Briggs & Riley -- No. 1 in specialty luggage -- to enter outdoor travel market in 2010 - SNEWS

Briggs & Riley -- No. 1 in specialty luggage -- to enter outdoor travel market in 2010

A new travel bag company entering the outdoor space thinks it has the wherewithal to go head-to-head with the likes of Eagle Creek and others. And with McGuire at the helm, it certainly can make a strong case.
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A new travel bag company entering the outdoor space thinks it has the wherewithal to go head-to-head with the likes of Eagle Creek and others -- Briggs & Riley Travelware. While there are already numerous brands with varying degrees of market strength in the outdoor specialty travel sector, Briggs & Riley is looking, in time, to replicate its strength as the leading brand at specialty luggage stores in outdoor specialty stores as well. And, the company is banking on an industry veteran to lead it there.

The company just announced it has hired Tim McGuire to the newly created position of director of outdoor retail sales. McGuire's career in the world of adventure travel and luggage began at Adventure 16, where he co-launched the company's Adventure Travel Center around 1986 -- a program that created a travel center in the store and combined that with booking trips through travel partners such as Sobek, etc. From there, McGuire moved to Eagle Creek to help it develop the company's travel guides, and then worked to set up new retail accounts and travel sections in stores. He has also held executive positions at Eastpak, JanSport and, most recently, Nike where he headed up the development of the company's bag and accessories line.

And now, with Briggs & Riley (www.briggs-riley.com), McGuire is working full steam to ensure two new collections will be ready to debut at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2010.

For those who might not know Briggs & Riley, Richard Costa launched the company in 1993 in Half Moon Bay, Calif. It quickly grew to having its own stores and expanded into apparel; however, it stumbled a bit and was acquired out of bankruptcy protection in August 2000 by U.S. Luggage, based in Hauppauge, N.Y. Since then, the company has retooled and rebuilt, maintaining, McGuire told SNEWS, a laser-focus on being the best luggage company in the specialty travel luggage space.

"The company has a terrific business model that makes it a very profitable line for specialty luggage stores," McGuire said. "They do not sell to mass merchants and they do not sell to department stores. Briggs & Riley focus on selling to smaller and regional specialty luggage stores that are experts at what they do."

Aside from various patents and luggage design features the company owns, McGuire said perhaps the biggest statement of success the brand enjoys can be witnessed in its trademarked "Simple As That" guarantee.

"We are focused on maintaining a lifelong relationship with our customers. A big part of maintaining the relationship is by promising to repair any Briggs & Riley bag that is ever broken or damaged, even if it was caused by an airline, free of charge, for the life of the bag," McGuire told us. Customers do have to pay shipping charges if they mail the bag, but incur no costs if the bag is dropped off at an authorized repair center.

So why enter the outdoor space now, in this economic climate? "I look at all the retailers in company directories on the web and over 90 percent of them call out luggage or travel as a classification in their store, so retailers certainly get that luggage and travel can and should be a profitable part of their retail mix," said McGuire. "And I think the time is right, right now, for some new energy and ideas to infuse this classification.

"Briggs recognizes that the adventure travel consumer is asking for quality with meaningful innovation and functionality," McGuire told us. "To be successful, truly successful in this market you have to offer a specific kind of aesthetic and design language that makes the luggage relevant and not just faux outdoor product. It is not just about color blocking and adding some external strapping and calling it outdoor."

McGuire sees Briggs as having a significant advantage over companies that, as he puts it, dabble in the luggage category. "Any company can figure out how to slap a logo onto a bag and the outdoor industry has, to a certain extent, become cluttered with part-time dabblers who ebb and flow with the market. We are going to invest in this category in a significant way, and we just build luggage -- no pens, no apparel, nor any other knickknacks."

He sees strength, too, in the company's target distribution strategy. "Our primary targets from a business growth perspective are smaller, regional specialty retail stores where we can build a solid foundation focused on addressing the specific needs of the adventure traveler. We want to work with stores who are experts at telling travel stories, and have very well-trained staff."

Though he is still working out of his home office, still has yet to build a sales team and, for all practical purposes, still does not yet have a product line to show, McGuire is bullish. "We are committed for the long haul and we know it will take time, patience and discipline, but we also believe the market is very ready for what we have to offer -- bags for a more sophisticated and refined traveler who wants their bags to be strong enough to survive expeditions, and useful enough for everyday vacation and business travel."

--Michael Hodgson

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