Samsonite goes 'crazy' with eco innovations, spills 110-year secret to staying relevant

More consumers are now expecting brands to be environmentally responsible. Approximately 34% of customers in Asia Pacific are more receptive to retailers who minimise their use of packaging while almost a third are more receptive to retailers who are donating towards environmental causes, according to a research by Adobe and YouGov.?In recent times, to win over the trust of consumers brands such as?Carlsberg, Dove?and L'Oreal have all been playing its part.

Over at the travel retail side, Samsonite has been giving used plastics a new lease of life with Recyclex, a fabric?made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. According to the company, the material is as durable and reliable as its polyester fabric made from virgin materials, but has the added benefit of reducing plastic waste. It is used in Samsonite's soft-sided bags as well as the lining of hard-sided suitcases. Samsonite launched 21 products globally and three Asia-exclusive products with Recyclex last year. Through those items, it recycled approximately 30 million 500ml plastic bottles globally and some 400,000 in Asia alone. All the recycled plastic bottles are collected with the help of Samsonite's partners and are certified by relevant authorities as used.

"As a brand leader, we have to be responsible. We need to lead the way in whatever we do - be it innovation, go-to-market strategies, customer service, or our values," said Satish Peerubandi (pictured), GM of Samsonite Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and Indochina in an interview with Marketing.

In 2019, Samsonite stopped using styrofoam protectors, which are non-biodegradable, in its packaging boxes in Asia. Using cardboard as a replacement, it has since saved?1.2 million pieces of styrofoam used in boxes that are equivalent 20 fully-loaded 40 feet containers. This year, Samsonite also partnered World Wildlife Fund, donating SG$10 to the organisation for every product a consumer buys through its annual trade-in luggage promotion. It donated a total of SG$30,640 over the month-long promotion.

For sustainability to take root in an organisation,?Peerubandi said companies have to think about how they can become more conscious about what is happening around the world at every stage of business planning. He said:

It?s a culture thing. You have to take it seriously. Start believing in it, start living it. It?s not just a one-off event, or a consumer gimmick.


Timeless innovation

Samsonite, which will celebrate its 110th anniversary next year, has seen steady growth despite the current challenging macroeconomic landscape.

Singapore, which?has been growing in double digits for the past three years, is forecast to bring in a 12% increase in revenue this year.

Philippines follows close behind as the second largest market. Malaysia, which comes in third, is one of Samsonite's fastest-growing markets by traffic. The company is on track to meet its three-year target to double the business in Malaysia by this year. Meanwhile, he?is looking to uncover opportunities and open new stores in the up-and-coming Indochina region. Vietnam, for instance, can possibly move from the fourth position to the first two spots over the next three to five years, said?Peerubandi.

On how the brand managed to withstand the test of time,?Peerubandi said Samsonite has made sure its marketing campaigns, product selection, and design direction resonate with consumers at any moment in time. It has invested a lot of time and resources to understand consumers' needs.

Through the years, Samsonite has seen several luggage trends, including the shift from horizontal to vertical suitcases, and the shift from two-wheel to four-wheel suitcases. It has also embarked on some risky innovations with the invention of top-heavy suitcases and Curv collection, its lightest luggage at 1.7kg. He added:

Every innovation sounds a little crazy for the first time, but ours are well thought out and the benefits they bring are far superior.

In Asia, Samsonite has research and development centres in Hong Kong, China and India. Feedback from the retail stores and customers fuelled majority of the innovation, said Peerubandi. While the trends have come and go,?he said the core of what consumers want remain the same -?a suitcase that is reliable, stylish, and durable.

Beyond travel

Little known to many consumers about Samsonite, which is famed for its luggage offerings, is that?40% of its business globally come from "beyond travel" categories such as backpacks, business bags, and products for women.

To spread awareness about its full suite of offerings, it launched an integrated brand campaign globally over August and September for three weeks. Named "Born To Go", the campaign aims to paint a new image for the brand as a solution for people on the move. The campaign will be sustained with tactical executions on digital channels until the end of 2019, with a focus on two key categories -?business laptop backpacks and women products.

Being known as a "masculine" brand,?Peerubandi said the team was initially apprehensive about the launch of women category, but was later encouraged by the positive reception from young female consumers. "It goes to show that the promise of the brand cuts across age groups and genders.?Long shelf life has always been our strength and it?has lent us more credibility," he explained.

To gain more insights into purchasing behaviour across categories and incenvise loyal customers, Samsonite has launched a customer relationship management (CRM) programme in August. The CRM programme includes a tiered, reward-based membership named "Friends of Samsonite".

Moving forward, it aims to equip its retail stores with omni-channel capabilities, starting with its new concept at the newly-revamped Funan Mall. Named Samsonite WorkPack, the retail store predominantly sells small bags, allocating only 10% to suitcases. Customers can collect online purchases at Samsonite WorkPack or browse online via an iPad at the store.?The company, which is currently refining its online-to-offline integration, plans to roll out omni-channel offerings to the rest of the stores in the future.

Currently, eCommerce take up close to 5% of Samsonite's business in Singapore and Malaysia respectively, and about 8% in the Philippines.?Peerubandi estimates the number to grow to at least 10% in the next three years. Samsonite's eCommerce site was recently relaunched on National Day, sporting a more premium look-and-feel and more travel-related content. It also comes with added filters for customers to select products by smart features and eco-friendliness.

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