As travel took a downturn last year, innovative luggage retailers like Tumi took the opportunity to get creative and find new ways of connecting with customers. Here, vice president of Tumi Asia Pacific and Middle East Adam Hershman discusses how the luxury brand navigated Covid and its plans for the future. Inside Retail: Can you give me an overview of Tumi? Adam Hershman: Tumi was started in 1975 by an American entrepreneur called Charlie Clifford, and it really started selling premium tr
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ium travel lifestyle products. Today, we’re not a whole lot different in terms of our mission and brand values. We create premium accessories that are travel-inspired, high performance, innovative — accessories for the world’s highest achievers. That’s how we navigate our brand and with those core principles and foundation, it’s still very much in how we make products and communicate. Our roots are very much in travel and the entrepreneurial spirit that the founder had when he started the company many years ago. We’re probably most famous for our ballistic nylon material that has been used in military applications, like bulletproof vests and other protective elements. We have the kind of spirit where we take inspiration from other industries, innovate and apply it to our products. One of the things that makes Tumi exciting is it exists at the crossroads of performance, functionality and design and it combines those three elements in every product. It looks terrific, it performs at the highest standard and it has incredible function and it keeps evolving. IR: Given the climate, how was Tumi navigated the current travel retail landscape? AH: Obviously movement and how we all travel changed significantly last year. As a brand, we’re constantly evolving, so we’ve alway been able to build our brand and products in parallel with our customers, their circumstances, environments and how they evolve. It’s something we’ve always been good at doing. Because we’re such an innovative brand, we’re always moving forward, learning and finding the right places to push the boundaries. It’s very much part of our DNA, from the product to the customer experience side, so we were prepared to navigate [the pandemic]. As travel changed last year, we were well-prepared from the customer experience side. We had invested over the years in digital competencies and online-to-offline capabilities. It’s something we’d invested in for many years, so it was more of an acceleration that took place when the pandemic hit. We were really able to accelerate that channel and the digital experiences to meet the customer where they were, given it was difficult for them to get to a physical environment. Many years ago, we had really evolved our product assortment to be much broader than when the company first started. Everyday bags and accessories are now a core part of our offering and have been for a very long time. We have a developed offering in terms of backpacks, wallets, cross-body and slingpacks, so [before Covid], we were well-positioned to accommodate that change when people began caring more about shorter trips or the day-to-day experience. The continuous pursuit of evolving with our customers is what enabled us to be well-prepared. I spend a lot of time talking to people in our stores and really observing them. We’re optimising their day-to-day movements. At the moment, there’s a trend around the fanny pack — it’s all about downsizing. In the past, you might have carried lots of things with you every day but now, you might not need a big wallet, you might only need your phone, a tablet and you can carry everything in a sling. You might want quick accessibility to that sling that sits on your chest and back. They‘re things we talk about all the time — meeting customers where their needs are. IR: How has Tumi created an O2O environment for customers and how has the importance of it changed since Covid? AH: We have been investing in our digital footprint and expanding our O2O capability for a number of years now. Our goal is to be wherever our customer is and to expand the ways we connect to and service our community. We started off by elevating our websites and introducing e-commerce layers across the region. We integrated Chat and Shop functions into the website in order to improve customer interaction and experience. At the same time, we strengthened our CRM systems, pooling together our physical store data with that of our e-commerce stores for better customer loyalty and service management. In the second phase, we introduced digital terminals to some of our physical stores to allow customers to browse and order products or colours that are not in stock and have them delivered to their homes. This allowed us to further streamline our store stock keeping and merchandising. It also meant that we can allocate more square footage in the store to experiential activations and brand immersion rather than for stock. We also offer fast home delivery from our physical stores even for in-stock products, which is especially useful for larger items. Finally, we wanted to bridge the gap between the physical store experience and the e-commerce approach by creating a new digital environment that recreates the physical store experience — and makes it better. Our virtual store gives our customers the best of Tumi in their pockets: product, interactive content and social engagement. From the familiar, visual shopping interface to being able to interact with products via 3D dynamics and augmented reality, the shopping experience is greatly enhanced and made much more visceral. We also built-on some entertainment through our Magic Mirror video selfie function and a linked Instagram and WeChat-based adventure game. The Chat and Shop function is also there, which allows the customers to quickly connect to a Tumi associate to ask questions about a product or to purchase. You can visit our store here: virtualstore.tumi-asia.com. The rise of the pandemic in early 2020 underlined the importance of O2O for retailers. As customers started spending a lot more time online, retailers needed to make sure that this transition was seamless and that customers experienced the same levels of service. The behind the scenes connectivity between the various customer service points is paramount, and the ability to utilise customer data via all brand channels (wherever the customer is) is critical to retail success. IR: In the past year, more retailers have experimented with AR and VR with mixed results. What do you think is needed for it to work? AH: Personally, I’ve seen some really cool usages of these technologies. If you look at the footwear, eyewear or beauty industries, a lot of these folks have found very cool ways of helping customers to make their choices, determining their best size, shape, colour. They’re very consumer-centric solutions that add value to the experience. In the same way that products need to have a value-add, serve a purpose or solve a problem, [delivering] good experiences [is about] doing the same thing. IR: During your career, you’ve worked with some great brands including Christian Dior, Bulgari and Coach. If we look at the luxury market, what are your thoughts on how the sector has evolved in your time? AH: When I started in Asia, it was all about exclusivity, status and at the time, a bit of logo mania. In the past few years, there’s been a significant movement to brand and consumer values as a driving factor and people are really buying with more intention than ever before. They want to buy into a brand and community that represents their own values or something they connect with. That’s something that will lead us into the future of luxury consumption. To do that, brands have to be more focused on the how’s and what’s of their storytelling narrative, so they can keep consumers engaged and maintain their relevance. At Tumi, we’ve adopted new ways of communicating that message, like our digital activations and the virtual store, but our message remains very much the same. Sustainability and digitalisation are all grounded in our core values, so when consumers see those communications from us, they feel it’s authentic. One of the other dynamics that’s emerged is that you need to keep up with the customer and marketplace, which is so rapidly evolving and at the same time, keep your brand authentic and stick to who you are. You’re constantly balancing your brand values and relevancy. The other dynamic is now you see multiple generations participating [in luxury retail]. It’s not just about the younger people, you now have a broad base of age groups, so you’re in a situation where you have to stay true to your brand values, but you’re communicating to folks who have different preferences around how they like to be communicated and what relevance means to them. We’re lucky we have a brand that’s inclusive of all generations because we’re very focused on performance, functionality and design. That focus allows us to be across generations and extend into different categories as we have over the years. IR: I feel like in the past, the luggage sector was dominated by some major brands, but in the past few years, there’s been new innovation and smaller brands entering the category. What are your thoughts on that? AH: Generally, there’s been a lot of attention in recent years on the luggage and travel industry, more than ever before. There have been lots of new ideas, I think it’s great. I think luggage used to be considered a black or red coloured box that came out of your closet a few times a year, maybe it had wheels, maybe it didn’t. It really has evolved into something that is now appreciated for its technical and functional utility, but moreso, what you’re seeing now is people are appreciating it as a fashion and lifestyle accessory. They appreciate both the function and style of luggage. The interest in the category is exciting and it gives our brand an opportunity to create and bring solutions that are more relevant to the consumer. As you stroll through the virtual store, take a look at our 19-degree polycarbonate line. It’s a product that combines a lot of innovation that really comes from the evolving consumer needs — it’s lightweight, it has expansion, [an additional USB port] and we have incorporated a really premium, elegant design to the exterior. It’s almost like a piece of art. IR: What are Tumi’s plans for 2021? AH: Last month, we unveiled a new collection designed and developed in partnership with luxury supercar maker and Formula 1 team, McLaren. We are always inspired by innovative industries and McLaren is one of those brands that is exceptional at embedding cutting-edge technology in products with a clear design aesthetic. This is something that we have in common and you can see our mutual ethos reflected in the considered details and choice of materials in this nine-piece range. The response so far has been terrific! We recently updated our Virtual Store to showcase the collection and one highlight is a full 3D model of the McLaren F1 car on display in the middle of the store. You can also click through to experience our Instagram-based racing game now featuring a McLaren F1 car. This collection is just the beginning of our multi-year partnership with McLaren and we will be unveiling exciting activations for our customers to participate in over the coming months. We also just launched our first-ever pro-level esports line of bags and accessories. The design team worked with industry experts and esports athletes to develop gear that will help them fuel world-class gaming performance. The collection has four bags designed with sustainable materials and featuring all the functionality and protection that pro gamers and gaming enthusiasts need. This collection is part of our foray into esports that started with a collaboration with One Championship in late 2019 and that welcomes in a new client base for Tumi. Finally, we are extending our collaboration with One Championship by participating in reality TV show The Apprentice: One Championship Edition which started airing last month. Tumi features throughout the series but we had a special Tumi challenge which aired during episode eight. The show is an opportunity for us to share some of our brand building, business and creative expertise and help mentor these bright young minds. It is about inspiring confidence and relentlessly striving for achievement. It was a pleasure having the opportunity to coach such a motivated and excited group of people. Mentorship is something we treasure at Tumi — helping people evolve just as our brand and products do. It is a key value for us. This was originally published in the Asian Retail Outlook, sponsored by Salesforce. To download the report, click here.