Back from the brink: Antler ushers in a new era

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Inside Retail: How has Antler fared since ATR took over the brand last year? 

Elizabeth Rhodes: A lot has changed within the business over the last 12-18 months, not least because of the impact the global pandemic has had on the entire industry. The whole industry has been put under extreme pressure, but for us, 2020 has also fast-tracked some changes and developments that mean we are arguably in an even stronger position for growth than before.

Over the last 12 months, we’ve redefined our brand positioning, rolled out a new website, and taken a fresh look at our product design pipeline. We will continue to work closely with our valued wholesale partners, and concurrently build a best-in-class, global, e-commerce website that combines inspiring content with frictionless functionality—a ‘shop window’ for the brand which will have a halo effect across all our sales channels. We may be a small team, but we are no less ambitious for it, and as we start to look beyond Covid, our focus is on rolling out one consistent, global brand identity that is highly relevant and resonates with today’s discerning traveller. We remain confident in the opportunity for growth, positive about what lies ahead, and excited to see our plans come to life.

IR: What does the new era for Antler look like and how is the brand being repositioned?

ER: In terms of our positioning, our mission is to enable the enriching experience of travel. We’ve always had a focus on industry-leading innovation, with first-to-market milestones, and that will remain a core focus. Whilst we’re a heritage brand (we were established in England in 1914), that’s only relevant if we apply what we’ve learned from experience and adapt it to the present needs of our customers.

Alongside our new positioning and creative, which we expect to start rolling out in Australia by the end of this year, we have an ambitious product development strategy, with plenty in the pipeline. We have a unique position within the market thanks to our history, our trusted credentials, our accessible price point and our fresh, elevated aesthetic, so we’re excited to take what we’ve been doing in our home market of the UK and roll it out internationally.

Repositioning the brand was a journey we were on pre-pandemic. Previously, the business and the brand had a heavy focus on outlet and deep discounting, and our product, whilst still strong in terms of quality and reliability, felt tired. In 2019 we started on a journey to build value back into the brand, increasing desirability and moving our focus away from discounting and instead towards a premium positioning, with a tightly-curated range of contemporary, design-led luggage, still with all of the quality hallmarks that Antler is known for, that would support this.

Accordingly, we’ve reimagined and elevated every element of our visual identity. That means our new e-commerce site at Antler.com is cleaner in design, with a more intuitive navigation, and easier to use across all devices – no more big red sale banners and clunky product pages. 

Our photography is now zoom-able and better positions our luggage as a desirable lifestyle accessory, and we shoot in aspirational locations around the world, working with a network of established and up-and-coming fashion photographers and stylists. Our products regularly top the round-ups of the best luggage and travel accessories here in the UK – in the last 18 months we’ve been featured in Vogue, GQ, Elle and Condé Nast Traveller, to name just a few. We’re also very active in the social space, where we connect with content creators and our community of travel lovers, as well as other like-minded independent brands, via our Instagram @antlerofficial.

IR: Tell me about the new e-commerce strategy and what it involves.

ER: In the UK, our lead market, we’re already operating as a fast-moving digital-first brand, which has been a huge leap forward – it means we can have a much more direct conversation with both our existing and potential new customers, which helps drive loyalty and conversion. 

E-commerce isn’t just about a website, it’s about optimising every element of our digital estate – owned, earned and paid – to drive sustainable growth. We have a communications strategy that keeps us at the forefront of relevance and new-ness, a digital marketing approach that is agile, scalable and borderless, a social media strategy that is internationally relevant and outward-looking, and we’re building a multi-time zone customer service offering. This is just the beginning—and as our head of e-commerce always reminds us, a best-in-class website is never, ever ‘finished’!

By spring, we will roll out Antler.com within Europe; the US will follow and come October, we will launch our website in Australia, having recently acquired the distribution rights from the Cache Group, who, as distributors, have been our guardians in Australia and New Zealand for over 30 years. But our ambitions aren’t solely within e-commerce – wholesale will remain an important part of our strategy in all markets.

IR: What does the refreshed visual brand identity look like, how is it being rolled out and what does it represent?

ER: We very much see ourselves as a travel brand, as opposed to a luggage manufacturer. Travel is an emotive experience – the excitement of planning, the anticipation of arrival, and the heightened senses that are triggered when discovering new people, places and cultures. We want the brand to resonate with those who share our passion.

Our brand identity will naturally come through in the visual content we share across our owned and paid channels, and via our wholesale presence, but a brand is a living and breathing thing, so rolling out a fresh positioning of course doesn’t stop at one photo shoot, it’s about ensuring a look and feel is carried across every piece of content, for the long-term – the job is never complete. As a team, we push ourselves on every detail. Is this message authentic? How does this partnership reflect our mission? Does this new product feature truly deliver? We are working to ensure that wherever and whenever someone sees our brand, they are left with the right first impression. That takes time, effort and careful curation, especially as we build out our global presence.

IR: Do you see Antler-owned physical stores playing a part in the future of Antler?

ER: Our short-term focus is on accelerating our e-commerce channel and supporting our long-standing wholesale partnerships. Longer term, we definitely see a role for a branded physical presence in some shape or form. There will always be a customer in the market for luggage who likes to touch and feel the product before they buy, but even more than that, a physical space is an opportunity to bring a brand to life and build an emotional connection with your customers. With bricks-and-mortar, that can happen on so many levels – through a positive interaction with a member of staff, through lighting, décor, music, scent and creative assets, even aside from the product curation itself.

We think the retail spaces of the future will be a real joy to step into, and with so much joy and rich experience to be found in travel, the opportunities for designing and creating something quite magical are endless. As we open this new chapter of our brand story, our attitude is very much to test and learn. We think of ourselves as a 100-year-old start-up, so our journey into branded physical retail would probably begin with the more agile formats available now, such as a pop-up or retail collaboration.

IR: How has Antler responded to the changing travel landscape. How has it changed strategies to suit the changing consumer’s needs and current lifestyle?

ER: Throughout our 100 years of history, we have been at the heart of innovation in our industry, and it’s essential that innovation remains an integral part of our identity and values. We are putting a lot of focus on our product development to ensure that our pipeline of launches over the next two to five years is relevant to a design-led, socially conscious and discerning traveller. We will be working on big ideas around sustainability, right through to maintaining a focus on the tiniest of details around our product functionality. It’s important we stay outward-looking and relevant to what’s going on around us, not just with our product design but across everything we do, like how customers are shopping, for example. The pandemic has fast-tracked a dramatic shift in how people purchase, which is why e-commerce is an essential focus for our, and indeed any, business.

IR: How would you describe the current luggage global landscape right now?

ER: There’s no denying that the luggage retail industry has, like the wider travel and tourism industry, been drastically impacted by the pandemic. It will remain challenging, until the easing of international borders, but once travel restrictions lift, things will come back. We have been working to ensure that we are well positioned to meet demand with an exciting pipeline of new product launches. We also believe that there’s a significant opportunity within the luggage industry because a much broader range of global consumers are now seeing luggage as a style choice, not just a purchase of necessity. That’s another reason why we’re confident that we are in a strong position for growth.

It’s been both sad and difficult to see the impact the pandemic has had worldwide on the travel industry and those affected by it. Many of us hope that travel post-pandemic won’t just be about racing to all those places we’ve missed with little thought of our footprint. We hope it will come with a true appreciation of what a privilege it is to be a guest, and as a guest, it follows to behave thoughtfully, as though you’re in your own home. If that’s what we can strive for as a global travel industry and as visitors ourselves, then the future of tourism is incredibly bright. The pandemic has been a very human and humbling experience to live through.