For decades Samsonite has been known for its sturdy and functional suitcases. But the new CEO, Marcello Bottelli, an ex LVMH top executive, is now trying to reinvent the company, position it on the high-end and give it a more glamorous flavor.
Nothing surprising, the luxury goods market is growing fast and margins there are much more comfortable. New owner, private equity house CVC, is willing to continue the strategy started with the previous shareholder, Bain Capital, another LBO player.
The road to a high-end status involves working on both the products and the image.
As for the products, Samsonite recently took a majority stake in high-end leather-goods brand Lambertson Truex and commissioned Alexander McQueen, the British designer known for outlandish fashions, as well as trendy designer Matthew Williamson, another Brit. Both worked on a line of more expensive Sansonite fashion luggages. A new design team was set up in London, with the mission to focus on designing products from a fashion standpoint rather than a purely technical one as previously.
To rebrand and modernize its image, Samsonite's ads, which used to emphasize the functional and solidity aspects of the products, now feature celebrities, such as Hollywood actress Christina Ricci, in fashion magazines like Vogue. Occasionaly, one may also find Richard Branson in some Samsonite ads !
What's more, a line of sunglasses, high-end men shoes ans stationery are now in the works to complement and polish the image.
Contrary to many "sleepy" glamorous brands which have been successfully revamped by savvy managers (Gucci, Vuitton, Prada or...Aston Martin, etc), Samsonite is starting with a true handicap : its image is anchored in people's mind as a maker of functional and durable mid-priced items, very far from where it now wants to go.
Going from one positioning to another is no easy task, especially with a brand name "Sansonite" carrying nothing glamorous in it, and it won't happen overnight. They have to work very hard on the products and the image to become a very desirable brand such as the examples mentioned above.
Anyway, Samsonite's move is a very interesting one I'll follow in the future.