Listen to customer experiences for the new wave of travelers, localization for global brands, and relationship building and personalization tactics in ecommerce.

Our guest is Charlie Cole, Global Chief eCommerce Officer at Samsonite, Chief Digital Officer at Tumi, and active advisor. Charlie’s experience spans an eclectic mix of start-up, private equity backed, venture based and corporate. Join us as we explore the world’s largest luggage company, customer experiences for the new wave of travelers, localization for global brands, and relationship building and personalization tactics in ecommerce.

Episode 20 of RETHINK Retail was recorded on August 9, 2019

TRANSCRIPTION

Julia Raymond:

Hi, thanks for tuning in. Our guest today represents a household luggage brand that might as well be a proprietary eponym at this point like calling tissues, Kleenex, and that brand is Samsonite. It’s the world’s largest luggage company about 4 billion in sales across a large portfolio of brands, and that includes Samsonite, of course, American Tourister, eBags, Hartmann, High Sierra, Tumi. And with that, I welcome to the show Charlie Cole. He is the Global chief eCommerce officer at Samsonite, Chief Digital Officer at Tumi and active advisor. Charlie, will you first tell us just a little bit about your background and how you came into this role?

Charlie Cole:

Yeah, and thanks Julia for having me on. I’m kind of a dyed in the wool digital guy. I’ve been in some form of digital since I entered the work reality when I was 21 and it started as a digital marketing thing and kind of help build an agency, which was eventually acquired and moved to eCommerce after that. I was actually running eCommerce for Lucky Brand jeans at a very young age, around 26, and have kind of caught the eCommerce bug ever since then and have done a variety of startups. Have done a private equity backed company that was acquired. And now I came to Samsonite by way of when they acquired Tumi. I was the Chief Digital Officer at Tumi. And upon that acquisition it became very clear that we all had a lot to learn from each other because Samsonite was this absolute wholesale powerhouse, that understood how to distribute products and create products better than anyone on earth.

And Tumi was very much a direct to consumer company. And so ultimately my job metamorphosized into what it is today, which is really kind of trying to bring cohesion to all of our digital touch points, whether direct, meaning like a tumi.com or a samsonite.co.jp or indirect like an Alibaba, an Amazon, a jd.com, a MercadoLibre, whatever. And it’s just been a really cool gig because you have, as you said, Julia in the intro, you have the most well-known name in the space is Samsonite and probably three or four of the top 10, in Tumi, American Tourister and eBags. And so being able to use that kind of overall portfolio to grow digitally. And I hate to use the platitude digital transformation, but I really do feel like that’s what our team has led over the last two years. And we still got a ways to go, but it’s been a pretty killer gig.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah, and I love that overview. It’s really interesting to hear that you kind of transitioned just directly from digital marketing to eCommerce at such a young age, managing Lucky Brand. And over the years, how have you seen eCommerce change? Now people are just starting to call it just commerce and there’s connected commerce.

Charlie Cole:

For me, I think that eCommerce evolved in a couple of different ways. At first people kind of put up websites and just had them be an extension of their average store. And I don’t mean to use average in a negative way, but if you sold 10 things in your store, you sold 10 things on your website and that was cool. And then we entered the era of sort of customization and segmentation. With the Nike IDs of the world and product segmentation, now eCommerce became a destination that allowed you to do things that in retail stores would be very, very hard or cost prohibitive. Within the case of a Tumi, we had a lot more skews on our website because frankly luggage can be fairly big. It can take up a lot of square footage. And so to have a 1,200 square foot store, you probably just don’t have the amount of space to showcase every single thing you want to make.

And then over the last call it five years, there’s been this crescendo of eCommerce being completely disrupted by the marketplaces. And I use the word marketplaces or multi-brand retailers fairly interchangeably, but the Amazons and Alibabas of the world have changed what it means to be an eCommerce retailer. And especially has changed what it means to be an effective direct eCommerce retailer. Tumi.com, samsonite.com, we’ve all offered a truly differentiated experience because marketplaces exist on this earth for really one purpose that’s offer everything to everyone at the lowest price possible.

And then they ultimately commoditize everything. To be really special in eCommerce you’ve had to change. But the reality is this. I came from a very analytical background and that’s one thing that hasn’t changed. eCommerce is really an analyst’s dream because of the complete transparency you have to the data pipeline. That was the skillset that I sort of founded my career on. And ultimately it served me really well, but now it’s just kind of thinking about things in the far or idiosyncratic level as it pertains to product segmentation after sales service, customer experience, et cetera. Largely because of the complete emergence of marketplaces dominating the space.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah, and that’s interesting because I was reading some of the interview you had from Maria Driscoll I think about a year ago, and you mentioned just the importance of analytics and data and the fact that the big marketplace players don’t share a lot of that sales data back with the suppliers or brands. And you were kind of wondering, will Alibaba and JD have success compared to Amazon because they do share back that data?

Charlie Cole:

It’s a dream. I never want to sound preachy because look, I’m not opening up my Google Analytics for our partners either. You know what I mean? There is a certain thing for trying to keep your data to yourself because ultimately its competitive advantage. The more I know about a Tumi customer on tumi.com, the better I can serve that person and hopefully I capture that sale. I don’t expect Nordstrom and Macy’s and Kohl’s and all of our best partners to just hand over a login to their Google Analytics. I totally appreciate the opaque nature of some of the data points. But that said, Alibaba, with the work we do with them in China, it darn near is like having Google Analytics for your wholesale channel.

What it allows us to do is we find ourselves being a hell of a lot more aggressive on advertising. We’re much more inclined to give them an exclusive product or work with them specifically on a collaboration for single’s day or whatever it may be. And that’s because we can hold those higher risk, higher investment things accountable. We can make sure that they were worth the money we invested in them. I do think there’s an open question on what’s the right amount of data to share when you’re a marketplace. And obviously I’m biased, I want all of it. But at the same time, what we have seen is we’re much more willing to invest in certain things with Alibaba than other people simply because of that transparency.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah, and it’s probably easier to just go through Alibaba than to do a lot of second party or third party data marketplaces and try to match.

Charlie Cole:

And you hear it from the proverbial horse’s mouth. It’s not like you have any sort of translation or indexing or whatever it may be. They’re a fun partner to work with.

Julia Raymond:

What’s your take on them, now saying that they’re going to let US firms sell globally and in US on their B2B platform? Do you think they’re going to get a lot of traction?

Charlie Cole:

You know, it’s a weird time in America right now, man. Normally, Julia, if I was just kind of evaluating that statement on its merits, I would say yeah, I think most people are looking for points of distribution, are looking for data transparency and Alibaba offers a lot of that. But this kind of Sino-American conflict that’s happening with the trade war in China, I just think any time an American business sees a Chinese brand right now, they’re like, oh my gosh, is this a huge risk to get involved with? Just because the rules are ever changing. The only reason I would doubt its success is really more of kind of the meta environment as opposed to their specific offering.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah. And that makes sense totally. Because there’s just a lot going on right now when it comes to trade war.

Charlie Cole:

There’s a lot of noise man, there’s just a lot of noise.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah, totally. Well back to just more of the travel segment, I guess, I kind of wanted to pick your brain about, what are the travelers today doing that’s different than the travelers from 10, 20 years ago? How is consumer behavior changing?

Charlie Cole:

Well to go back to this meta point, in the last 10 to 20 years you’ve had airlines charge more for baggage and kind of get to the ticky tack charges. To putting stuff below a plane. And so one of the biggest changes has been this real evolution of carry ons and under seaters and travel backpacks, et cetera. That’s one that we’ve been very excited about and we make amazing stuff to help you travel in a much smaller form factor. And the other thing is this sort of interchangeability of backpacks is cool. As somebody who all through my 20s I wore a super fancy messenger bag that I could sling cross body and stuff like that, but able to walk into a boardroom with a backpack and not get side eyed, is a really cool trend that I hope continues. And so, you see some of this stuff that Tumi makes him particular, these backpacks are works of art.

It’s not just like the JanSport that you used to rip when you’re in eighth grade. You know what I mean? This stuff is high quality materials. We’re making stuff in carbon fiber. Samsonite’s making stuff that it has RPET. The backpack has become sort of an accepted business accessory, which personally I am so happy. I think backpacks are so much more comfortable than any sort of briefcase or like that. Those kind of trends are really cool. But the one that we are still talking a lot about and I sort of hate the combination where it’s like, you know what I mean? I don’t like it when we make it Kanye and Kim, Kimye. I’m not about the combination word.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah. Or the word phygital.

Charlie Cole:

Yeah, exactly. But I’m about to use one. First off, let’s fully condemn combination words instantly and now I’m going to use one to be a complete hypocrite.

Julia Raymond:

Let’s hear it.

Charlie Cole:

And that is this idea of bleisure travel. Bleisure travel is this concept of, and I do it all the bloody time, which is I have to go somewhere for business, I’m going to piggyback three, four days on the back of that for fun.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah, I’m doing that next month.

Charlie Cole:

Yeah. You travel to London for work and the work ends on a Thursday, why not hang out in London til Sunday? And have some fun. And so that in itself is an interesting challenge, because I think we all kind of compartmentalize our work and personal lives. We have kind of our suit, our dress down work and our kind of casual and being able to give people the stuff they need to do that stuff effectively is really cool. And it’s also, there’s a lot of tactical nature to it. Being able to help customers understand the value of a packing cube, which I never did before I worked for Tumi and now I can’t live without them. Those kinds of travel trends are the ones that I think are the funnest to play around with in our industry.

Julia Raymond:

I love that. And I do love packing cubes as well. I have discovered them not too long ago.

Charlie Cole:

On my first couple of days at Tumi, the CEO at Tumi at the time, who eventually sold the business to Samsonite, a guy named Jerome Griffith. Jerome was telling me about the wonders of packing cubes and I was kind of making fun of them and I’m like, come on man, I’ve been packing my own suitcase for 10 years and I travel more than anyone I know. And he’s like, just trust me. It’ll change your life. And sure enough, as is usually the case, Jerome was 100% right. And once you go there, you’re like, why did I not do this before? And I’ll tell you one other thing, that is especially true when you have kids. My wife and I have a 15 month old now and this little thing has so much crap and so much stuff. And more importantly everything with a child, it’s essential you get to that thing instantly. If your kid’s crying and you need to find the bottle and the pacifier, boom, you have a certain color packing cube in your carry on. They are the life changing, but especially life changing when you have a child.

Julia Raymond:

Oh yeah. Especially on an airplane. People are turning around looking at you. People without kids that don’t get it.

Charlie Cole:

Yeah, everything has to be instantly valuable. They don’t get it. Exactly right. Get some packing cubes people, do the right thing.

Julia Raymond:

Do the right thing. That’s right. That’s really cool. You said carbon fiber. What is a backpack? What kind of backpack has carbon fiber in it?

Charlie Cole:

It’s a line that we’ve done with Tumi where they basically made this pliable carbon fiber coating that we can put on top of stuff. It is so slick looking. I find the luggage to be gorgeous, but we have a couple of backpacks where they do this coating and if my creative director Victor Sands was on here, he’d talk your ear off on the engineering side. The thing that you got to realize, in this world of marketplaces, in the world of Amazon and Alibaba and frankly it’s really easy to make stuff now. Julia, if you and I kind of decided to start a business together and one of us was like, okay, I’ll go source a factory in China. You could probably source that factory in less than a week even if you had absolutely no idea what you were doing. Just by asking a couple of people the right questions.

And so it’s really easy to make commoditized stuff, but when you start talking to Victor, Tumi and Paul at Samsonite and you actually talk to guys, you realize these dudes are full blown engineers who are making things that you and I can never even fathom. And that’s what I really dig about our brands is that I can look people in the eye, I come with my family in the eye and I’m just like, yeah man, like we make the best stuff on earth. I get to see these factories and I get to see the machines that we literally invented to make this stuff. And it’s a fun challenge as a brand because now of course I say that. I work at the company, of course I say that. Now to actually prove it to consumers in a world where everything is accessible is pretty much our full time job. But it’s sweet to have engineers around us telling us what’s what.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah, that’s really interesting. It reminds me of like an Allbirds. I was listening to a podcast where they were talking about Allbirds and just the crazy amount of research that went into making shoes out of the fur that they were using, sheepskin.

Charlie Cole:

I love that analogy because I know Tim pretty well at Allbirds and the thing you’ve got to appreciate is these guys are not messing around. They believe in their mission and they had to research to accomplish. They’re not just making just another shoe. And if you do it in a genuine way, I think it’s the coolest thing also as a consumer is discover something that is not made just for commercialization. It’s made because people wanted to make the best stuff on earth. And I think Allbirds is the perfect analogy to someone that we love looking at and seeing what they’re doing in their world.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah. Because when I think of carbon fiber, I just think of surfboards or skimboards, whatever those are made of. Really cool to see that you guys have just such quality products because that’s, I guess probably one of the main ways you can stand out in retail.

Charlie Cole:

Yeah. And also to kind of do stuff that people have never done before. You know what I mean? And that’s, it sounds so idealistic or something that everybody of course would want to aspire to. But in the reality we’re doing stuff with materials that people have never really seen. And carbon is one of those ones that I know Victor is particularly stoked to mess around with.

Julia Raymond:

And we’re talking a lot about customers and you probably have a lot that are repeat customers, I would imagine and a lot of really good warranties that you offer that you can’t get through Amazon or any other suppliers. Would you say that the 80/20 rule is kind of the same for Samsonite?

Charlie Cole:

Yeah. Yes, yeah, I think it’s true across most of our brands, but I think, to be perfectly honest, I think our company’s always really been good at telling our story. And I think the place that now we get to have the most fun with is sort of this concept of what the consumers expect from us after they buy a backpack. And it’s this ubiquitous customer experience moniker that people have been throwing around. But for us, the way I always talk about this, Julia is, you’re going to pack a bag, you’re going to pack a suitcase and you’re going to go on travel and one of two things is going to happen. You’re going to have an absolute amazing trip where you completely don’t even think about what’s on your back or in your hand. It’s just doing its job. Or, God forbid, you’re on a rocky street or whatever and you pop a wheel off a suitcase. That right there is our biggest opportunity to be something truly special. Because I would love to…

Julia Raymond:

And that has happened to me and Charlie, let me tell you.

Charlie Cole:

Cobblestones in Europe are brutal, man. And I think for us, that’s what we’re realizing is that look, Amazon is not going to do that for you. But in the reality is, we have physical points of distribution around the world where we are better suited to help you than any other brand on the face of this earth, in the travel area. And for us to be able to accomplish that, and I’ll be very honest, we’re not there yet, but it’s the kind of thing that we’re obsessing over now because we’ve always been very good at making stuff. We’ve been always really good at selling stuff. Now we’re actually asking ourselves a question, what does it mean to be truly customer centric in the year 2020? And I think that’s going to be kind of my fun job over the next year.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah. And so you’re maybe looking into opening new stores or just changing them up?

Charlie Cole:

I think it’s a little bit of both. We’re not opening as many stories as we have in the past just because we are starting to get saturation in certain markets. We’ll have rapid store growth in some areas but not as much in others. But I think it’s more about how can you communicate with us? I would love, Julia, if when you popped a wheel, you could hop on your WhatsApp because that’s the only thing you use when you travel internationally and WhatsApp us directly and we can help solve your problem that same day. That’s the kind of stuff that we need to get better. We need to be kind of completely channel agnostic. But the idea is we need to help you solve your problem wherever you are. And, and I think those are conversations about how do we do that the best that we’re having constantly.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah. Just being super accessible. That’s the kind of world I want to live in.

Charlie Cole:

Yeah. Nobody wants to have that happen. You go to samsonite.com, you’re traveling internationally, you decided to not do a phone plan. It’s the only way you have to talk to us is via data. Oh crap. There’s no options to talk via data. You know what I mean? This is the kind of stuff where consumer expectations are changing because how we communicate changes and how fast we can get things changes. And so I think because of that we should be kind of the leader in adopting whatever customer experience means for our consumers. And it’s something that on our Tumi side, I know Megan on the Tumi side is doing a killer job, kind of leading that charge. And now we’re asking ourselves a question as a larger corporation, what does that need to mean for us?

Julia Raymond:

Well, I love those examples and that sounds really cool. You’re a global brand, so I want to hear from you, how do you deal? Are there things that you’re looking into when it comes to localization? Because I’ve been hearing that a lot is a challenge that retailers face, meeting the customer on their own terms, incorporating local culture, language, customs.

Charlie Cole:

Yeah, we have a bit of an unfair advantage there and I can’t take any credit for it, but part of Samsonite’s culture has been for a long time, this idea of decentralization. Decentralization for us means we don’t manage everything globally in it’s own, some central location. We have offices in Hong Kong, outside of Brussels, in Santiago, Chile, in Mexico City, and Seoul and Tokyo. And so to put that simply, Julia, there’s a little bit of localization in every country we work in. Just because we have these local people who can think about stuff and for us, this decentralization goes beyond just translations and content.

If you think about it, the average height of a guy in Holland is very different than the average height of a guy in Japan and the average height of a guy in Peru and the average height of a guy in Boston. We have to make different backpacks for these people.

Julia Raymond:

I wouldn’t even think of that until you said that.

Charlie Cole:

And so there’s a lot about the decentralized culture that Samsonite has that gives us sort of an unfair advantage in localization, but also it allows us to go beyond localization in just a superficial way. Translations are important, local currencies are important. Local language, customer service is important, but that’s frankly the easy part. The fun part is when you can actually start making products specifically for a market. And that’s something we’re uniquely set up to accomplish.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah. And the fact that you have people there, makes a huge difference. I can definitely see how you have the upper hand.

Charlie Cole:

It helps us learn a lot too. We have kind of seven or eight digital leaders around the world. As we’re sharing our notes from around the world, people are really intrigued, the difference between shopping. I tell a story frequently about when I was in China and I was trying to be the cool guy and buy people coffee. People ordered 10 different coffees and I pulled out my Amex and they kind of shook their head no. I was like, oh no, it’s cool. And I pulled out some of the local currency, the RMB and they shook their head no. And then one of my coworkers kind of sighs and like, ah. And then slaps her phone on Alipay and pays.

Because the idea of mobile payments in the United States is still pretty damn infant. You know what I mean? We really haven’t adopted it. Meanwhile in China they think there’ll be paperless by 2030. It’s just bananas. Those are the kinds of things I don’t think you can know unless you have people on the ground, which is a cooler part of our company.

Julia Raymond:

Wow. I can’t believe that by 2030 totally mobile pay.

Charlie Cole:

Yeah. To not have paper money. It’s just, I don’t know. It seems sort of weird, but at the same time, if you haven’t adopted mobile payments, as an individual, it makes your life so much easier. It makes your life so much flipping easier than having to take a credit card. It doesn’t seem like it should have meaningful impact, but I would just say as a customer, the customer experience is way better.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah, totally. But there are still probably a good bit of older generations that won’t adopt or it takes longer to adopt. I don’t know. It’s weird but you’d think our culture would be up to speed on that too.

Charlie Cole:

I’m now at the age, I’m 37 and I’m at the age now where I have caught myself sounding like my dad. And what I mean by that is, someone said to me, he’s like, “Oh, I’ll send you a Snapchat.” And I was like, “Dude, I don’t use Snapchat. That’s for kids.” And I was like, oh my God, I’m turning into my father. And so then my wife Alyssa and I, I basically told her that we weren’t going to text for a whole week. We were just going to Snapchat each other so I can learn the platform. But it’s a really good example, your point on mobile payments. If you ask somebody why? They’re just like ‘well because I don’t do it that way’. And I’m like ‘all right, good for you. Enjoy your slide rule’. You know what I mean?

Julia Raymond:

Enjoy your slide rule.

Charlie Cole:

It’s just not the right attitude, because the technological advances that are being made, look, some of them are totally gimmicky, I get it. But some of them really are awesome from a customer experience perspective. And so it serves as an interesting analog for how do we innovate to make our customer experience better? Things like mobile payments. They’re a really cool thing. It’s a place that we always kind of want to be on the floor.

Julia Raymond:

Totally. It reminds me of, if you asked someone back in the day what they needed for transportation, they would’ve said faster horses not trains.

Charlie Cole:

Exactly. And, I always talk about this, trying to predict the future is really difficult. I think if you had asked somebody what? Five years ago, when will we have autonomous vehicles? Somebody probably would have said, ah, 10 to 15 years. And now even though most people totally agree that autonomous vehicles would be awesome, we’ve also learned that it’s really flipping hard. And so, billions and billions of dollars are going to have to be invested to make this thing happen. I think keeping up with innovations are important, but also be willing to challenge your core assumptions of how something has done as a consumer. That’s really the quid pro quo that’s needed.

Julia Raymond:

There was another question I want to bring up. You’ve probably gotten it a lot. It’s about competitor Away because they have so much buzz even though I think they’re not yet profitable.

Charlie Cole:

Yeah, you’ll never know.There’s lots of, and the other thing I’ll tell you is that…

Julia Raymond:

If I’m speculating. Yeah.

Charlie Cole:

People define profitability is when they’re talking about this in funny ways. You can never really know. I think Away has taught us a couple of things. I think they’ve definitely taught us what it means to be a great content marketer in the year 2019. I got to give them a lot of credit. They are brilliant creatively. What I think we, can I still say without a doubt is we know where they make their bags. There is nothing special about the luggage itself. What does that mean? And also, we also know to your point, Julia, they play in a different set of rules. Last year, Samsonite was somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.8 billion in revenue and around 500 million in EBIT. $500 million in true profit and meanwhile Away probably burned 30 to $50 million.

And so I think it’d be really easy for us to dismiss them as a BC flash in the pan. But the reality is this, they are really good at reaching their customers. And I think that that’s something that we’ve been inspired by and we try to learn from them because they clearly struck a nerve with a generation that they weren’t the first Warby Parker did it, Bonobos did it, and they’ve all done it in a fairly similar way, which is really identify with a certain lifestyle and tell that story through content very well. That said, I still feel really confident talking to you or talking to anybody now and tell you, we make much better stuff. And it’s just on us to learn how to tell that story a little bit better.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah. And it seems like you’re kind of doing that with the Tumi brand. I’ve been hearing more about it, the past couple of years. Seeing it.

Charlie Cole:

I think it’s an opportunity where brands in general could be very myopic. And they could just decide, well, they’ll go away and I’m just going to not worry about it. And so I really give our company a lot of credit in the fact that we look at this stuff and we’re like, wow, they’re pretty good at that. How can we learn from our competitors and our partners and even from people in other industries. I am always watching what Nike is doing in content marketing. I think that’s really good to learn from other people. Even if it’s something that, hey look, it’s not our business model. Will they ever be profitable? We’ll see. But at the same time I think it’s worth kind of watching and learning from whoever you possibly can.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah, but what about the whole Colin Kaepernick thing, that was a risk, I think it paid off. Do you think brands should be taking big risks like that? Taking a stand on political or social issues?

Charlie Cole:

It’s funny, I gave a presentation on this last week at CommerceNext and I struggle with this idea of mission-based thinking from a campaign perspective and mission-based thinking from a company perspective. And I can tell you that we know we at Samsonite, one of the things I’m particularly proud to be associated with is we hired our first director of sustainability over a year ago. Her name is Christine. We’re actively asking ourselves a question, what does it mean to be a more sustainable company and have less of an impact on the environment? Or are you going to go the other way, have a more positive impact on our community? It takes a lot to have a full time employee where that’s all she does. It’s a big risk. If you’re a company this is not something that you can point to a P and L. You can say, oh, he or she made this much money and we paid her issue this much, blah blah, blah.

Christine exists really to find what our sustainability strategy as a company is going to mean. That’s kind of what I think you need. I think you need it to be an emphatic part of your culture and have someone that is working on it day to day. I think the Kaepernick campaign was great. I personally identify with the messaging. I think the messaging is the right way, but I’m more impressed by companies, what we’re doing with sustainability or with what a Patagonia does to make it part of their constant mission. I hope that’s the way brands go as opposed to just one off things here or there.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah. When you said you broke it up into two things, campaign verses companies, so you thought the Nike thing was maybe more on the campaign side since it was a trending topic?

Charlie Cole:

I do, but I do think that they’re kind of making it a part of their fabric, this idea to make sure we recognize athletes regardless of their societal stance. They just did a really good campaign around the US women’s World Cup team and they looked at it from perspective of, hey, don’t look at how great these girls are at soccer. They’re literally changing the narrative for women’s sports around the world. That’s a meaningful thing. I think Nike’s doing it in more of a campaign based strategy, but it’s clearly becoming a larger fabric of their marketing overall.

Julia Raymond:

You said you have a dedicated person for sustainability. Is that something where you have short term and long term plan? I mean it seems really involved I guess too.

Charlie Cole:

Well and that’s the thing. We are always very careful to, overstate what we can do in a short amount of time. The reality is, we’re manufacturing a ton of stuff. We have over 10,000 employees in over a 100 countries. To stop the ship on a dime is not realistic. I think we do have short term and long term goals. I know we’ve been releasing sustainability reports to our investors over the last year. We are starting to do some more sustainable collections done in RPET. This is an approximate number, Julia, but I know we’ve made something like 80 million plastic bottles worth of luggage, so instead of these bottles ending up in landfills, we’re repurposing the plastic into backpacks and luggage, et cetera.

Julia Raymond:

That’s awesome.

Charlie Cole:

We are just starting our journey and Christine would certainly be better at speaking to it than I am, but it’s something I’m personally really proud of and passionate to be a part of.

Julia Raymond:

Well, just in general, what excites you the most? What are you most passionate about for future tech or just things that Samsonite’s doing? In the next five years.

Charlie Cole:

I’m still really bullish on, and I’m going to use a term that I think is overused, so to say, I’m excited for the future might sound a little weird, but I still think we’re just scratching the surface in personalization. I’ll say it really idealistically, Julia, I think every single person’s landing experience on our websites should be slightly different. I truly believe that. I think the products you see, I think the color schemes, I think everything besides the brand logos and brand DNA stuff, there is no reason why your navigation couldn’t be different than mine or your homepage or your product description page couldn’t be different than mine. And that doesn’t go beyond just an individual. I’m talking about device, I’m talking about some country, there are so many variables in this concept of personalization where you talk about this quid pro quo that consumers and companies have today.

Consumers have volunteered their data in a way and what they’re asking for companies is, make my life easier, make my life better. And I think that we’re just scratching the surface on that. For me, when I knew about personalization, it goes back to all the way to after sales service because it’s so easy to be like, oh yeah, I use personalization. I do look alike campaigns on Facebook. No, no, no, we are just scratching the surface. I really think we need to do a better job of continuing to make every customer journey and treat them like individuals. Because right now it’s still a little bit of batch and blast. And so that’s the area that I’m hopeful that we can kind of set the tone over the next five years.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah. And would you label that as just one to one marketing? Or just personalization in general?

Charlie Cole:

I mean the whole thing. I mean everything from custom product, to how we do monogramming on the product, to how you want stuff delivered. It goes back to our conversation about customer service. Do you want to talk via Facebook messenger and WhatsApp? I should know that stuff. I should get on your level as a brand as opposed to dictating like, sorry Julia, you got to call me on the phone. That sucks. I just had to do that. I was canceling my cable television because I’ve decided I’m going to try and get one of those streaming services. And I was on a chat and I was like, oh, I’m so glad I can do this via chat. And then halfway through the chat they’re like, oh, you have to call our retention department. I was like, dude, that sucks. That really does suck.

I mean the whole journey. I really want consumers to be able to shop, be marketed to, to be talked to, customer service. I want all of it to be on their terms as opposed to the other way around. And I think that’s kind of what personalization truly promises and hasn’t really pulled off yet.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah. And I’d love to do a panel on that because I’ve heard so many different opinions on how fast people think we’re moving in that direction and whether or not it’s even possible.

Charlie Cole:

I just think it’s so superficial at this point. It’s just, people have been saying this for 10 years, okay Julia, you’re going to land on Tumi and if it’s raining, we’re going to show you stuff in the rain. And I’m just like, dude, like come on. Like that’s not personalization. That’s about as apersonal as you can get. I’m really excited to kind of challenge our own assumptions on this. And I will say this, there is a big tech investment needed to do this well. I think that’s where we’re at, is we’re trying to understand what our platform is, but then when we do it, I’m confident we have the brains to do this in a pretty kickass way.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah, get the WeChat, Snapchat.

Charlie Cole:

Bring it man.

Julia Raymond:

Facebook.

Charlie Cole:

If you want to Snapchat me for customer service, I hope we can pull that off. And that’s the way we’re trying to go. This is what I mean. As a 37 year old in Seattle, Washington. I can honestly say I have no intention of ever Snapchatting any customer service, but I bet you on a certain generation there was a new generation moniker given today, which is Generation Alpha, which are people that were born, that lived entirely in this millennia, born after 2010. I just think what they’re going to want to do in the context of customer service, you have to start thinking about right now, even if they’re eight and nine years old today. You have to start thinking about what they’re going to want right now, because if you do that, you have a chance to have a really, really cool customer experience.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah. Because they’re eight and nine on their iPhones. Living on their iPhones.

Charlie Cole:

That’s the thing. They’ve grown up just assuming that screens were a part of everyday life. That’s crazy. When I grew up, I was eating dirt. You know what I mean? It was just a different time. And so I think it’s important to remember how life is changing and how that’s going to change the entire customer journey.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah. You said that you had to go to the retention department. What streaming service did you adopt? Because I know there’s so many out there. I just switched to Hulu Plus.

Charlie Cole:

I’m still working on it. I canceled Century Link. I’m trying to find and look, if anybody listens to this and they have the bright idea and what I should do. I’m all ears. I just want all the networks. I want ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox. I want TNT and TBS and I want every single sports channel there is. And the closest I’ve seen is this one called Fubo, F-U-B-O TV. Because honestly, all my wife and I watch is live sports. That’s all we want, is we want to be to watch live sports and occasionally Jeopardy. That’s all I want.

Julia Raymond:

The occasional Jeopardy.

Charlie Cole:

Yeah, because we were joking, We’re like do we want USA? Because one of the other things we do is when we’re feeling lazy, we’ll watch reruns of NCIS or Law and Order SVU and we are asking ourselves, do we really need that? We need to be doing something so much more productive with our time. But live sports I think are the one thing I want. I am all ears. If it’s Hulu I’m down. I’ve got to figure that out. I’m asking your listeners to help me out on that.

Julia Raymond:

Yeah, we’ll see if they have any suggestions. I will say we have both the Fubo one, we have a friend’s login so it’s pretty great too. I will say.

Charlie Cole:

My wife and I are volleyball players and we love watching beach volleyball. That’s on Amazon Prime for AVP, but everything else is on the Olympic Channel. So Fubo has the Olympic Channel. It is amazing. It’s amazing that I now know what I want and I can go into the internet and be like, I want these things and they’re the leader in the clubhouse today.

Julia Raymond:

Sure. Well, I hope we have some recommendations for you and thanks for being on the show today. Had a really interesting conversation. I’d love to meet up in person sometime if we cross paths at a show or wherever it may be.

Charlie Cole:

Thanks Julia.

Julia Raymond:

All right. Thanks Charlie. Bye.

Photo courtesy of Samsonite