One of the defining points of outdoor specialty retail is that it is where customers can go to discover what’s truly new. Local shop owners are the ones who often take the risk to bring in a small, start-up brand, differentiating themselves from the big boys. In this reoccurring series, SNEWS will identify and highlight the new kids on the outdoor block vying for a place on those shelves.
Nick Welihozkiy, an All-American hammer thrower and an early LinkedIn employee, didn't let business travel interrupt his training for the Olympics, but he found packing for such different tasks to be a big hassle. After failed attempts to plastic wrap and Velcro his gear into a travel-friendly bundle, he bought a sewing machine.
Late-night sewing sessions and field trips expanded his vision for a bag that could adapt on the fly. He added carabineers, removable panels, and heavier webbing to the compression travel bag and after more than 50 prototypes, had a companion bag he could re-configure into six different shapes: the Wrascal Carrier (MSRP $129).
"If you're spending good money on something, you want it do a lot for you, Welihozkiy said of his patent-pending bag, "I'm trying to be the multi-tool of bags."
Like any good backpacker, Welihozkiy wanted to carry less and expand the utility of the things he did carry; in this case, he targeted the roll-up travel bag. "Why can't it do more? Everything that you're bringing needs to have multiple purposes." He added interior pockets, which acted as a medical kit on his hikes, and brainstormed on different sizes and shapes. Finally, he had the epiphany that expanded the bag's use. "If we change the side panels, the geometric shape of the bag will change."
The Wrascal Carrier's many forms:
>> The Carrier: a flat, two-handled hauler with a listed 400-pound capacity
>> Compression Sack: rolls up a blazer and heavy jacket and cinches tight
>> Slim Tote: fold in half for a laptop or papers
>> Tote: zip-on side panels expand the tote's capacity for a day bag
>> Messenger: a panel swap and shoulder strap changes the bag's style
>> Gym Bag: the circle-sided classic -- with extra-strong handles
The bag includes a sewn-in assembly guide to remind users of the bag's possibilities. Welihozkiy admits there's an initial learning curve to change the Wrascal into a different mode, but even the multiple shapes and structures, which require zip-on side panels, will only take a couple minutes. An interior panel offers pockets and stores unused panels and there's room for add-on pouches and customization using a strap system.
The bag's flexibility depends on the user's needs and to some extent, their imagination. Welihozkiy said on a weekend trip he'll use the compression shape to fit jackets into his suitcase, unpack in a hotel room, use it as a tote while sightseeing, and then as a messenger bag on a day trip. His feedback ranged from military friends using it as a "go bag" to his brother who calls it his "tactical diaper bag."
Welihozkiy sees the Carrier filling a niche for travelers and adventure types with potential to convert more customers once they see it in action. To get the multi-use bag into a market full of specialized bags, he built Wrascal with feedback from early product testers and Silicon Valley contacts. "I've had a really solid support structure of friends and former co-workers," Welihozkiy said. "People have been on-board for three years."
In January, Wrascal showed the bag to retailers to gauge demand and talk logistics with manufacturers. "I didn't become an evangelist until I went on the road," said brand manager Gary McMath of Kaizen Creative Partnership. One phrase they heard repeatedly from retailers was "category opening," meaning unlike specialized bags, the Carrier fit into several store sections, McMath said. "By the nature of its design we realized we couldn’t really pigeon-hole it."
Wrascal began sales of its initial run of 1,000 bags on Sept. 30. The first run is selling direct to consumers through it’s website and Amazon, and advertising on social media. McMath said this will measure demand, fund another production round, and generate buzz and feedback.
-- M.T. Elliott
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