IP Success: How SHIBAinc Thrives Glocally through Licensing
“This Shiba character is really lovely! Is it created in Japan?” People often associate the Shiba Inu with Japan, where the breed is native to. The line of cartoon characters of the IP brand SHIBAinc, however, is 100% Hong Kong. It all started with a birthday party that the brand founders Wing and DC arranged for DD, their beloved pet Shiba. They designed a cartoon avatar of DD and printed it on colour-changing cups as souvenirs for the party guests. The couple then posted a short clip of the cups to Instagram, and the magic happened. Comments started flooding in—not from local users, but those overseas—asking if the cups are for sale. This episode aspired Wing and DC to start selling their very first design goods of SHIBAinc, which later became their side job.
Wing (left) and DC (right) held a birthday party for their pet dog DD and saw a promising business opportunity by chance.
“It is to our surprise that we sold nearly 100 cups in just a month! Most of our customers were from Europe, North America, Brazil, Belgium and the Netherlands,” said Wing. Taking bolder steps, she produced a variety of products with the self-designed Shiba cartoons printed on, such as T-shirts, key chains and floor mats, and set up a webpage with the help of her friends. In only three months’ time, the sales hit HK$400,000. At first, Wing and DC only took online orders as they were working full-time. It was until the couple found it difficult to juggle their day jobs with product creation that they decided to resign and focus on developing their brand. “We have received inquiries from the Netherlands, asking for the contact details of our manufacturer. We did not share the information with them, but we later found similar products available in the Dutch market,” said Wing. From then on, Wing recognised the importance of protecting their intellectual properties. They engaged professionals to help register trademarks overseas, despite paying a considerable amount for application, intending to sustain the business.
A journey of building local and building better
Taking the advice from friends that online stores often struggle to sustain, Wing and DC shifted their focus back to the local market after they saw a decline in their international online sales. Since then, SHIBAinc has been participating in local expos actively to expand its business network. The first SHIBAinc pop-up store was set up at downtown Kwun Tong in 2016, with the help of a shared space owner whom Wing and DC came into contact at one of the exhibitions they attended. SHIBAinc’s brand awareness continued to grow; eventually, the brand began to receive invitations to place its products in retail stores and MTR shops. Wing and DC were overjoyed at the satisfactory sales achieved. In 2017, SHIBAinc joined the Hong Kong International Licensing Show as an exhibitor and connected with brands around the globe. This experience offered an opportunity for the brand to expand its business scope through licensing, with which a greater variety of merchandise can be created, such as pocket tissues and apparel items. As SHIBAinc continues to diversify, Wing started enriching the brand story and the character storylines, which are later published as picture books and other printed materials. These intriguing references have made it easier for Wing to pitch SHIBAinc’s brand story and characters to potential partners.
Now, SHIBAinc’s products are on the shelves of retail stores such as bookshops and select shops, as well as in tourism areas, like the Hong Kong International Airport and Ngong Ping 360. The brand also licenses local shopping malls the right to use the Shiba characters and the merchandise in promotion campaigns. Setting their sights on overseas markets, SHIBAinc also joined hands with a leading health and beauty chain in Asia, further promoting the Shiba products in the flagship brand’s retail stores across Southeast Asia.
Apparel items licensed by SHIBAinc are on display in department stores.
Yan Oi Tong’s charity walk in 2018 is another licensed project of SHIBAinc.
In 2020, SHIBAinc was awarded the Best Hong Kong Property Award.
SHIBAinc attending an IP expo held outside Hong Kong.
Licensors stay optimistic about IP market outlook
SHIBAinc registered a trademark in Hong Kong as early as it started expanding in the local market. It also applied for trademarks in mainland China as their products are manufactured there. Wing is positive about the mainland’s vast market but has yet to gather enough information to make the next move. She wants to connect with potential partners in the mainland by participating in business exhibitions. After cross-border travel has resumed, she plans to visit the mainland to research into their expansion strategies into the market. There is also a chance that SHIBAinc will develop more products and further expand its licensing business.
Capture latest market trends at BIP Asia Forum
Co-organised by the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong Trade Development Council and Hong Kong Design Centre, Business of IP Asia Forum (BIP Asia Forum) will be held from 2 – 3 December, 2021. The forum will bring together global IP leaders in the public services sector, the business world, academia and the legal profession. The two-day event will deliver fruitful discussions where IP professionals will share know-how on protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights and cover rising trends such as introducing IP merchandises into the Greater Bay Area. Forum participants can further enhance their knowledge in intellectual property rights by joining the IP Training Programme, which welcomes legal professionals and IP experts as star instructors.