How focusing on travel is helping this legacy Colorado startup take off once again

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Published on Oct. 19, 2016
How focusing on travel is helping this legacy Colorado startup take off once again

A little more than a year ago, Greenwood Village-based eBags experienced a bit of an identity crisis. The 17-year-old e-commerce company was selling nearly anything you can think of, and they were having trouble closing deals with vendors — the CEO of Coach even said it would be a waste of time to partner with eBags.

“At that point we were all over — fashion, handbags, travel,” said Krista Paul, eBags’ VP of Content Marketing. “We didn’t fully grasp what we were standing for.”

It was time for something to change. CEO Mike Edwards, along with co-founders Peter Cobb and Jon Nordmark, looked at company data and the company’s history to determine their next move.

The issue wasn’t that they had too many products or were online-only. The products were from so many different categories, it was hard for customers to find just what they needed.

“A lot of retailers are struggling,” said Paul. “They’re shuttering retail locations and trying to figure out how to exist online. But we’ve been a digital company since day one.”

Edwards, Cobb and Nordmark realized they needed to embrace their roots. Before launching eBags, Cobb and Nordmark worked for Samsonite. Their experiences with the company were what led them to start eBags, which originally focused on selling luggage. Returning to those roots allowed the company to focus on selling an experience instead of products — something more and more consumers rank among their core values.

“With Airbnb, TripAdvisor, YouTube, Yelp and bloggers all making travel accessible, people realize they can have amazing adventures and it does not have to be expensive,” said Cobb, who also serves as the company’s executive vice president. “All of this gave us confidence that our move to become the ultimate online travel goods retailer was the right move.”

Within a month of looking at the data, the company had completely reorganized their merchandising department around a central, travel-focused brand voice. They moved away from their fashion offerings and started focusing on strategic partnerships and broadening their travel portfolio, including placing more importance on connected devices and wearable tech.

And the decision worked. In the last quarter, eBags’ sales are up 23 percent year-over-year, and they’ve added 51 percent more brands and 43 percent more products.

That growth didn’t come easily, though. In order to change without taking on any extra capital, they had to take a loss in short term earnings, and some members of the team weren’t thrilled with the changes and left. But by taking a strategic approach to growth and establishing pillars upon which the newly restructured brand would rest, the company has bounced back from the initial hit.

“We made the investment in selection and brands, technology and mobile enhancements, our own brand and launching ‘Steals of the Day’ so we could capture that value customer we weren’t even talking to,” said Edwards.

As the company focused on their own private-label brand, it became the most popular brand on the site, accounting for almost a third of the company’s entire sales — and it’s allowed them to design and develop more innovative products than they ever have before.

“Our crown jewel in this category has been the launch of the eBags Connected Luggage Tag, which helps travelers keep their personal information, such as address, email and phone, safe in the cloud, and helps luggage and bags get home when they are lost,” said Edwards.

They’ve also launched more brand partnerships, like a TripAdvisor-branded luggage collection, premium electronics from Bose and expanded offerings from companies like The North Face, Jansport and Eagle Creek.

The pivot has allowed for some changes in company culture, too. It’s more customer-centered and focused on entrepreneurship. Paul said even though they’ve been around for 17 years, the company is starting to feel like a startup again. And they’ve started offering travel-related perks to employees, too.

“We want eBaggers to get out and travel, so we instituted a cash-for-travel program,” said Cobb. “Each employee gets a travel rebate based on how many years of service. Just take a photo from your journey, add to our facebook page and eBags writes a check.”

Cobb is particularly excited about the new changes. Since he’s been around for quite a while (some might say since the very beginning), he’ll get a $750 rebate once he returns from an upcoming trip with his wife.

As they gear up for the holiday season, the company hopes consumers will turn to eBags for gifts.

“We really want to be the place where folks land to learn about connected travel products, accessories and even apps,” said Paul.


Photos via eBags.

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