Published: August 3, 2010

Catching Up With Dave Harkins

By: Laurie Leahey

The Boy Scouts of America celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The organization has come a long way in licensing over the past 100 years, including the recent introduction of two new characters available for licensing. Plug and Axel are modern-day boys who seek to find a balance between today’s technology and the excitement of outdoor activities. Plug is a technology whiz kid, while Axel is a mechanically minded kid (hence their names). Dave Harkins, associate director, business development for Boy Scouts of America, Supply Group, which oversees the organization’s licensing program, spoke with aNb Media about the organization’s refocused licensing strategy and the development of Plug and Axel.

Laurie Leahey: How long has the Boy Scouts of America been licensing?

Dave Harkins: The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) began licensing in 1925, when it licensed artwork to Brown and Bigelow Scouting for an annual calendar. In the earlier years, most of our licensing was in the printed materials category—imagery for posters, cards, or calendars. However, we did extend into the sporting goods category during our 25th, 50th, and 75th anniversary years with commemorative items such as pocket knives, rifles (shooting sports are part of the BSA’s program), and other such items. From 1925 to 2005, the BSA averaged fewer than 25 licensees.

In 2005, we refocused the licensing program and developed a strategy that focused on three core areas: 1. Increase awareness of the Boy Scouts of America and its programs in the marketplace. This includes connecting with our more than 50 million living alumni. 2. Support membership growth. 3. Protect the brand and trademarks of the Boy Scouts of America.

We also implemented new processes and procedures to bring the program more in-line with what major commercial licensors were doing. As a result of these focused strategies and improved program operations, we’ve grown from 18 licensees in 2004 to 150 licensees at the beginning of 2010. Our licensed product sales at retail have grown from approximately $400,000 at the end of 2004 to nearly $38 million at the end of 2009. We have licensed products in virtually every major category ranging from apparel to sporting goods, from crafts to collectibles, and from books to food products. We even have licensed products in the remembrance category (cremation urns, headstones, etc.).

L.L.: This year marks the 100th anniversary of BSA and the introduction of two new characters, Plug and Axel. Why did BSA decide to develop these characters?

D.H.: Plug and Axel were conceived in 2006 when I walked the floor of the Licensing International Expo and saw that licensed characters for boys were either non-existent or largely in the “bad boy” category. It seemed to me that young boys needed more positive role models and who better to create those than the Boy Scouts of America? We believe that the characters provide a tremendous opportunity to share the love of the outdoors, a broad understanding of the importance of character, and the value of doing the right thing at all times. Plug and Axel aren’t perfect, though. They learn and grow from their mistakes, just like any growing boy. The target demographic is boys 4–8 and their parents. The Boy Scouts of America has a long history as premier outdoor educators. Plug and Axel provide us the opportunity to share our knowledge, at an age-appropriate level, with a generation that may not yet be connected with the Scouting Programs.

L.L.: What product categories are you seeking for Plug and Axel?

D.H.: Plug and Axel are currently available for license in the consumer marketplace in the following categories: apparel, animation, interactive, packs and bags, paper products/school supplies, printed materials (books, puzzles), plush, and toys and games.

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