Four floors of fun await visitors to M&M’S World in Las Vegas.First, there’s the giant wall of M&M’S Chocolate Candies that allows shoppers to mix and match 22 colors. Then there’s the full-size replica of NASCAR driver Kyle Busch’s No. 18 M&M’S car, which is sure to attract racing enthusiasts. That’s not to mention the countless racks and shelves full of M&M’S brand merchandise, from apparel (t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, onesies) and accessories (jewelry, backpacks, lunch bags, umbrellas) to candy dispensers and containers of all shapes and sizes, as well as culinary supplies (potholders, cookie jars, aprons).
For die-hard fans of the brand, the store has a designated area of collectible items. Among the most noteworthy is an M&M’S guitar with characters painted on the front that retails for $275. There’s also a chessboard featuring hand-painted M&M’S figurines for $195. Last but not least is a $3,000 leather jacket featuring hand-sewn Swarovski crystal M&M’S.
Needless to say, “we’re not a typical clothing retailer,” notes Jessica Ruttman, associate marketing manager, licensing, Mars Retail Group. No kidding. “Who’s your candy?” one t-shirt asks. “Viva M&M’S,” an Elvis-themed item reads.
Upstairs, movie buffs of all ages can settle in for a short 3-D film - “I Lost My ‘M’ in VEGAS,” starring famed M&M’S characters Red and Yellow. Theatergoers are greeted at the entrance by the entire cast of Chocolate Candies, including Orange, Blue and the sassy Ms. Green. They’re also treated to playful promotional posters for fictitious film releases, including “Saturday Night Candy” and “The ‘M’ Father.” That’s after they stroll through an amusement park-like walkway that creatively showcases how M&M’S are made, leaving consumers with “a sense of wonder,” Ruttman says.
Yes, as its tagline asserts, M&M’s World offers “so much more than candy.”
The 28,000-sq.-ft. store on Las Vegas Boulevard bustles with customers year-round, but is especially busy between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m and on weekends, Ruttman says. Spring break, Christmastime and summer garner the most traffic, she adds. (Store hours are 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday-Thursday, and 9 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday.)
“Most people will at least visit the first floor,” Ruttman says. But why stop there? There’s so much more to see, it’s hard to imagine not taking a ride up the escalator to the second, third and fourth levels. Along the way, shoppers can check out a wall mural detailing the evolution of the now beloved M&M’S characters; the timeline runs from 1954 (when the characters were in black and white) to 1967 (when they came into color) to present day.
Over the years, M&M’S has become an international brand, one that spans the globe. But it got its start in the United States, both as a manufacturer and retailer.
Worlds ApartThis year, M&M’s World Las Vegas celebrated its 12th anniversary. It was the first of three locations to open in America. In 2005, a second store made its debut in Orlando, followed by a third in New York in 2006. (A smaller storefront exists at Mars Retail Groups’ offices in Henderson, Nev., which also is home to the Mars-owned Ethel’s Chocolate; see this month’s Sweet Talk for details.)
One feature all three share is the aforementioned M&M’S My Color wall, which is the most popular area of the store, Ruttman says. Although consumers can purchase pre-packaged M&M’S Chocolate Candies as well as M&M’S Premiums on the premises, the bulk option is definitely the highlight. There, shoppers can create their own custom mixes. Color choices range from the everyday shades people know and love to hues such as cream, light blue, light purple, aqua, electric green, teal, maroon and silver. Miniature M&M’S are available, too.
But the similarities don’t end there.
Licensed to ThriveThe majority of products found at M&M’S World are made specifically for the store, but licensed products help drive business, too. In Vegas, this means categories such as games and NASCAR, for sure. Nationally, item categories include apparel, accessories, novelty, collectibles, housewares, toys, electronics, stationery, automotive, pet and sporting goods, to name a few.
Limited-edition items at M&M’S World include those in the “from trash to treasure program” of recycled products produced by Mitz from old Mars product wrappers, including purses and wallets of all sizes.
“Each one is unique,” Ruttman notes.
Proceeds from sales of the environmentally friendly handbag line benefit the artisans in San Paolo, Mexico, who hand-make them.
Mars recently announced its partnership with a licensee that will offer a higher-end line of sustainable bags, too. Products from eco-fashion accessories manufacturer Ecoist will be made from obsolete candy wrappers and other packaging misprints from Mars brands such as M&M’S, SKITTLES, TWIX, SNICKERS and STARBURST. According to Mars, the joint venture will prevent more than five million candy wrappers from going to landfills during the first year of production. Prices will range from $22 to $158. The Ecoist line will be and online at www.ecoist.com and in middle- to high-end department stores, gift stores, lifestyle stores and boutiques.
Diverse distribution channels also are destined for products from another “green” licensee: Terra Cycle. The company soon will make consumer goods from repurposed surplus and used packaging from more than 20 Mars brands, including Wrigley and Seeds of Change. Items will include cell phone holders, laptop sleeves and messenger bags. And they’ll be available at stores nationwide as part of Mars’ larger-scale branding initiative.
The Power of OneMars Retail Group, which runs all M&M’S World locations, has revamped its licensing program in a big way, Ruttman notes. Three years ago, Mars had just 12 licensees; it currently boasts more than 50. As part of its recently established One Voice program, the company is bringing together multiple vendors to create forward-thinking partnerships that are meant to last … and grow.
As noted by John Capizzi, general manager, licensing, Mars Retail Group, “Our brand exposure has grown exponentially as we’ve increased the number of Mars licensees … We offer licensees a ‘One Voice Strategy’ as we team them with Mars’ Snackfood, Petcare and Food divisions. Together, we can design a unique in-store display with items ranging from novelties and gifts to candy, toys and apparel at virtually any price points.”
For example, Mars recently added three new licensees, including Candy-Scents, Inc., a division of ROK Imports, which will manufacture candy-themed air fresheners designed for a variety of uses, from bedrooms to automobiles to gym lockers. Products will feature M&M’S characters and emit popular scents such as French Vanilla, Piña Colada and Coconut. The air fresheners will be sold in all distribution channels, including automotive, convenience, drug and grocery; the first retailer will be Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Meanwhile, The Hillman Group will produce customized house keys featuring the M&M’S brand. Future items may include lanyards and key chains. The Hillman Group sells to hardware stores, home centers, pet suppliers, mass merchants and other retail outlets primarily in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and South America, and its portfolio includes more than 21,000 stores, including Ace Hardware, True Value, Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Tractor Supply, Walmart, Menard’s and Do it Best Corp.
Although licensees have their own marketing and sales teams, Mars offers assistance in order to create a synergy between the two companies, Ruttman says.
But it’s not just Mars brands and licensees that benefit from product partnerships. As mentioned here, retailers at every level can participate in One Voice.
Retail OpportunitiesMeijer is one of several chains currently working through Mars’ Once Voice initiative to bring the M&M’S World concept to mainstream America. For example, the store recently ran a promotion where consumers could purchase Maxell Electronics’ new M&M’S Ear Buds and receive a free king-size bag of M&M’S Chocolate Candies, a deal that further benefited both sides of Mars’ licensee relationship. (Maxell also is coming out with an M&M’S brand MP3 player.)
In August, Kroger offered a collection of M&M’S brand licensed products for back-to-school in select store locations. S.R.I designed the 4-ft. display, which included apparel, loungewear and kitchen/home products. And for the holiday season, the retailer is showcasing a 4-ft. section with kids’ supersize tees, 2-piece play sets, large character plush items, tins, candy PVC coin purses, M&M’S character face socks, M&M’S toe socks and supersize mugs. Kroger also plans on doing a holiday-themed display featuring M&M’S brand tins, coin purses and mugs.
Others taking advantage of One Voice initiative are the following:
• Lowe’s, which is selling lawn inflatables that light up, from licensee Gemmy Industries
• Albertsons, which is offering porch greeters for the holidays
• Meijer, which is showcasing indoor plush inflatables
• Kmart, which is selling mini military Jeeps containing candy, from licensee CandyRific
• Target and Walgreens, which sold Halloween-themed M&M’S candy fans from licensee CandyRific
Although M&M’S World is a great launching pad for new merchandise, Ruttman notes, Mars wants to bring that experience to other retailers, too.
And that means bringing the retail experience to the consumer. After all, in the end, it’s Mars fans who benefit from One Voice, whether it’s at M&M’S World or their local retailer.
As Ruttman puts it, “Our products give consumers another way to experience the brand.”
And it’s that sense of wonder that keeps them coming back for more.
Editor’s Note: Potential Mars licensees should contact Debi Rosenfeld, senior manager, consumer products licensing, Mars Retail Group, at Debora.firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-702-547-0779. Retailers interested in Mars’ One Voice program should contact Kimberly Barger, licensing retail sales manager, Mars Retail Group, at 1-941-697- 9458 or email@example.com.
Sidebar: In the M ZoneSports-minded M&M’S aficionados (especially those residing in the northeast) no doubt are enjoying one of Mars’ latest partnerships.
This season, the New Jersey NETS NBA program named M&M’S the Official Candy of NETS Basketball. As such, Mars has signage throughout the IZOD Center (the NETS’ home court), including a permanent backlit sign on the main concourse, which is seen by more than 2.5 million people every year. In addition, Mars products are sold in concession stands throughout the stadium.
Mars also has an M Zone merchandise stand resembling a miniature M&M’S World by Gate D on the main concourse, featuring apparel, novelties and plush items as well as customized MY M&M’S Chocolate Candies in NETS team colors. The store will stay open during all IZOD Center events, pending any promoter restrictions.