Travelite and Titan, these names stand for trolleys and also to a small extent for the scent of the whole, wide world. The Hamburg company has been designing, producing and selling light-weight luggage items for 70 years – and has advanced into becoming the leading brand in this segment thanks to its expertise. Now, the company intends to further expand its activities on the promotional products market. A portrait.
Millions of travellers fly all over the globe accompanied by the bags and suitcases of the two high-quality brands, Travelite and Titan and they have indeed been doing so for decades. The suitcases are designed, made and successfully sold in Hamburg-Rahlstedt, the headquarters of the Travelite/Titan group. A specialised, experienced product management team, comprising of project managers, constructors and designers develop cases and bags using the latest materials and technologies, which literally tour the world. Furthermore, many additional teams of experts work at the company, which is being run in the third generation by Jan-Oliver Nannen and his fellow managing shareholder, Alfred Gruber. “Already from the very beginning our customers knew that they are buying a high-quality product with a good price/performance ratio,” said Nannen, the grandson of the company founder Gerhard Winkler, and added: “This philosophy hasn’t changed much up until this very day. This is one of the reasons that Travelite and Titan have established themselves as recognised, international brands.” Travelite and the brand Titan – which have been part of the same group since 2012 – are a synonym for suitcase expertise made in Germany. “We sell several million products a year across 30 countries and in the B2B sector we are the go-to-guys for everything to do with suitcases,” explained Nannen.
Merchandising, sponsoring and co-branding are by no means new topics for the group. For example, anyone who purchases a piece of luggage with a crane logo from the World Shop of Lufthansa, travels with a Travelite item – and this has already been the case for ten years. Branded suitcases that are individually produced in line with the customers requirements and which are “designed in Germany” also accompany the crews of several airlines during their everyday flying routine around the world; since just recently the players of the traditional Hamburg football club, FC St. Pauli, have been travelling to their games equipped with Travelite cases, the first division team, VfL Wolfsburg, is equipped with individualised suitcases by Titan. It all started in a rather unspectacular way with a string bag, recounted Nannen: “After my grandfather, Gerhard Winkler, founded the company in 1949 as a bag factory, we produced all possible bags, but the string bags, we had designed ourselves, were the absolute best-sellers.” The idea was quite simple, reported Nannen: “The material came as a hose. We simple cut this into parts, sewed it together at the bottom and added two handles to the top. The company sold millions of these bags.” The company director in the third generation is convinced that products like these simple shopping bags laid the foundation for Travelite/Titan: “The products we manufacture tend to be more down-to-earth and functional. They have to be high-quality, functional and stable, but also affordable – that is our claim.”
It was this functional focus that led to the luggage brand Travelite arising from the bag factory of Gerhard Winkler in the year 1978. Because more and more people were able to afford to travel, even by airplane – but they wanted to do so without having to carry the heavy suitcases of the 1950s with them. The bags and cases had to become lighter. The second generation, Gisela Nannen and her husband Christian, addressed this problem and soon developed, optimised and produced everything that resembled a bag or suitcase and which was lightweight. After Jan-Oliver Nannen joined the company in the year 1999, followed by the current second managing partner Alfred Gruber in 2006, the company took on its present form, when in 2012 Travelite integrated the suitcase brand Titan with its more design-oriented, slightly higher-priced hard-shell range of items into the group and continued to sell it under the existing brand name. The brand Titan not only extended the product range, it also boosted the sponsoring and license business. Indeed, in the literal sense: Titan is the outfitter of the traditionally, very successful German bob athletes and among others sponsors the World Champion and Olympic gold-medallist, Natalie Geisenberger. In order to demonstrate the resilience of a new suitcase model, in the year 2015 one sent the bob pilot, Manuel Machata, down the Olympic bobsleigh track in La Plagne, France on the hard-shell suitcase Prior. “Of course, it was tested comprehensively beforehand,” explained Jasmin Mix, Director of the Marketing Department. Both the pilot and the suitcase survived the ordeal unscathed, the video on the escapade on ice can be viewed on YouTube.
The company already relocated parts of the production abroad in the mid-1970s, since the 1980s the entire Travelite series and since the take-over also parts of the Titan collection are exclusively manufactured in Asia, at 18 partly company-owned and partly contracted production sites and with an own quality control team. The group has had its own office in Shanghai since the end of the 1990s.
Trolleys “made in Germany”
There is one exception here, whereby this isn’t deemed to remain the exception to the rule: Titan has been manufacturing selected series in Hauzenberg, near Passau in Bavaria since 2015, firstly the already mentioned Prior, today it is the X-Ray series; two further series are to be added to the list in the course of 2020. This has rock-solid, commercial reasons, because “made in Germany” and especially Titan as a German premium and lifestyle brand particularly enjoys a good reputation on the Asiatic market: “That initially attracts the attention of the buyers there,” explained Nannen. Furthermore, thanks to the production in Germany solutions for problems in the production process can be found even faster and the origin aspect is a valuable door opener in the B2B sector. This is albeit not exclusively due to the further growing significance of the theme sustainability within the merchandising sector and the promotional products industry. Car manufacturers, the bobsleigh and sleigh association, sports clubs – they are all paying increased attention to sustainability when entering cooperations or procuring merchandising items and this also encompasses the regionality of the products. Nannen: “This is part of our efforts to work in a more resourceoptimised and sustainable way. Further concepts are in the pipeline, we are currently just waiting for the corresponding demand.”
In general, there is hardly anything that the luggage experts don’t try to make possible together with their network of suppliers and embellishers as long as the corresponding demand exists. For instance, the team spent one and a half years tinkering around on an order by an airline for a particularly lightweight, hard-shell pilot case that was conveniently accessible from the top and which had to fit exactly between the pilot seats in the cockpit. In the meantime, a solution has been found for this tricky task, explained Gradwohl. He continued that when the car manufacturer, Skoda, required a business bag that doubles up as both a rucksack and a classic bag, the designers also worked on the issue as to how and where to integrate the pen and organiser compartments so that once the bag is taken off one’s back and carried by the handle, the writing instrument doesn’t fall out of the given pocket. Nannen noted that he had only turned down enquiries for rifle cases in the past and wouldn’t accept such orders in the future either, but otherwise it is especially the orders for special designs that were fun to execute and which regularly serve to broaden the horizon of the company’s own designers and developers. “We produce complete custom-made products for order volumes of between around 500 and 1,000 pieces, the simple embellishment of standard items is possible from one palette upwards, which corresponds to approx. 30 cases,” said Gradwohl, outlining the framework conditions. The company based in Hamburg can carry out uncomplicated embellishments like exchanging a small amount of logos directly at its own spare parts warehouse at the registered office and thanks to a well-functioning network comprising of printing shops and other finishing companies, small order volumes individualised with imprints, embroideries, domings or foil can be delivered within short lead-times. Large volumes of more detailed customisations are carried out in Asia directly after the production, where all possible features of the suitcases and bags can be customised to match the respective CI: This ranges from a bespoke shell or fabric colour, to an individually designed lining and CI-conform touches such as stitching, handles or wheels in the desired shade through to complete custom-made products – co-branding is of course also possible in order to further emphasise the value as a brand item. The minimum order quantity varies: “For the trolleys we already offer complete individualisations for around 500 pieces, for the bags the minimum order volume tends to be 1,000 pieces,” reported Gradwohl.
The two international cooperations that Travelite/Titan has entered with CarryOn for the promotional products market in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg as well as with the Scandinavian IDE Group together with the increasing number of promotional products fairs that the three man strong B2B sales team visits underlines the fact that the group takes its commitment within the promotional products industry seriously. “We are initially focusing on the Benelux region, Scandinavia and Asia,” said Gradwohl. Nannen added: “Our brand product offers true added value on the market for haptic advertising, merchandising and loyalty schemes, which is why we consider it to be a strategic growth market. We will invest everything that is necessary to this end.”
// Klara Walk
photos: Klara Walk (3), © WA Media; Travelite GmbH + Co. KG, TITAN HAMBURG GmbH (2)