How luxury suitcase company Zero Halliburton is dealing with a world without travel: Deepening its ecommerce efforts and increasing its philanthropic footprint
- Tom Nelson joined the
luggagecompany Zero Halliburton in 2017 to help rebrand the company for the next generation of travelers.
- But he is now dealing with the coronavirus and a world where
- A new collection was just launched in January, and luckily shipments to warehouses and stores were made before the pandemic arrived.
- Right now, Zero Halliburton is focused on its eCommerce and charitable activities. It wants to develop a closer relationship with customers, and hopes they remember that it did its part during this crisis.
- Nelson relayed a favorite quote about handling a crisis: 'hand-wringing is not an effective
And in a typical year, that's where the
"Travel is not at the top of everyone's mind right now," Zero Halliburton CEO Tom Nelson told Business Insider. "We have recognized that until there's a vaccine, people won't feel safe and confident about traveling again."
Nelson, who joined the 82-year-old company in 2017, has spent those years redefining the brand for the next generation. He and his team spent years extensively researching, developing three new patent-pending features, and creating an entirely new product line to help make Zero Halliburton a viable name in luxury travel once again.
But instead of focusing on the launch of a new campaign, Nelson is now pondering — how do you keep a travel company afloat when there is no travel?
"There is going to be a negative impact on our business for an extended period of time," he said. "We have put together a revised plan for Zero Halliburton for this year. We'll work our way through it, but we're certainly not planning on things to get back to any sort of normal in the course of this year. In fact, we really recognize this as kind of a new reality."
Zero Halliburton had been rebranding itself for the social-set generation
Zero Halliburton released its signature aluminum suitcase in 1938. Thirty years later, it became the first suitcase to land on the moon. Throughout the 20th century, the brand became synonymous with forward-thinking designs and luxury.
But by the time the 21st century came around, the company needed a rebrand. Buzzy startups like Away were at the forefront of millennial consumerism, while Rimowa, led by Alexandre Arnault, became a destination for trendy high-end luxury. Nelson came to Zero Halliburton to pay homage to the past while introducing designs for the future.
"The primary audience for us is the same consumer, really," he said. "An individual, the individualist who is the person who is pursuing their own road."
The company had just launched a new collection in January, after months of redesign. A new social media strategy was being devised. "There was excitement about finally being able to relaunch this collection," Nelson said. "We all felt so good about it."
But then the pandemic struck. As Business Insider's Katie Warren reported, airlines are now financially struggling as people cease to travel, hotels are empty, and tourist-reliant destinations are struggling. Warren spoke to 10 leaders in the travel industry who said that even when the travel industry returns, it will never be the same.
"The world has shifted dramatically, [but] I am reminded of a quote I heard someone make many years ago," Nelson said. "They said, 'hand-wringing is not an effective strategy,' which basically means, in the face of crisis, you gotta be moving shifts."
A luggage company prepares for a world without travel
During the early stages of the pandemic, factories began to shut down. Nelson said that luckily, the company had shipped all of its launch products to its warehouse and store before the pandemic, but it expects an impact on supply going forward.
In the meantime, Zero Halliburton has been focused on its e-commerce and digital marketing strategy.
Many companies during this time have started to lean on social media, as brick-and-mortar stores have shut throughout the world. Nelson said he was confident that the company's digital strategy will help it during this time, and that authentically connecting with people will help once travel does start back up again.
"We were already embracing social media quite strongly," Nelson said. "Our shift from a wholesale business to a direct-to-consumer business had happened, starting about 18 months ago. So we're just going to lean into that even more during these times."
"It was now about how to go on the offensive," he said.
And rather than reduce the price of its suitcases, the company has also decided to donate 15% of the proceeds to help first responders. It also created the MISSION SUN project, where it donated 100 Bright Yellow Sun Carry On Travel Cases and 300 KN95 masks to medical professionals staying away from their homes at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City.
The bright yellow suitcases represent "positivity and cheerfulness and optimism," Nelson said, adding that sales have exceeded the company's expectations.
"We now want to reach out to our customers who bought, in an effort to continue to keep the lines of communication open with them," Nelson said. "We're going to talk to them about their motivations for purchasing during this period."
Despite the fact that the pandemic will hit the company's top line hard, Nelson said he hopes consumers look back at this time period and see that Zero Halliburton tried to do its part in helping others during this time.
He knows that it will probably be years until people are able to catch a sunrise in Saint Tropez. And even when people do return to the roads and the skies, the way they do so might never be the same.
"I think we're all still working through the day-by-day," he said. "But at the same time, I have great faith in commerce, and people's desires to move forward and improve their lives. The business is going to come back. It's just going to take some time."
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