant at Crown. We had the key licensing and retail partners all dressed to the nines and Mick Foley walks in his flannelette shirt, tracky pants and runners. I also had my brush with royalty when managing the licensing for Budgie The Little Helicopter created by Fergie (HRH The Duchess of York at the time). We held a launch function at the Sofitel in Melbourne and it was without doubt the easiest function ever to get people to RSVP to with everything timed to military precision. If only the ABC had broadcast the television more regularly and in a better time slot, it could have been a licensing success.”

Anthony was also lucky enough to be responsible for licensing a couple of movies that were a real buzz and they had the worldwide premiere of Bean The Movie, which was held in Sydney with Rowan Atkinson in attendance. The star of the licensing program was undoubtedly Mr Bean’s knitted teddy which sold like hot cakes and JC Tomaselli still talks about it today.

Another license that Anthony worked on was Austin Powers. It wasn’t the easiest of licenses to manage but it did give Anthony the perfect excuse to attend the Granny May’s Christmas party dressed head to toe as Austin Powers, including a set of licensed teeth that made drinking almost impossible. He also managed to license a Swedish Penis enlarger which is one of the more unique products he granted a license for in his 30 years.

In 2003 Anthony made the difficult decision to leave Licensing Works and establish his own licensing agency – Blue Chip Brands. It was a tremendously tough move given the close relationship that he had with John and Bob, but after exploring options to purchase the business from them, the only way he was going to have equity in a business was to start his own. After a very shaky start with no actual clients and no revenue stream, what went from plans for office space and staff soon changed to simply trying to bring in enough money to survive and support a young family. Anthony was fortunate enough to have some strong relationships in the industry, none greater than the late David Melkman at Top Heavy who he had worked closely with over the years on numerous licenses including Mr Men & Little Miss, US Colleges, Austin Powers, Jim Beam and Ford Motor Company.

For the first year Anthony worked on a consultancy basis for David, assisting in the on-track merchandise program for Ford Motor Company as well as managing the development of merchandise programs for two of the Ford V8 Supercar racing teams.

Anthony recalled:

“David was an iconic figure in the licensing business, a real personality, lovable rogue and the true definition of an entrepreneur. If he believed in a licensing opportunity, he would sign an agreement without any indication of retail support and back his own judgement. He was proven right many more times than not, and other companies would see Top Heavy take a license and follow suit based on David’s ability to back a winner.”

Blue Chip Brands

The early years were very tough and Anthony worked part time in a bottle shop and in a warehouse picking and packing product just to keep some money coming in whilst he tried to secure some brands, sign some licensees and get product into retail.

The first major break was being granted representation rights for Jeep for Australia & New Zealand. Graham Stephen from CLM in South Africa had developed a superb licensing program for Jeep and was instrumental in having Blue Chip Brands appointed for Australasia. Anthony worked closely together with his licensee in South Africa to gradually build a Jeep apparel program with the local Australian licensing partner, which eventually grew to over 20 standalone retail stores nationally, a first for any automotive brand in the region.

Some other brands that were important to the growth of the business included Rachael Hale animal photography, IRONMAN (the triathlon, not the Marvel character) and Kimmidoll from The Aird Group in South Australia. In 2014 the brand that Anthony had hoped would be the foundation license for the company back in 2003 (Ford Motor Company) finally joined the brand roster and the program flourished and grew four-fold over the space of the first three years, and this was highlighted through licensing deals with companies, both old and new, including Mitch Dowd Design, Licensing Essentials, the Royal Australian Mint, Australia Post, Motorsport Distributors Group, Cotton On and Rollas Jeans that saw fashion apparel sold throughout North America, Japan and Australasia.

Anthony explained:

“Another first, at least in Australia was licensing golf carts for both Ford and Shelby automotive brands as well as brokering the deals for Shelby golf carts and eBikes globally. Both Ford and IRONMAN came via his relationship with Global Icons in the USA, and whilst these brands are no longer part of either companies portfolios, they continue to find new opportunities to work on together.”

One license that has found its way back via the Global Icons relationship is Betty Boop, and after managing it during the late 1990s at Licensing Works, Anthony is now starting to see some great success with local partners including Cotton On and Bravado.

Blue Chip Brands

More recently, two brands that have been very successful for Blue Chip Brands are LA Gear and Steven Rhodes. Anthony was introduced to LA Gear by colleague and friend Roger Lipman who was brokering licensing deals for the brand in the USA. It wasn’t an instant hit, but with perseverance, patience and working with people that shared a vision for what the brand could become, they now have a wonderful lifestyle products program with Big W across apparel, footwear, watches and eyewear.

Anthony stumbled across Steven Rhodes back in late 2018 when he was surfing the web and saw some unique designs selling at Spencer Gifts in the USA. As he dug deeper it became apparent that these were the creation of a Brisbane based artist/illustrator. Anthony thought it was fabulous that a local artist had cracked a well-known retailer in the USA, so he made contact with the owner with a view to developing a local merchandise program in Australia.

Blue Chip Brands

Anthony explains:

“It soon became evident that the opportunity was far more extensive than just Australia & New Zealand. Over the space of a couple of years, Blue Chip Brands then came to represent the global licensing activity for Steven Rhodes — nostalgia injected with a twist of darkness! One of the most rewarding deals secured for Steven Rhodes was during the pandemic when they had a range of T-shirts launch through Zara stores around the world.”

With so many licenses that dominate our local retail space originating from major markets such as the USA or UK, Anthony notes that what gives him the most pleasure and satisfaction is being part of taking a small Australian illustrator out to the rest of the world and seeing his designs in globally recognised retailers such as Zara, Urban Outfitters, HMV, Spencers and Hot Topic. The program continues to expand around the world and Blue Chip Brands now has around 25 licensees across North America, UK, Europe, Japan and Australia.

What has also been a bonus for Anthony is that he gets to work again with people who have been a part of his licensing journey over the years as Blue Chip Brands’ sub-agent, Warwick Brenner at DtR in the UK, who worked on the Ford license in the UK/Europe and Charlie Day from The Sharpe Company in the USA. Charlie, coincidentally, was the individual Anthony reported to when he was Joint Managing Director at Copyright Promotions Licensing Group and managed Mr Men & Little Miss worldwide.

Anthony explains:

“Whilst the means of doing business have become infinitely easier and more efficient (no more faxes, approvals via international courier and hard copy artwork reference) I think other elements of the business have become more challenging in recent times. I continue to see viable retail options shrink in Australia. Many licensees have abandoned the gift industry in recent years.”

Anthony pointed out that the sad demise of retail groups such as Granny Mays and What’s New has made it far more difficult for licenses that either don’t have the mass appeal or meet the squeaky clean ‘PC standards’ that the major retailers demand. He said that he wonders what would happen today if licenses such as South Park or Austin Powers had to find a retail home and fears that many licenses may not get the opportunity to prove themselves as our larger volume retailers want to back the ‘sure thing’ that can warrant substantial volume orders.

Anthony applauds the job that retail brands such as Cotton On, Typo, Factorie and Jay Jays are doing but he believes there are still huge opportunities at retail for licenses that for one reason or another won’t be supported by our major discount retailers and would love to see a local version of a Hot Topic, HMV or Pull&Bear. Anthony went on to speak about how he sees a squeeze on agency commissions which makes it very difficult in what remains a relatively small market. Long gone are days when commissions were shared 1/3 brand owner, 1/3 global agent, 1/3 local sub agent, and with the brand owner seeking as larger share as possible, it makes the model less and less sustainable for the global and local agencies.

There’s also the on-going consolidation of brand ownership which makes it more difficult as a sub-agent. Whether it’s the large entertainment companies such as Disney acquiring other media companies or global brand juggernauts such as Authentic Brands Group purchasing corporate and lifestyle trademarks, it all results in less brands/licenses for the independent sub-agent to potentially represent.

Blue Chip Brands

Looking to the future Anthony sees the licensing world becoming more global with less territorial boundaries. He points to Australian licensees and retailers looking further afield and success stories such as Cotton On and Culture Kings only prove that if you can run a successful retail business in Australia with high rents, high wages and small population, there’s no reason that you can’t be successful in some of the larger international territories.

Anthony believes that the same applies to quality international retailers who will continue to see Australia as a key piece of their global business, particularly given Australian consumers insatiable appetite for branded products. Along with Aussie retailers looking for more global opportunities the same will apply to Australian licensing agencies.

“Due to the size of the Australian market we have to work hard and smart for the business that we generate and if given an opportunity to apply these attributes in markets with greater scope, I believe we can be involved in delivering some remarkable product programs.”

We asked Anthony about what he sees that sets Blue Chip Brands apart and about his approach to business:

“Blue Chip Brands is a boutique agency. We don’t want a huge number of clients and the focus is to manage brands that can be developed into long term, sustainable consumer product programs. As a brand owner you have someone with thirty years of licensing experience working on your brand day to day. It’s not a situation whereby the Principal of the business secures the representation and hands over the day to day management to someone with considerably less knowledge and experience. I become very passionate about the brands I represent and really live and breathe them.”

Anthony points to buying a Ford Mustang to drive as an example when representing the Ford brand. He is not sure how this would translate if he had secured rights for Lamborghini or McLaren though! He says that because he lives and breathes the brands he manages, he likes to be involved with product design and development with licensees to ensure that the end product truly reflects the brand DNA and hopefully has maximum consumer appeal.

Anthony says that he would dearly like to see more sustainability with licensed product. He says that he appreciates that retailers are driven by sales and that higher prices generally don’t equate to greater sales. However, he would love to see licensed product take more of a lead in the push for product to be more sustainable for the planet:

“I’m loyal, tenacious and trustworthy and try to think outside the square. I will always look to support a licensee that has had the courage to support a license from the very beginning and work with them to build a program. The same applies to supporting retailers that are responsible for assisting in building a merchandise program. I represent a brand as if it were my own. Developing good product is much more important than developing product just for the sake of generating short term sales.”

Finally, Anthony says that he is really enjoying taking the Steven Rhodes brand to the world and working with partners to grow a program in international markets. He says that it would be fantastic to have the opportunity to do this with other Australian brands!


This article is also featured in Edition 45 of The Bugg Report Magazine