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Business case studies: Lollipop animation

Lollipop animation
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In a quiet passageway in the Cambridgeshire cathedral city of Ely Harry Potter jostles for attention with Betty Boop, Sponge Bob Square Pants, Homer Simpson and a whole cast of Mr Men characters. All these familiar faces - and many more from films, TV, books and cartoons - can be found behind the pillar box red door of Lollipop Animation.

The shop and its sister website, lollipopanimation.com, grew out of its founder's obsession with cartoons. Will Marston, 28, was an advertising copywriter in Cambridge when he first realised that he might be able to make money from his hobby.

His passion began at the age of fourteen when he saw the Beatles' animated film, Yellow Submarine. He was desperate to find a still from it but the average price of ¯¿½1,000 was beyond his reach.

Hobby becomes a business

As an adult he started to buy and sell 'bits and bobs' connected with cartoons. One of his first purchases was an original piece of celluloid, or 'cell', from the Pink Panther cartoon. Eventually he realised he might be able to make a living from his hobby.

Celluloid became even more collectible after studios, worried about the cost of insuring highly flammable film, destroyed miles of it in the late 1980s.

But before Marston could become a recognised dealer he needed to win the trust of Hollywood studios.

"I wasn't super-young but it was still difficult to prove I was genuine. They had to make sure I wasn't some kid in his bedroom. After all, everyone says they love cartoons."

He spent hours on the phone tracking down the right person at each film company and then explaining his business to them. The website added to his credibility. It was also a good way to test the water and to receive feedback from customers.

Disney refused to do business with him until he had a 'bricks and mortar gallery' and he decided to open the shop. Now turnover is split 50/50 between the store and the website.

"I occasionally miss the buzz of advertising but the shop is like my office - but with the door open," he says.

Setting up shop

He chose Ely because rents were too high in Cambridge but the space, which had been a card shop for many years, needed a complete make-over.

"It was a nicotine-stained shell with two strip lights. Art needs to be well-lit."

He took advice on how to lay out the store and the smaller, less expensive items are now positioned near the door while the bigger pieces of art hang at the back.

Originally he went for a minimalist look but quickly realised it was a good idea to display as much stock as possible. Now the walls are alive with cartoon figures.

Keeping it in the family

He doesn't employ staff but his parents and brothers help out, although they don't share his exhaustive knowledge of the industry.

His nephew has also helped Marston to keep up with market trends. When the two-year-old become a fan of Pocoyo, an animated cartoon for pre-school children voiced by Stephen Fry, Marston knew it would sell well and his instinct paid off.

He has also learnt that nostalgia plays a key part in selling. The older style illustrations of Paddington Bear, for example, outsell the more recent version by ten to one because customers connect them with their own childhood.

Expansion plans

Although Marston regrets the passing of celluloid he adds that there will always be aspects of animation that fans will want to buy. These might be line drawings of Bugs Bunny made early on in the production stage or original concept drawings, for a computer-animated film.

Lollipop also sells limited edition art, such as scenes from Rupert Bear stories, in which the pictures are hand-painted using the same materials and techniques as the originals.

It has expanded into selling prints by famous artists like Quentin Blake and has bought the licence to prints on paper and canvas of the Wind in the Willows. Lollilop now owns its own printers and framers and Marston hopes to be able to sell to other retailers like John Lewis.

He still doesn't have an image from The Yellow Submarine. But with prices now around ¯¿½1,800 his dream has taken a backseat - for the moment.

See more about Will's business at lollipopanimation.com


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