As the pandemic brought global travel to a grinding halt, it also decimated demand for new luggage.
The effects are being felt across the board, from the world’s largest travel luggage company, Samsonite International, to Away, a popular millennial direct-to-consumer luggage brand.
The drop in travel, plus a steep pullback in consumer spending on discretionary items, sent luggage sales tumbling 80% in April, according to an NPD report released this week.
“It’s like somebody turned off the light switch,” said Richard Krulik, CEO of upscale luggage brand Briggs & Riley, whose sales are down more than 50% since mid-March.
Luggage sales were a bright spot before the pandemic hit, thanks to the growth in business and leisure travel, said Beth Goldstein, an accessories and footwear industry analyst with market research firm NPD Group.
Goldstein said the industry turbulence started earlier in the year when China, a major manufacturer of luggage products, shut factories for an extended period after the New Year due to the coronavirus outbreak there.
So luggage companies were already dealing with production and supply chain delays when coronavirus became a global pandemic. “That’s when demand for luggage completely shut down,” said Goldstein.
With the luggage market already saturated with many brands, she said a protracted demand slump could mean some of the smaller brands “will not get through this.”
Samsonite, whose portfolio includes its namesake products in addition to brands names such as Tumi and Hartmann, said its net global sales tumbled 80% in April compared to the same period a year ago.
That dramatic sales plunge has forced Samsonite to lay off or furlough employees and close stores.
Away, which most recently was valued at $1.4 billion in its latest funding round, is also struggling.
In a post on Medium last month, company founders Steph Korey and Jen Rubio disclosed a more dire situation, saying sales of Away products had dropped over 90% in recent weeks.
“It is not only hard to do business during a global pandemic — for us, it is nearly impossible to continue our mission of transforming travel when travel has come to a halt,” they wrote.
Away has furloughed nearly half of its team and laid off another 10%. “This was a devastating decision and one we considered only as a last resort,” they wrote.
The problems don’t end there. Goldstein said luggage companies will now be stuck with a lot of excess inventory. “We could see more discounting happen in the category and some inventory may start to appear at off-price retail channels,” she said. That could hurt profits in the long term.
Retailers are also hurting from the drop-off in demand. The Luggage Shop in Lubbock, Texas carries a large selection of name brands, including Samsonite, Tumi and Briggs & Riley.
“We are the only luggage shop in town,” said Tiffany Williams, whose family has owned the store since 1951.
Williams temporarily closed her store on March 23. Although it now offers curbside pickup, she said April sales fell by 90% “compared to what we normally do in the month when people buy luggage for spring break or their summer travel.”
She’s worried about her unsold inventory. “We’re sitting on a lot of it,” she said. Williams recently launched a website for her store to see if she could get some sales traction that way.
Once travel restrictions begin to ease, Williams is doubtful that will translate to a big surge in air travel. “People might just be more comfortable doing road trips instead, but you don’t really think about buying new luggage when you travel by car,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t know when we’ll sell luggage again.”