The suitcase that children ride on was rejected by manufacturers and retailers, struggled, was derided on Dragons’ Den, and almost went under, but Rob’s vision, as well as his brilliant, innovative design won through. As well as inventing a whole new market sector, the award winning product has sold millions and Trunki is now synonymous with children’s luggage. Rob considers the lessons in leadership, brand, customer insight, and innovation as well as looking at how global markets and online retail has changed his business.
Rob Law is the designer, founder and CEO of Trunki, the innovative company helping children to explore the world with their line of ride-on suitcases. He has led the business from an idea turned down by all the manufacturers and retailers he approached to a global business and leader in its sector.
As a design student, Rob submitted entered a competition to design a new suitcase. Whilst researching in a shop he realised how dull luggage was, and drew inspiration from the toy department. He won the competition with a whole new idea – a suitcase for a child that they could also ride on. Advised to take the idea to market, Rob was rejected by manufacturers and retailers alike, always with the same response – luggage people said it was a toy; toy people said it was luggage.
Rob licensed his idea to a manufacturer but the product didn’t take off. So he started his own business, with a lifestyle brand aimed at parents and with a fun but quality feel to it. Trunki invented and shaped a whole new sector in children’s luggage. It went on to sell millions, has won dozens of design awards, and inspired countless imitators.
Along they way Rob turned challenges into great opportunities. He famously rejected the offer he received on Dragons’ Den (after Theo Paphitis had broken one of the suitcases) but the exposure led to scores of orders and messages of support. When the airline ban on hand luggage was imposed, the company focused on domestic travel. When a supplier provided a substandard component, Trunki was deemed to be ‘unwell’ and a ‘how to fix Trunki’ kit was sent to customers.
The Trunki company also went on to purchase a failing British factory in order to expand and improve their supply chain. The scale of the challenge for the company, now a manufacturer as well as a designer and brand, turned out to be huge. Rob installed a specialist in the sector to help turn around the facility from the bottom up, radically changing the culture and the practices on the shopfloor and in the boardroom.
Over two decades since he first had the idea, Rob remains a designer at heart and retains a thirst for new ideas and innovative solutions. He considers what it means to think differently and how any business can be innovative. He also looks at navigating a global marketplace and building a brand reflecting on export successes, including in China where Trunki is seen as a status symbol. He examines the lessons he’s learned in leadership, taking risks and understanding your customer, as well as the effects of the changing face of retail. He also explains his four core business values – dynamism, fun, responsibility, and innovation – which each employee defines their own way.
As well as working with the Design Council and the Prince’s Trust Rob is one of the few people to have honorary doctorates in both engineering and business administration.
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