BY KEISHA JOHNSON
I recently chatted with founder of Ebby Rane, a luxury luggage brand started by Canadian lawyer turned designer Sonja Salmon about carving a viable niche in a highly competitive industry.
After more than ten years of business travel and as many years frustrated from not finding suitable carry-on luggage to match her style savvy and on-the-go lifestyle, Sonja took matters into her own hands and decided to create the luggage she had always wanted.
“The epiphany came when I was packing a very expensive shoe into a zip lock bag and I asked myself what am I doing and why am I doing this?” Though her drawing skills were rudimentary, Sonja said on that trip the first draft was made.
Unlike what was popular on the market for female travellers, her ideal design would have no butterflies, polka dots or floral prints.
For this discerning connoisseur, the ideal carry-on luggage would rank high for timeless, sophistication, aspirational lifestyle, organization and craftsmanship.
With a clear vision to create a lifestyle travel brand that women would be proud of, the first generation Jamaican Canadian, knew her newly formed Ebby Rane brand, at the very minimum would have to resonate with saving savvy business travellers time, add value and enhance their life.
Having done her research and engaging a focus group, she already knew that 84% of business travellers are exclusively carry-on users. They have higher disposable income, the appreciation for quality, are time strapped and many shared her frustration with the options that existed in the carry-on luggage category.
Sonja was onto something. The market existed, a gap existed and she knew how to fix it.
Leveraging her network, the former corporate lawyer gathered a team of specialists and in 2012 debuted her timelessly stylish Quartermaster.
The virgin polycarbonate hard shell carry-on is reminiscent of the steam trunks of the Victorian era but with a modern twist. It includes a ten piece patented packing system for organized and efficient packing and a very sophisticated buttery Italian leather clutch fit for those dinner or night on the town invitations.
Gliding seamlessly in any direction on 360-degree spinner wheels it also has a telescopic handle for comfortable height adjustment, a TSA approved lock and its own removable outer coat – a protective sleeve to keep it looking immaculate at all times.
“The Quartermaster is a closet on wheels. It comes with twelve other pieces. To optimize the interior, the ten piece packing system (with carryalls for shoes, chargers, jewelry, liquids, nickers, laundry, accessories, etc.) fit into the smaller one third side of the case giving you the ability to put all your clothes on the two third side,” the proud first time designer explained.
“This is the thought that we brought to the Quartermaster and then extended it to the men’s line,” the mother of two added. She said the luggage category has historically not been associated with high style. “It became our hook and was a large part of breaking us into tier one media such as Elle, Instyle, Martha Stewart Wedding.” Over forty-five other premium fashion, travel and lifestyle magazines in North America, Asia and Europe have also featured the Ebby Rane Quartermaster.
Earlier this year actress Kim Cattral appeared with it on the comedy Sensitive Skin on HBO Canada. A collection was recently assembled for The Bay and you can use your travel points towards your Ebby Rane purchase.
In just three years, this new kid on the design block has expanded her carry-on line to include a Quartermaster for men and more choices to the 1887 clutch series. The latest addition to the collection, a soft side travel bag of the same soft leather goes on sale this fall. “It will sit on top of the Quartermaster and probably double the capacity and still let you roll straight up to the plane,” Sonja promised.
In facing a frustration head on, Sonja Salmon created a niche within the luxury luggage category and simultaneously filled a void that resonates strongly with stylish business travellers. Below she shares six tips that gave her the edge in this new industry: Understand your target customer – You have to understand the nuances that will resonate with the target customer and define very clearly who that person is. Differentiate the product – Do you have a product that identifies a gap that your competitors are not serving? This gave us a clear focus on how we set ourselves apart.
Leverage your network – By putting the word out to my network with a very salient executive summary, a mission statement of what I was doing and a very clear set of asks, I was able through my network to connect with all the expertise I needed and get introductions that may not otherwise would have been possible.
Have a clear brand identity – Every good brand must have a voice. Know what you want people to associate with your brand.
Invest in branding and photography – Very early we created some 1-2 pagers that spoke very specifically to the brand with lots of images. We spent the money on high quality photography which allowed us to secure tier one media coverage without spending a large advertising budget.
You need a hook. That one signature element that is different enough to get the attention of the editor. For us it was the 1887 clutch.