Interview with Rob Law, Founder and CEO of Trunki
Our principal of Consumer Manufacturing, Sarah Simpson, has been following Rob’s success story over the years. Having listened to Rob’s talk at The Manufacturing Event at the NEC in 2016, she was keen to interview him herself. Luckily, he agreed.
Rob Law MBE is the founder and CEO of Trunki, the brand behind the much-loved children’s ride-on suitcase. His company has been trading for 11 years, now employing 74 people and named SME of the Year at the National Business Awards in 2012. Many will be familiar with Rob’s journey; from being laughed off Dragon’s Den - where one dragon declared there was ‘no market for the case’ – to selling over 120,000 Trunki’s in 22 countries just 2 years later.
Law trained in Product Design and his early career saw him working in Taiwan, New York and London before launching the Trunki brand in 2006.
After winning a high court judgement against PMS – a business who essentially designed a copy case (which was later overturned), how have you managed to move on from this? It must have been a very frustrating time, especially as it came down to CAD drawings not showing graphical designs properly.
Looking back, it was an expensive decision to take this through the courts but we never actually saw sales decline, in fact we saw an increase in rate of sale due to the publicity we raised around the case. Kiddee Case had quality issues, looked inferior and was a flop. People underestimate the amount of hard work that goes into producing a high quality product, despite the inland revenue classifies our product as a suitcase, we choose to go through 26 international toy standards at a huge expense to because child safety and product durability underpins or brand. Every one of our colourful suitcases comes with a five-year guarantee.
I’m often asked what the biggest mistake I’ve made is and what would I change. I don’t think I would change anything, you make a decision and you learn your lessons. If you don’t make those decisions, you wouldn’t have learnt from them, and a decision often has far reaching impact that you would never know at the time. As it turned out, the expensive PMS court battle brought us a huge amount of PR. The day after the supreme court ruling we were in all the national papers with full colour pictures of our products. My biggest reason for talking to the press was because I simply didn’t want consumers to get confused between the products. Turns out businesses weren’t speaking out about being copied and we gained huge attention. I started talking to the government about changes in Intellectual property legislation to properly protect SME’s but then Brexit hit. Hopefully these conversations will continue.
What has been the highlight of your career?
Hard to pin point any one, but some highlights include: winning SME company of the year 2012 at the national business awards, receiving an MBE from the Queen and simply seeing our product on sale all around the world. I get a real buzz from checking our Instagram feed full of so many wonderful photos with kids travelling around the world on our products.
Who has been the biggest influence in your role as the Father of Trunki?
I guess you can track my drive and motivation all the way from struggling through school with un- diagnosed dyslexia and the death of my twin sister Kate at the age of 16, to joining a business mentoring group in Bristol and wanting to learn about leadership. Reading Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” was pivotal and helped me figure out how to build and share the strategy for the business.
With the various products you have now - booster seats, swimming bags, pillows etc. - what is next for Trunki? Any adult products?
As a business, we are very dedicated to family travel; a huge gap still exists in children’s travel products, this is a new retail category. Although it’s a struggle to build a brand-new category ourselves, the flexibility of online merchandising helps. We have built a loyal audience amongst mums. We won’t jump into an unknown category and do adult products because that isn’t what we are about, although we do get asked quite a lot. We have just launched our new Jurni suitcase, designed for 8-12 year olds!
Interestingly, as I am fundamentally a product person driven by innovation, all our products so far have been completely new to the market and patented, we wondered if we can offer something simple and quicker to launch to market. So we have developed a new EAT range of drinking bottles and snack/lunch box using the power of Trunki branding. The lunch bags double up as a shoulder bag and backpack but with a Trunki twist.
We have looked at the possibility of setting up shops in airports but that’s something for the future, as we’re finding success focusing on ecommerce. Leading with our ‘Made for Me’ customisation platform and ability to inspire kid’s imaginations our own website is our third largest account. It plays to all core values and is a canvas for kids to project their personalities. Getting closer to our consumers allows us to have a great dialogue with our fan base and shape future product offerings.
What is your long-term goal for the brand?
There are still a few miles to go to turn Trunki into a truly global brand. America is a huge growth opportunity; our business plan has changed several times where the US is concerned and we are finding ecommerce is the most profitable and low risk route. The business is focused on building strategic markets where the brand has the greatest potential, China is turning out to be our biggest one outside the UK and has had at a huge growth rate over the last 3 years. Germany is another country where were seeing our hard work paying off delivering Trunki through a multi-channel approach. Our success is due to great partners. We approach different markets flexibly, launching some products only in certain markets, like the Hello Kitty product line we did for China and SE Asia. We have used our ‘Made for Me’ platform to enable brand partnership opportunities, which can be turned around in weeks. A flexible UK manufacturing platform allows great one-off collaborations.
How do you deal with growth?
We now have 30 people in head office in Bristol. Our growth has been hard with a real focus on getting the right people who buy into our vision. When you get it wrong, so much time is wasted trying to fix it. Keeping the culture and staying dynamic as we grow, while adding systems and processes is a challenge but one we embrace.
You can’t struggle with attracting talent to your brand, can you?
We are lucky with the high brand recognition and have created a fun and funky work space which is a great environment for people. Everyone should spend more time on recruitment though, it’s easy enough to find talent but harder to pin point the right talent for your business. Recruiting with the right cultural fit is tough however when you get it right, I’m always amazed by the extra mile people will go.
What are your views on the whole Brexit issue?
Fortunately, we have benefitted due to an exchange rate gain with 50% sales in USD supported by UK manufacture. Looking forward, we need to understand how trading with our European partners will be affected; I’m particularly keen to see what happens around EU IPR laws. We employ Europeans, so I hope for freedom of movement. But who knows what the answers will be. We need to wait to see what’s announced, keep a dynamic structure to our business so we can quickly react to market demands and opportunities.
When I heard your talk at the Manufacturing event, you mentioned the use of interims in your business, what was that in relation to and what was the outcome?
We engaged a specific interim three or four years ago through Interim Partners to help get our heads around our ecommerce strategy. Ken was brought in to shape the opportunities in areas like France, Germany and the USA, advising how we can work in these locations and how to avoid building our brand from scratch. It definitely got us to where we wanted to be and gave us everything we needed to learn.
Sarah Simpson is the Principal of Consumer Manufacturing at Interim Partners.