Luggage brands pack in younger customers, brighter colours

Sravanthi Challapalli Vinay Kamath Chennai | Updated on July 20, 2011 Published on July 20, 2011


Backpacks are coming into their own

As a student in the UK a few years ago, Althaf Harris was foxed when he saw nattily-dressed business executives in expensive suits carrying backpacks to work. That trend has come to India too, where working adults, especially men, seem to increasingly make the backpack their bag of choice to work. Laptops and long commutes to work has made the backpack de rigueur.

Mr Harris, Director at Witco, the Chennai-based luggage retail chain, says even though the backpack has evolved he has had to separate backpacks from schoolbags at the Witco stores to overcome the mindset that both are one.

Backpacks are coming into their own. They are not as casual as three years ago and ‘professional' ones are priced as much as Rs 3,000-3,500, made of hardy ‘ballistic' nylon. Witco sells its own laptop backpacks which come with wheels and a cover for the wheels so that the user's shirt doesn't get dirty when he straps it on. There are leather backpacks as well, and only a select group of buyers goes for them, says Mr V. P. Harris, Managing Director, Witco.

Personal works

Chatting with Business Line on trends in the luggage market, he said women's handbags have grown “quite a bit”. Witco stocks brands priced between Rs 800 and Rs 4,000. In fact, the personal products segment, comprising a range of bags, backpacks, portfolios, belts, wallets and other accessories, accounts for 50 per cent of Witco's sales.

Not so black and blue

Buying luggage is no longer humdrum and is attracting a younger customer. “Luggage is moving from black, blue and grey to purple and green,” says Mr Althaf Harris, adding that this is true of the Rs 3,000-Rs 6,000 segment. In the higher-priced segments, marketers are still playing safe with the colours. Also, four-wheel suitcases are now available for greater user comfort. Witco even sells a scale to weigh luggage as well as a vanity purse hook for women – it can be used on tables to suspend the handbag from, and obviates the necessity to place the bag on the floor or on one's lap.

The luggage market picked up 20 per cent last year but that was a return to pre-slowdown levels, Mr V. P. Harris said. The growth this year has not been as much. Witco's eponymous store brand accounts for 35 per cent of luggage sales in the stores. Present in the mid-segment and premium ranges, it is priced between Rs 3,000 and Rs 7,000 (taking cabin baggage as standard.) Across categories, the other brands that Witco sells are Samsonite, VIP, American Tourister, Carlton, Case Logic, Nike, Fastrack and Fiorelli.

Witco has also launched a travel tips campaign in print and on bus panels. Mr Harris says the campaign helped Witco do better than other retail businesses such as apparel, electronics and general merchandise. Having focused on its store brands so far, Witco is now looking at franchising its stores. It may expand in Bangalore where it has one store. Apart from seven stores in Chennai, it has five stores in Kerala, in Kochi and Kozhikode.

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Published on July 20, 2011
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