On a roll

Innovative children’s ride-on suitcase company Trunki won the Santander Small to Medium-sized Business of the Year award at this year’s National Business Awards. We spoke to founder Rob Law about key turning points in his company’s journey so far.

Bristol-based Trunki’s journey to multinational success has been a bumpy one, but the little ride-on suitcase has most definitely arrived. Winning this year’s Santander Small to Medium-sized Business of the Year award at the 2012 National Business Awards (NBAs) is validation of the design ingenuity and drive behind a company which is pioneering a new approach to family travel.

The idea for Trunki first came to company-founder Rob Law in 1997 when he was studying product design at university. He explains: “I got my inspiration when conducting research for a national design competition in the adult luggage section of a shop and found myself in the child’s ride-on toy section. I won the competition and approached a luggage manufacturer with the Trunki idea – they thought it was a toy. Then I took it to a toy manufacturer, who thought it was luggage! After that I put the idea on hold for a while and travelled the world working in product design.”

But Law was confident the Trunki idea had legs and, on returning to the UK in 2002, he found a company to license it. Things didn’t go as planned. “A toy company took it through to manufacture and basically did an appalling job for three years. In 2005, they went into liquidation.

“I had been working as a design consultant with a lot of big brands and decided I could make a better job of it myself. In April 2006, the first 1,600 Terrance (blue) and Trixie (pink) Trunkis were produced, and we started trading.”

Since then, Trunki – part of parent company Magmatic – has gone from strength to strength, admirably coping with some more challenges on the way. The most public setback happened in 2006, when Law took the suitcase on to the TV programme Dragon’s Den; an appearance which resulted in Theo Paphitis forcibly breaking its clasp and declaring the product un-investable. Law, however, was unperturbed, saying this experience was nothing compared with having to negotiate with Chinese officials to save expensive equipment confiscated after the initial toy manufacturer went bust and the Chinese government seized all assets from their factory. Law adds: “Also, when we launched in summer 2006, we were advertising Trunki as perfect for use in airports and as hand luggage – obviously this was just before the government banned hand luggage, which had a huge impact on us.”

It was after Amazon and John Lewis came on board that things really took off. Trunki has now sold 1.6 million units, with an accumulative turnover of £18 million, and is exporting all over the world. “We’re exporting to 97 countries and are absolutely delighted to have won the National Business Award Small to Medium-sized Business of the Year,” says Law. “It’s an exciting time for us.”

Law himself is a creative force to be reckoned with, with ideas such as the BoostApak car seat in a backpack, featured on the Apprentice last year, bringing fresh success. He continues: “We’ve just signed a distribution deal with the largest car seat manufacturer in the US, allowing us to sell into North and South America.

“I like to have clear leadership, a good idea of where we’re going and how we’re going to get there,” he adds. “I also have clear values around what decision-making processes need to happen. We have an enthusiastic team here, which I feel is crucial, so we have a £1000 training pot per person per year to spend on professional development.”

Law is certainly not lacking in fresh inspiration: “What continually drives us is our passion for helping children and their families to explore the world.”

For more inforamtion on Trunki visit: www.trunki.com

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK