Take a behind the scenes look at children's luggage business Trunki
Trunki's eponymous product is a colourful, ride-on suitcase that’s become a travel staple for many families – one is sold every two minutes.
Rob Law's innovative approach to product design is responsible for much of Trunki’s success. In the last 14 years, the team has developed an expansive fun-meets-function product range that is sold in retailers like John Lewis, Boots and Halfords.
The business now exports into 50 countries, employs 80 people across its Bristol-based office and Plymouth factory and sells a Trunki product every two minutes.
We've outlined the six key areas that have been most crucial to Trunki's success:
- Product development
- Company culture
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Our behind the scenes look at Trunki is part of a number of other deep-dive profiles we have. Make sure you have a look the others:
How Trunki's design process taps into customer needs
Trunki's ability to identify gaps in the market and tap into customer pain points has been a pivotal part of its success. Founder Rob Law talks us through Trunki’s research and development (R&D) and design process and why customer insights are vital to product development.
Research existing competition
Rob starts the design process with market analysis. He looks at what products are available, then maps them out on a matrix by price point and functionality. Then the team will see where the gaps are and if there’s anything innovative they could bring to the space.
“We do quite a lot of research on Amazon and see how competitive certain categories are. It’s useful to read reviews to find out if and how products are failing consumer expectations. Then start talking to end-users,” Rob explained.
While it’s important to talk to potential customers during the product development stage, Rob is wary of using focus groups. It’s easy to fall into the trap of using them to make every decision, which can slow down your processes. Use them to sense-check products and ideas, but try to factor in a host of different research and data, he suggested.
Test products to check practicality
It’s helpful for Trunki to have its target audience – parents – already in the office. But relying on the same group of people for feedback risks creating an echo chamber. To avoid this, the business has opened up testing to volunteers.
“We’ve created a Trunki lab where parents can sign up to become user testers. It gives us a broader range of feedback,” Rob said.
He emphasised that it’s still crucial to get your product tested in real-life situations before you launch. Without real-life testing, you risk spending money on sales, marketing and manufacturing for a product that isn’t fit for use.
“When we developed our toddler reins, we commissioned ten pre-production samples to send out to users to test. A lot of people picked them up and were flying them horizontally using the strap – we hadn’t realised it could be misused,” Rob remembered. Trunki ended up reengineering the product and changing the handle – delaying the product’s launch by a year.
“The most important part of the design process is that you understand your target consumer and are addressing their needs. To do that, you need to find out how a product is going to be used in reality and make any adjustments.”
Hone your product
Bear in mind that product development doesn’t stop once you’ve launched. Keep track of customer feedback and market trends to find elements you can improve on in future.
“Initially Trunki didn’t have carry handles as my research highlighted kids could damage their backs carrying heavy amounts, but parents feedback was ‘add some bloody carry handles, I’ve got to carry it up the stairs’,” Rob explained.
“We’re always monitoring our reviews and keeping tabs of what’s being reported back to customer service. Then we can go back and solve any problems.”
The right way to expand your product range
With modern consumers expecting both variety and innovation, businesses cannot remain idle. Watch this video to find out how Trunki stays in touch with what customers are after.
Attention to product detail
Collaborating with other brands
Tapping into customer pain points is a key part of product development, but there's always an element of risk when it comes to launching something new. So how do you reduce that risk? Trunki found success by embracing business collaboration.
Trunki founder Rob Law’s idea for a new range of bikes and scooters was inspired by his own experiences as a parent.
“The idea for moving into bikes and scooters came from getting my own kids out on these products. I realised if I put a Trunki strap around them, I could get them to the shops much quicker,” he said.
Trunki’s balance bikes would be able to fold completely flat, making it easy to carry or store them. They would also incorporate a Trunki strap, allowing parents to carry the bike when not in use or tow kids along if they weren’t confident enough to ride alone.
However, the development of the bikes and scooters presented a huge financial risk for Trunki. To cover the investment, the business would be under pressure to sell a sizeable amount of inventory.
Rob looked at collaboration with a bigger business as a way to minimise the risk. To launch a new product range, partnering with a bigger company can provide businesses with essential investment and resources. It’s also a great opportunity to position your brand and products in front of a bigger audience.
“We started talking to a licensing agency about how we could de-risk the project. We didn’t want it to be such a financial risk. That was in the middle of 2018. At the end of the year, we pitched to Halfords,” Rob remembered.
The licensing agency had experience with similar collaborations and could bring insights into Halfords’ approach. This helped Trunki closely align its pitch to the car parts and bicycle retailer’s corporate strategy.
The pitch was successful and, less than four months later, Trunki developed the final concept with the Halfords team. It was hugely beneficial to work with designers who had experience in the industry.
“They’re experts in designing bikes and scooters, so they did a lot of the engineering. We pitched concepts and they helped bring them to life,” he said.
Most importantly, the business collaboration with Halfords meant that the resources of Trunki’s small product design team wouldn’t be drained. As Rob explained, it meant they could develop something new without reducing the “bandwidth” they had available.
Rob’s advice for other businesses considering a business collaboration route is to make sure there are benefits for both sides. In this case, Trunki could take advantage of the bigger brand’s design expertise and reach and Halfords could tap into Trunki’s audience by having exclusive selling rights within the UK.
“Halfords really wanted to be more innovative and get more mums in store. It appealed to them because they were already selling a range of similar products too,” Rob explained.
“With a business collaboration, you have to make sure you’ve aligned your strategy with the other company’s strategy. It’s important that you both bring something to the party.”
Creating a dynamic company culture
Fostering a dynamic and collaborative culture has always been top of founder Rob's agenda. However, culture can't just come from the top down – it needs to be embedded in an organisation.
In this short video, we get a glimpse into the culture at Trunki and hear from employees about what it's like to work there.
How local manufacturing made Trunki more agile
Trunki was originally manufactured in China, but Rob made the decision to bring manufacturing back to the UK in 2012. The move established Trunki as a trailblazer and laid the groundwork for a resurgence in British manufacturing.
“We were early pioneers, but people really caught on after that. The story got picked up by news outlets like the BBC and Channel 4. They filmed the first Trunki coming off the manufacturing belt which, fittingly, was a London 2012 Olympics Trunki,” Rob said.
Rob is an advocate for local manufacturing and recommends other business owners consider the option. Although China is typically cheaper, the company has been able to offset the additional cost by having more control.
“When we started looking at bringing manufacturing home, we’d experienced a huge shift in the exchange rate. The pound had lost 20 per cent of its value against the dollar. We were working with a 120-day lead time. We knew we needed to have a more sustainable approach,” he explained.
Re-shoring back to the UK allowed Trunki to hold less inventory and free up cash flow. It helped them to forecast costs better since they could avoid China’s unpredictable wage inflation – at the time of their move, Chinese labour costs had tripled in six years.
Above all, local manufacturing meant Trunki could become more agile. With lower lead times, the business could solve issues with products quickly and respond to market trends.
Responding to increases in demand
Trunki's factory in Plymouth has also given the business the opportunity to improve product quality and create a fully customisable edition of the suitcase.
“We’ve been able to develop our printing technology to eliminate errors. Printing in China used to take a long time, whereas UK printing is much more flexible. We launched our customisation tool and had rapid growth. Most importantly, we’ve been able to respond to the demand,” Rob said.
Evolving as a business also means letting go of things that aren’t working or don’t support your future ambitions.
Trunki has been selling licensed suitcases since 2009, with brands like Gruffalo and Hello Kitty. Despite many of the licensed Trunkis selling well, Rob is keen to start moving away from these agreements in the future. He wants to put faith in the power of the Trunki brand and market position instead.
“You can do the licensing and cannibalise, or you can keep the whole cake,” he said.
The biggest export markets aren't always the easiest to sell in
Trunki is currently exporting to 50 countries, most recently adding Ukraine and Israel to its roster. The main lesson Rob has learnt is that the biggest export markets aren’t always the easiest to sell in.
The business found it difficult in France and Germany, where distributors were conflicted about whether Trunki fit into the toy, nursery or travel department. Now, Rob’s moved away from distributors in those countries and is focused on supplying the market directly through Trunki’s own channels. On the other hand, there’s been unexpected success in smaller export markets.
“One thing we’ve found is that distributors in smaller markets try harder. Our partners in the Scandinavian nations and Australia will push into so many different channels,” Rob said.
To decide where to focus their efforts, Trunki prioritises countries that have a large number of their target demographic. Rob recommends you then split markets into three tiers: strategic, important and maintenance.
- Strategic: Markets with the biggest opportunity, like China, America, France and Germany. This is where attention is focused
- Important: Markets with a sizeable audience, where there’s future potential
- Maintenance: Smaller export markets with less interest in the product. Less time is spent working with distributors in these markets
It can be tempting to group export markets together when they share languages or landmass. But Rob urged business owners to treat every market as unique. He gave the example of America – although we share a language, culturally it’s very different to the UK.
“The local preferences change, so don’t assume you can sell the exact same product everywhere,” he said. “We’ve built up a wide range of colours because China likes bright colours whereas Scandinavian countries prefer muted tones. Purple hasn’t sold well in Northern Europe because it’s more of a funeral colour. Remember that one size doesn’t fit all.”
Ultimately, Rob explained, it’s all about taking the time to test and see what works in each market.
“All kids travel and all kids get bored, but that doesn’t mean it’s always an easy route in. When we work with distributors, some relationships form well and some don’t. Each country is different, so you’ve got to figure out the right cords to pull in each market.”
Building for a sustainable future
Trunki founder Rob Law is passionate about using good design to improve people's lives, but he believes businesses have a "moral obligation" not to pollute the world.
Find out how Rob's made changes at Trunki to improve the product's sustainability in this short video.
What we learned from Trunki
Trunki is a brand that's gone from strength to strength by refusing to stand still. Whether it's improving existing designs, using partnerships as a launchpad for new ideas or expanding its markets overseas, Rob's proactive attitude has grown Trunki into a global business and put it one step closer to its Big Hairy Audacious Goal: to see a Trunki on the moon.
Here's a short summary of some of the lessons learned:
- Get customer feedback on new products, but test everything in real life too
- Partnerships can ease the financial risk of product development
- Spending time on company culture creates a more dynamic workplace
- Manufacturing locally means businesses can react quickly to change
- There are valuable opportunities in smaller export markets
- Customers care about sustainability, so consider your carbon footprint
location: South West (England)
business size: 50-99 People
business type: Manufacturing
Questions to ask yourself
Rob's sustainability improvements at Trunki have made the product more robust and provided reassurance to eco-conscious customers.
Even if markets share language or landmass, it's important to treat every market as unique.
It's a good idea to check in with customers every few months to learn about areas for improvement and keep your offering relevant.