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How This Luxury Travel Brand Thrived In The Pandemic

The global health crisis was a huge blow to the business world. Fewer industries were more affected than the travel business. With airlines grounding their planes, borders closed for months on end, and stay-at-home order limiting domestic travel, travel suffered immensely. Yet, luxury luggage brand, Globe-Trotter, thrived at a time when travel was essentially dead.

Globe-Trotter was acquired in 2019 by Vicente Castellano’s private equity firm, Oakley Capital, after a five year chase. Castellano, operating partner at Oakley Capital, recognised the strength of the British luxury luggage maker’s brand, but when he became its executive chairman in March 2020, he likely did not realise just how strong its brand was. Shortly after becoming executive chairman, the Covid-19 pandemic struck, forcing a halt to international travel.

2020 was a tough year for many companies, and it must have been especially tough for a company that was just getting accustomed to a new owner and having had to hire developers to revamp its website. Globe-Trotter’s position was made worse simply because it operated in an industry that was in a kind of coma. Driving revenue growth for a product associated with jet-setting when airplanes were grounded, was like trying to thread the eye of a needle using your feet instead of your hands. Even now, travel is in a difficult place: survey found that only 12% of Americans were planning to travel during the spring break.

Castellano, however, was determined to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat. The Spaniard understood that there were opportunities available in every crisis and that he had to act boldly and decisively to grasp those opportunities, even if, at the start, he had no idea what those opportunities were. Yet, grasp victory he did. By February 2021, Globe-Trotter had outperformed its pre-pandemic revenues. Just because travel is dead, doesn’t mean that people don’t want to buy luxury luggage.

Let’s put Globe-Trotter’s achievement in perspective. The NPD Group, a market research firm based in Port Washington, New York, estimates that luggage sales plunged some 40% in 2020. The broader accessories market had been struggling but luggage had been a strong segment of the market prior to the pandemic. Anyone who spends time on Instagram will know just how popular travel and experiences have become. Companies like Airbnb thrived, dedicating huge sums of money to experiences. Away, the online and storefront luggage and travel accessories retailer, was valued at $1.4 billion in 2019, before revenues tumbled 90% in April 2020. Luggage was one of the hardest hit segments on the planet.

Amidst all this market mayhem, Oakley Capital remained confident that they had made a great acquisition. They didn’t try and renegotiate terms, or get out of the deal all together. Instead, they pushed forward, believing that they had a superior product with a fantastic brand identity. They were so comfortable with their acquisition that they felt it was worth doing even if it meant one horrific year, because the brand was just so strong and they believed that, in the long run, little had changed to alter the economics of the company.

What makes Globe-Trotter’s brand identity so peculiar is that the business’ product has essentially remained unchanged since the Victoria era. That is over a century and a half ago. Many other brands had embraced technology in a big way, with some attaching solar panels and USB chargers onto backpacks and suitcases. Globe-Trotter eschews all of that and has a distinct aesthetic and its products are built to endure. A Globe-Trotter bag sells itself. It’s so beautiful it doesn’t need any spin. When you visit a museum, there’s nobody there to tell you Raphael is beautiful. It just is. That’s Globe-Trotter. While other luggage makers struggled, Globe-Trotter thrived on the back of its incredible brand identity. 

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