Welcome back to Products Worth Talking About — the show about disruptive physical products and the people who built them. In today’s episode, we’ll unpack the luggage industry and look at the Goliath of suitcases, Samsonite, versus the hottest luggage in the market, Away Travel (known as Away).
No doubt about it, traveling is stressful. The entire travel process — from booking flights, packing, checking in, security lines and taking off your shoes, juggling gates, and making sure you don’t miss your flight — is stressful! Have you ever had a broken wheel or zipper on your suitcase? Talk about annoying! As frequent fliers, we’re big fans of anything that can make traveling easier. Good luggage is non-negotiable, making it important to spend just a little bit more to get that quality piece of baggage that will stand the test of time.
Put your phone on airplane mode and prepare for take-off!
While researching who to analyze against Samsonite, we came across a couple of other brands worth mentioning:
They were bought by Samsonite about five or six years ago. RT actually owns a carry-on as his personal bag — it’s one of the reasons we did this episode. They are ridiculously expensive, but it’s a designer bag of high-quality, carrying a lifetime warranty. It was worth comparing even though it’s two to three times as expensive as these other options at $500 to $1,500 a bag.
If you just want something that’s going to work and be decent, we think Amazon basics work. It’s good — don’t expect great. That’s kind of their theme when building and creating something. They are more interested in being economical than high-end. Plus, you can get it in two days, and it’s cheap. They start from $65
Let’s dive into our product match-up today with some company backgrounds.
The Goliath of the travel luggage industry, Samsonite was founded on March 10th, 1910. That was already 111 years ago! It was founded in Denver, Colorado by Jesse Schwayder. Samsonite’s offices are now located in Luxembourg. According to LinkedIn, they have 14,500 employees.
Interesting fact: As a religious man, Schwayder named one of his initial cases ‘Samson’ after the biblical strong man and began using the trademark “Samsonite” in 1941 for his tapered vulcanized fiber suitcase introduced in 1939. In 1965, after Samsonite suitcases became the best-selling product, the company changed its name to Samsonite — so the name of the company came from the name of one product.
Samson is a publicly held company. It’s on the Hong Kong stock exchange, and it’s currently valued at $2.8 billion.
We are huge fans of companies that enter boring industries and produce disruptive brands by revolutionizing product design, creating better distribution, or social media, or whatever ‘disruption’ looks like — Aways is a good example of that. The company was started in 2015 by founders Jen Rubio and Steph Korey, and they have 448 employees on LinkedIn and are based out of New York. It is one of the highest funded female-backed startups. Both founders came from Warby Parker, the disruptive model in the boring glasses industry, clearly using that savvy to take on the travel industry.
Away raised $100 million in a single round of venture capital in May 2019. At that time, they were valued at $1.4 billion. We’re calling them the David in the luggage industry, but they’ve already halved the size of Goliath!
Let’s take a deeper look at each of their products to understand how that has happened.
We’re going to compare apples to apples looking at a carry-on from both Samsonite and Away.
Samsonite’s carry-on that we purchased is a 20-inch called the Omni PC hard side, expandable carry-on normally $129 that we bought for $79 on Amazon last week. They have two other larger sizes we’d like to share with you: a 24-inch and a 28-inch, each available in 10 different colors on Amazon. The 20-inch weighs 6.81 pounds as it’s made from polycarbonate — very light but feels solid.
The Away bag we purchased is also a 20-inch and simply called “The Carry-on,” which is $225 on their website. They have a larger 21-inch too, both available in nine different colors. Tyler highlighted that they keep it really simple by minimizing the product range as a whole. The Carry-on weighs 7.1 pounds and is also made of polycarbonate — so very similar in all those ways.
Let’s dive into the main testing criteria on how we rated each product. They are:
Tyler has a problem with the luggage handle that slides up and down. From a durability aspect, they start to wobble when trying to steer. He feels like Samsonite breaks down over time.
RT usually puts his backpack over the handle, and with that much weight, he also believes Samsonite is going to break down over time. That’s why he loves his Tumi bag — the handle is solid steel and super sturdy. RT isn’t a fan of the single wheels compared with Away or even Amazon Basics with double wheels. RT believes the single wheels are twice as likely to fail as their double counterparts.
Tyler believes the intensity of your travel schedule plays a role. If you travel once or twice a year, a bag like this is great and probably lasts five years, but if you travel frequently for either business or personal reasons, you need something sturdier. Tyler’s concern here is that the handle and the zipper feel a little cheap.
RT feels the cheaper price is reflected in the quality. To be fair, it is half the price of Away. RT thinks the outside is solid and can take a beating, but is concerned the tiny little wheels are going to fail. The zipper wasn’t perfect, and even the lock feels like an afterthought.
Both rated this an eight because it fits the bill for being a carry-on bag.
RT found one of the negatives of some of the hard cases is the need to add some reinforcements on the inside, taking away from the amount of packing space. Samsonite did a pretty good job of giving you a lot of volume to work with. It’s also expandable, with a zipper to get another couple more inches worth of space.
Tyler thought the creative use of exterior lines in the design was interesting and creates a high-end-looking product.
RT was impressed with the fact they have all kinds of different vibrant colors — this is particularly helpful if you have to check the bag in — you certainly won’t lose it!
Tyler was impressed with the double wheels that have a sufficient gap so as not to get entangled with objects on the ground. The wheels feel sturdier and less likely to break compared with Samsonite.
RT noticed that their wheels are made from a different material as well as having a rubberized part to reduce noise levels — it’s almost like a mini tire.
Away seems almost perfectly symmetrical too, helping the fully packed bag stay upright as opposed to falling over like many carry-on bags.
It feels like this is the type of small detail that the Davids of the industry thinks about.
Both Tyler and RT agree on this one — the handle on Aways carry-on is beefed up and feels much sturdier. The bag itself is made of the same material and feels strong and durable.
Tyler was happy once again with Away’s product symmetry. It certainly feels a little taller than other bags, but the fact that it feels incredibly sturdy impressed him most.
RT’s only concern is that it’s not expandable — having said that though, Away has now launched an expandable range. However, even in the non-expandable carry-ons, the interior features like all the little pockets and extra stuff they give you inside impresses him.
A game-changer is the fact that they have a battery charger built-in. In fact, most airports at that time in 2015 had hardly any chargers. There is enough power to charge your iPhone for about four charges.
They’ve started to release these other designs and also some different materials such as aluminum as well as nylon that both look great.
RT was impressed that, even though it’s not a designer bag, it looks really professional, solid, and sleek. It’s not making any audacious design statements, but it’s worth the money.
Overall, we think Away is superior to what we’re testing here with Samsonite. Away has beaten the giant in the scoring with an impressive total of 65, compared with Samsonite’s 50.
In essence, this episode is probably a couple of years late considering Away is already doing half of the revenue! Do they have the capability to overtake Samsonite?
We think they have a chance.
We discussed some advantages Samsonite has built that Away will have to overcome:
On the other hand, Away has a number of factors that they are already doing incredibly well, most likely contributing to their success:
Having seen the power of subscription models in fast-moving consumer goods, a direct-to-consumer model gives them hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of people on their email list — the perfect launchpad for limited releases.
Now that we’ve talked about Away and their winning product, we’re going to try to find a connection to the founders and hear their story. If anyone knows Jen or Steph, we want to find them, get them on camera, interview them, and figure out why they started this company. What was the inspiration? There’s gotta be a cool story there. Let’s find that out and figure out if we can get them here on the show.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post, and if you learned something today, we would love to hear from you. Take a screenshot of the episode and share your most significant takeaways with us on Instagram, @productsworthtalkingabout. You can watch the full show on YouTube, and remember to subscribe so that you can get new content delivered to you directly! Let us know what products and brands you want us to review or what founders you’d like us to interview!
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Thanks for reading! Until next time —
RT and Tyler