Black ballistic cloth, the tough synthetic nylon beloved of luggage designers and flak jacket makers, doesn’t immediately bring to mind images of exotic destinations and the glamour of travel. More likely it recalls long layovers in airline lounges and sleepless nights on long haul flights — not the rich or playful image a luxury brand might prefer.
But for Tumi Chief Executive Officer Jerome Griffith, black ripstop nylon is better than all the calfskin leather and fine silk in the world.
“I said to the design group, ‘love black ballistic, it is what people know you for so be happy with it’,” said Griffith, sitting among a sea of dark shiny cloth in his new downtown boutique on Fakhry Bey Street in Beirut souks, which opened last month.
But while Tumi’s loyal aficionados may recognize the brand’s signature material, not everyone is familiar with this luxury luggage maker.
“Our biggest challenge is becoming more widely known. Even in our home market, the United States, we only have a 39 percent recognition rate which is relatively low. Now, if you’re a business class customer and a world class traveler, you know what Tumi is, but that’s not the average person,” said Griffith.
The brand attempts to make up for this by keeping the right company, with the new downtown boutique sitting alongside Louboutin and Lanvin stores, and guaranteeing that no one else can offer exactly the same product.
Outside of the latest anti-aging potions and a few luxury watch gizmos, the glamorous inhabitants of the downtown retail machine probably don’t spend much of their profits on research and development. But in the world of luxury travel goods, the lightest, most durable, most innovative products are the ones that often determine a brand’s prowess and success.
“We have over 100 patents on different inventions,” said Griffith. He pointed out zippers that fix themselves, and swivel handles for rolling suitcases. He also said that his research and development “guy” had finished new ergonomic backpack straps, which will surely be patent pending soon.
But this is not enough, which is why Griffith has managed to forgo the ubiquitous exclusivity contract with his boutique partners at the Chalhoub group in favor of exposing as many eyes to the brand as possible. Even before opening their store in downtown, Tumi already had a boutique in the airport, which Griffith described as “high volume” and a shop-in-shop at Aishti.
So, if Tumi gets their way, black ballistic nylon will be the fashion accessory for the well heeled and well wheeled at Beirut airport next summer. Between product innovations, strategically placed stores and eye-catching opening party celebrations involving guest spray-painting suitcases, they may just get their wish.