How Samsonite Remained a Major Name in Travel Since 1910
May 25, 2018
Subrata Dutta, President of Asia Pacific and the Middle East in Samsonite International S.A. shares why the brand is the go-to name in the luggage industry.
Samsonite International S.A was founded by Jesse Shwayder in 1910, in Denver, Colorado as a trunk manufacturing company. Since the introduction of the core brand Samsonite® in 1941, Samsonite® has been known as a major name in luggage. In the last century, the brand has introduced and developed innovations within the travel industry, establishing trends that all brands now follow. “Today everyone talks about innovation, but Samsonite has been into innovation ever since the company started,” says Subrata Dutta, Samsonite International S.A’s President of Asia Pacific and Middle East. “If you think of anything new in bags, like plastic bags, bags on wheels, bags on four wheels, bags with a pull handle…every innovation came from Samsonite.”
Along with Samsonite®, other brands in the group include Tumi®, American Tourister®, Hartmann®, High Sierra®, Gregory®, Speck®, Lipault® and Kamiliant®. Each brand has a piece of luggage that suits everyone, in whatever stage of life they happen to be in, be it a traveling statesman, a college student flying back home, or a young family going on vacation. “Depending on the requirement, one needs different bags,” says Mr. Dutta. “Our brands always have a solution. if Samsonite does not have the solution, American Tourister does, if American Tourister doesn’t, then Kamiliant does.”
The current point of conversation in the luggage industry is the introduction of so-called smart bags: suitcases with an attached battery pack for charging. “When we come up with develpment and innovation, we are very careful that it should be practical, and that it should make sense,” says Mr. Dutta, bringing up a point of contention with smart bags. “Recently there has been news that you cannot check in any bag with an attached device like a battery. You have to manually take it out. We don’t want to come up with a solution that makes it more cumbersome, because we should be taking away the difficulty of travel.” he says. Instead of fancy gimmicks like bags that roll by themselves next to their owners, Samsonite has turned their eyes to solar charged backpacks, perfect for backpackers who like to take on their journey by foot. “We have to constantly make sure that our innovation doesn’t just make us happy, but makes the customer happy,” he says.
Mr. Dutta says the company is a champion of big ideas. “We have a huge number of people who work without a budget limit. If the idea is big enough, the budget is unlimited,” he says. He brings up Samsonite’s game-changing suitcase, the Cosmolite. “Before we launched, it used to be acceptable to have a bag that would weight around the 4kg mark. But when we developed this we came up with a bag that suddenly was 1.8 kgs, at less than half the original weight. And that’s the game changer. We could do it because we were willing to put in whatever money was required to be put in for research.”
Along with unlimited innovation, Mr. Dutta believes customer care is a big reason as to why the Samsonite name carries such a big impact. “At a very practical level, it’s because we have a presence in more than a 100 countries. Our warranty, our service extends more than a 100 countries,” he says. “ A person buying a bag in Manila will be able to get the bag serviced in Tanzania or Kenya.” This cushion for customers is a very big thing. “ So many times it’s happened that a person travelling in a different country has forgotten the combination lock number, and comes to a Samsonite service center and has it serviced.”
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Rediscover and Reinvention
A brand that’s been around for more than a century, Samsonite wants to ensure they remaine at the forefront of the industry. “Our big advantage is we are more than 100 years old. Our biggest disadvantage can be that if we remain a hundred years old,” he says. An attractive image for legacy brands is being labelled “heritage” but Mr. Dutta points out the downfall to that: “Everyone likes heritage, but no one likes ancient.” Therefore, decisions are guided with the idea that they remain heritage, with a modern touch.
One way of doing this is making sure the team is comprised of people from different age groups: “I’m very concious, I’m 50-years-old and I may run the risk of losing sight of what younger people are thinking of. So we as a company must have a tendency to learn,” he admits, candidly. “I spend a lot of time learning. I learn from my team members. I ensure that I’m surrounded by people who are able to teach me, who are better than me in their jobs and constantly learn.” This means a constant balance is maintained between younger, contemporary-leaning customers and older travelers who like the look of traditional luggage. “We are also concious we cannot become irrelevant for the other section of our customer base that would like something more serious perhaps,” he says, pointing out the downfall of many a brand that has decided to forgo their identity for social media cachet.
One example of combining the traditional is the Vintage Collection for Samsonite Black, inspired by the old steamer trunks of yesteryear. “When I was younger and travelling, there used to be the concept of the trunk. Without wheels, with only a handle. With bags like Samsonite, trunks died a natural death. But we bought back the trunk in a modern way. And people were happy to use it.”
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The Future of Travel
As a world-traveler himself, Mr. Dutta has acquired a few life-long tips along the way. On the question of folding vs. rolling, his preferences lean to folding. “I’ve seen that maybe men tend to fold their clothes a little more while women tend to roll,” he says. He considers himself a very good packer, a trait he has passed on to his children. “My children really want to stuff their bags when they go to college,” he says.
He foresees a big future for Samsonite, and for travel in general. “Travel is never going to stop. Even during the most difficult times, people will travel. That is one business that will everyone will go use, and we are lucky we are in a good business to be in. As long as Samsonite prioritizes the customer, they will always remain top of the line. “People take us as the only name for bags. Therefore our responsibility is that much greater, and we have to deliver in line with the expectation of the customer.”