how they roll

Af­ter his prod­uct FAILED on na­tional tele­vi­sion, Rob Law TURNED a dis­as­ter into a TRI­UMPH. The founder of Trunki TRANS­FORMED the lug­gage mar­ket – by LEAV­ING his emo­tional BAG­GAGE be­hind.

Collective Hub - - MUSIC - WORDS AMY MOL­LOY

It’s been more than 10 years since en­tre­pre­neur Rob Law ex­pe­ri­enced what he thought, at the time, was the worst mo­ment of his ca­reer, when he ap­peared on the UK ver­sion of Dragons’ Den (sim­i­lar to Shark Tank) to show­case his prod­uct – a rideon chil­dren’s suit­case called the Trunki. “At the start, ev­ery­thing in the den went per­fectly,” he re­calls. “I was pulling [one of the dragons] Richard Far­leigh around on the Trunki. I thought there was no way I’d leave without in­vest­ment.”

What hap­pened next caused the tele­vi­sion net­work to de­scribe the episode as “wheelie rub­bish” in its trail­ers. An­other of the dragons, Theo Paphi­tis, pulled the tow­ing strap – hard. “He thought he would strength test it, us­ing his ex­tremely strong Greek bi­ceps,” groans Rob. “He man­aged to eas­ily rip off the tow strap com­pletely. The Dragons jumped on that as a qual­ity is­sue. They said my com­pany was worth­less.”

Those in­vest­ment ex­perts couldn’t have been more wrong. By 2014, Trunki had sold more than two mil­lion ride-on suit­cases, and its founder has since gone on to make a for­tune. In­deed, that car-crash tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ance ended up be­ing rat­ings gold for the com­pany. “The night the episode aired I thought, it’s game over,” says Rob. “But we sold out of stock that day. The next day, ev­ery­one was talk­ing about it at the cof­fee ma­chine at work, whether they had kids or didn’t. And they saw through the the­atrics.”

Shortly af­ter­wards, Rob re­ceived a phone call from one of the largest depart­ment stores in the UK – who’d pre­vi­ously re­fused to take a meet­ing with him – say­ing they would love to dis­cuss be­com­ing a stock­ist.

In­cred­i­bly, it’s not the first time Trunki has sur­vived a near-death ex­pe­ri­ence. In fact, you could say that Rob is the un­luck­i­est, luck­i­est en­tre­pre­neur on the planet – or at least the most de­ter­mined.

Af­ter de­vel­op­ing the idea for a ride-on suit­case in 1997, as part of a univer­sity com­pe­ti­tion (“I wanted to utilise the wasted space in­side ride-on toys”), Rob sat on the idea for six years, be­fore a grant from the Prince’s Trust al­lowed him to get the busi­ness off the ground. In 2005, while work­ing as a de­sign con­sul­tant, he signed a li­cens­ing deal with a Saudi Ara­bian toy com­pany – which then went into liq­ui­da­tion.

So, the en­tre­pre­neur de­cided to go it alone, which led to his in­fa­mous ap­pear­ance in the den. But then came an­other twist. “Shortly af­ter film­ing, the British hand lug­gage ban came into place [af­ter a foiled ter­ror­ist at­tack at a Lon­don air­port],” says Rob. “I had par­ents phon­ing ask­ing if they could check it in [to the hold]. We don’t rec­om­mend it be­cause it can get bashed up by the big Sam­sonites.”

The ban lasted for six weeks, dur­ing which time Rob piv­oted his busi­ness model – for the bet­ter.

“There were two so­lu­tions to the hand lug­gage ban, and one was ex­port­ing,” he says. “Dur­ing that pe­riod I started talk­ing to var­i­ous peo­ple in­ter­na­tion­ally. My first cus­tomer was the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in New York who’d spot­ted Trunki on a de­sign blog.”

In­stead of fo­cus­ing on air travel, he also thought lo­cally, ask­ing: “How can we mar­ket Trunki more do­mes­ti­cally for camp­ing?” The re­sult was a cow-print Trunki named Frieda, which quickly be­came a huge seller (and launched a farm­yard of an­i­mal Trunkis). “Re­flect­ing back, some of our great­est set­backs have led to our suc­cess,” he says. It’s a les­son for all en­trepreneurs to re­mem­ber in the face of ad­ver­sity.

Fast-for­ward to the present day and Rob – who was sin­gle when he launched Trunki, but now has a fam­ily of his own – is in­cred­i­bly proud of Trunki’s tra­jec­tory. To­day, his com­pany, which pro­duces a range of chil­dren’s items is “ded­i­cated to imag­i­neer­ing cool stuff that puts the brakes on tir­ing travel and the smiles back on fam­ily faces”.

In 2009, af­ter se­cur­ing US$200,000 in fund­ing, Rob de­vel­oped his first car seat, the Boost­A­pak, which sold out within six hours of go­ing on sale on­line. Fol­low­ing that, his com­pany pro­duced a teens’ ver­sion of the Trunki – the Jurni – af­ter an in­cred­i­bly suc­cess­ful Indiegogo crowd­fund­ing cam­paign. >

RE­FLECT­ING back, some of our great­est SET­BACKS have led to our SUC­CESS.

In 2011, Rob picked up an MBE from the Queen for ‘ser­vices to busi­ness’ (he even took a spe­cial corgi-shaped Trunki to ac­cept it). Royal baby Princess Char­lotte also re­ceived a cus­tomised ‘Boris Bus’ Trunki from Lon­don’s then-Mayor Boris John­son.

“The UK is our largest mar­ket [for Trunki] and then China,” says Rob. “Rus­sia and Cen­tral Europe are do­ing in­cred­i­bly well. But, on the flip side, we’ve faced an aw­ful lot of [coun­ter­feit] cases we’re con­stantly fight­ing. Those who copy our in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, which is the shape. There’s a lot of global web­sites, trade sites, where we find a lot of coun­ter­feits. We use an on­line brand pro­tec­tion agency now that deal with a lot of that. We’ve taken over 5000 list­ings down now from global web­sites.”

Sadly, they don’t win them all. In March, 2016 they lost a le­gal case against Es­sex-based com­pany, PMS In­ter­na­tional. The judg­ment fol­lowed a two-year cam­paign by Trunki to up­hold a 2013 High Court rul­ing that their Eu­ro­pean de­sign reg­is­tra­tion was in­fringed.

On the Trunki blog, Rob posted a call-to-ac­tion di­rected at en­trepreneurs and cre­atives, ti­tled ‘Help Trunki fight the fakes’. He wrote, “This bat­tle has been hugely drain­ing for us, both fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally. But it’s no longer just a fight to pro­tect Trunki.”

To raise aware­ness of the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of all small busi­nesses, they asked peo­ple to share their story us­ing the hash­tag #Pro­tec­tYourDe­sign across so­cial me­dia. They re­ceived sup­port from high­pro­file en­trepreneurs such as Sir Ter­ence Con­ran, founder of the home-fur­nish­ing chain Habi­tat, as well as Adam Balon, co-founder of In­no­cent Drinks.

“The plus side is we’ve spawned a whole new cat­e­gory of ride-on suit­cases,” says Rob, op­ti­misti­cally. “The thing about com­pe­ti­tion is you have to stay ahead of the game. Trunki is now on its fifth re­vi­sion.” The lat­est, Mark Five, is com­pletely plas­tic, re­cy­clable and easy to as­sem­ble.

“We also launched our ‘Made for me’ plat­form,” says Rob. “It’s a fully be­spoke, cus­tomis­able plat­form for kids and their par­ents to de­sign their own Trunki us­ing 10 colours and nine parts. That was some­thing I’d al­ways wanted to do.”

The most heart-warm­ing story on Trunki’s blog comes from a seven-yearold cus­tomer named Jes­sica, who has cere­bral palsy and chronic lung dis­ease and cus­tomised her Trunki to carry her oxy­gen tank. The char­ity Cere­bra, who aim to im­prove the lives of chil­dren with brain-re­lated con­di­tions, have also mod­i­fied an­other Trunki to have a sup­port­ive back­rest, for a lit­tle girl named Chloe who also suf­fers from cere­bral palsy.

“One of the high­lights [of my ca­reer] was be­ing able to pull my young daugh­ter through Ed­in­burgh air­port when she was two,” says Rob. “It was a real proud mo­ment. We’d had so many good re­views, but to ac­tu­ally per­son­ally use the prod­uct was great. We had a long walk and she loved it. I thought, blimey, no won­der we’ve sold so many!”

The THING about COM­PE­TI­TION is you have to stay AHEAD of the GAME. Trunki is now on its FIFTH re­vi­sion.

Trunki founder, Rob Law

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