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Samsonite's Changi Airport outlet will be its Jewel in the crown

''Every time we come up with something new, something big, we launch it first in Singapore,'' says Mr Dutta and adds that airports matter when it comes to expansion.


GLOBAL travel luggage company Samsonite has picked Changi Airport's Jewel mall to launch its first ultra-premium store, the highlight of a planned four-store expansion in Singapore.

Samsonite has also opened an American Tourister outlet at the new Jewel and has a store at the revamped Funan mall slated for the second half of the year. Together, the three new stores this year will raise the luggage group's total retail sales points in Singapore to 26. Samsonite is also planning one more outlet at Changi, which will take its presence at the airport to five stores.

"Every time we come up with something new, something big, we launch it first in Singapore," said Subrata Dutta, president and chief executive of Samsonite in the Asia-Pacific.

While the company has other Samsonite Black Label stores around the world, the one at Changi's new retail hotspot is a step up from the rest, Mr Dutta said.This is a new retail concept that further elevates the look and feel of the brand to something more luxurious," he said.

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With a location as iconic as Jewel, it is an "image booster" for the brand as it is showcased in the "right setting", noted the Hong Kong-based executive. Singapore is an ideal test bed for new concepts and products for the brand, he added.

"At Jewel, we get travel traffic from around the world," he said. "When you do something in Singapore, you get noticed by the right people."

Samsonite Black Label is the brand's high-end range that appeals to luxury or business travellers, while American Tourister appeals more to millennials and families with a more affordable price point.

As a regional gateway, Singapore counts among Samsonite's key markets, Mr Dutta said.

"Airports matter when it comes to expansion," he explained. "Likewise in Hong Kong, these are the hubs where travellers go through - that is another reason why Jewel is very important to us."

Satish Peerubandi, general manager of Samsonite Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and Indochina, said that Singapore has registered double-digit revenue growth in the past three years.

He attributes this to the strength of their brands and the robustness of Singapore's economy, which has also seen record levels of tourism.

E-commerce sales - which currently make up about 8 per cent of Singapore's revenue - are also expected to pick up pace and further lift sales, Mr Peerubandi said.

He added: "We have had a fantastic three years, and I don't see why we cannot continue this trend in 2019."

For the whole of Asia-Pacific, Samsonite's main markets for the financial year ended 2018 are China, South Korea, Hong Kong, India, and Japan, with Singapore coming in eighth place.

Revenue from the Asia Pacific region (which includes the United Arab Emirates) amounted to US$1.32 billion for FY18, coming in a close second to the US$1.48 billion turnover seen in North America.

Mr Dutta is confident that there is still room to grow in Asia-Pacific, with its large population and growing middle class.

"Asia's story has hardly been told - I think we are not even covering 10 per cent of that (potential)," he said. "Asia will definitely be a growth engine for a long time."

This is also where Samsonite's multi-brand portfolio comes into play. With the diversity in Asia, ranging from developed markets such as Japan to the developing countries in Asean, there are brands catering for every kind of need, he said.

For example, the American Tourister brand is the big player in Asean region, rather than the higher-end Samsonite and Tumi labels, he explained. In Japan, it is the reverse.

With the rise of Asia as the next biggest market for Samsonite, it has also started to tailor-make products specifically for the Asian consumer, instead of just pushing out the same products to the whole world.

Samsonite's latest Polygon range is one that targets the Asian traveller in mind. As Asians tend to be bigger shoppers, the luggage's storage structure allows space to be maximised, says Mr Dutta. And because train travel is common in the region, the luggage also has a unique braking system on its wheels.

"These are all innovations that originate from needs in Asia," he added.

Mr Dutta remains optimistic on the growth prospects of the region's travel industry, despite looming dark clouds from the US-China trade war and slowing global growth.

There might be a pause in tourism due to diplomatic or economic considerations, but he said that the effects are likely to be minimal.

"In the longer time frame, people get used to it," he explained. "People are now much more resilient and travel is now a lot less impacted by economy and instances in various countries like terrorism."

The only challenge that he sees ahead is the ability to keep one step ahead of what consumers want. "It's all about innovation, innovation, innovation," he said. "Our only risk is if we ever stop innovating."

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