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And Then Along Came COVID…

It takes nerves of steel and an unwavering faith in yourself and your idea to create and introduce a new product to the world in the best of circumstances — but in the midst of a pandemic? In addition to the usual concerns, now you’re dealing with a market in flux, supply chain issues, rapidly changing consumer needs, unprecedented travel restrictions and lockdowns, and more.

There were countless new challenges…but there were also rewards, as these five TGA members discovered when they overcame obstacles no one could have foreseen and introduced new travel products to the industry.

Pandemic Launches Brand

Airplane Pockets had been in development for years before the pandemic hit. In fact, the company received the patent for the product in 2015; spent time ensuring the material, manufacturing and delivery would be on the mark; built a website; and, by the summer of 2019, had produced a small run of product.

And then February hit.

“In the first week we completely sold out of our inventory,” said Brit Sharon, vice president of sales. “In March, we had pre-sold twice the amount of product than we had previously ordered and were able to restock and ship out to customers ASAP.”

Airplane Pockets spent April and May designing and perfecting its retail packaging and were shopping it around by June 1. They had retailers carrying it within the week.

Then the shutdowns began.

“It was the biggest issue we faced,” said Sharon.

The company lost momentum. Finding retailers who were buying was nearly impossible.

Airplane Pockets allow people to travel safely knowing they aren’t exposing their food and belongings to germs that live on the tray table and in the seatback pocket. MSRP: $29.95

Contact info: Brit Sharon, brit@airplanepockets.com, 818-693-9744

Lesson learned: “Relationships are everything.” Airplane Pockets relied on its mom-and-pop retailers to spread the word. “They couldn’t move luggage but could move two, four, 10 at a time, and they told their friends” who came and bought and helped these shops survive.

Sharon’s advice: “Don’t stop just because everything else does! We went to the drawing board and worked on our packaging, knowing that travel would eventually reopen.”

Bottom line: “Ultimately, the pandemic launched our brand,” said Sharon. “We became needed and wanted, and a year later we have dozens of retailers around the country, including national chains.”

A Slowdown Lets a Company Slow Down

HYDAWAY founder Niki Singlaub planned to launch his company’s insulated Collapsible Drink Tumblers in four solid colors only, first on Kickstarter in spring of 2020 and then in retail stores later that year. But the shutdown forced a change in direction — and design.

With no way to create needed marketing assets, HYDAWAY was forced to delay the launch until fall. And that was where innovation stepped in.

“We improved the functionality and aesthetics of the designs and came up with our three outdoor-inspired sleeve patterns — Yukon, Cascadia and Mojave,” said Singlaub. “These patterns have been extremely successful and popular with our customers.

“Who knows if we would have made them if not for the delays?”

With its launch, HYDAWAY Collapsible Drink Tumblers offer a convenient alternative to single-use coffee cups and lids, aligning with the company’s mission to help reduce global disposable waste by providing practical, reusable drinkware solutions.

The streamlined Hydaway Collapsible Drink Tumbler with double-wall stainless steel rim, insulation sleeve and leak-proof lid holds 16 oz of hot or cold beverage. It folds down to a 1.25” disc that easily fits into pocket, backpack, gym bag, carry-on or handbag. A flexible, food-grade silicone straw is included. MSRP: $24.95

Contact info: Niki Singlaub, sales@hydawaybottle.com, 844-493-2929

Lesson learned: “Take your time, don’t rush your designs and launch when ready!”

Singlaub’s advice: “Be flexible, stay positive and treat the roadblocks as opportunities to create something better.”

Bottom line: “If your brand is having challenges, then it’s likely the customer is, too,” said Singlaub. “Repositioning the product or brand as a solution to said problems will resonate much more and potentially lead to better results.”

Doing the Pandemic Pivot

In the early days of COVID, YaY Novelty experienced success with its high-performance facemask; but the market was soon flooded with cheaper facemasks and consumers bought based on price.

YaY’s second pandemic launch was for a product no one knew they would need but that everyone soon realized they had to have: a Vaccination Card Holder/Protector. While YaY’s card holder was the first on the market and offered in a variety of designs – everything from a world map to scenes of the Pacific Northwest to ones bearing fun sayings like, “I need Vitamin Sea” – the company had little competition. Unfortunately, they faced another obstacle.

“Labor shortages,” said YaY Novelty founder and CEO Sunchea Phou. “Production couldn’t keep up with the demand.”

One advantage YaY had was that the company produced the card holders locally, in Washington State. YaY has already sold tens of thousands of the card protectors and sales continue to strengthen.

YaY Novelty’s U.S.-made Vaccination Card Holder/Vaccine Card Protector, sized to fit the standard 4.25” x 3.13” vaccination card, has become an essential document. MSRP: $7.99

Contact info: Sunchea Phou, info@yaynovelty.com, 206-852-8589

Lesson learned: Catch the momentum. Be the first in the market, and pivot very quickly. “Doing business in the era of COVID is no longer the same; everything is very volatile.”

Phou’s advice: “Create products that are needed at the moment. People don’t spend much on things that are not necessary during challenging times. Be the trendsetter and move fast.”

Bottom line: Vaccination cards have become an essential document everyone needs to carry with them when traveling and vaccination card holders are a hot seller.

Be a Risk Taker

Responding to consumer demand for newness, McKlein Company planned to launch its new burgundy colorway in the fourth quarter of 2020, but of course COVID had other ideas and unleashed new issues, including supply chain challenges and cost increases.

“Due to everything shutting down overseas, I had to wait for hardware,” said McKlein CEO Parinda Saetia, “And then shipping got so expensive.”

McKlein was finally able to fully launch the colorway in early 2021.

“It was definitely later than what we had planned,” said Saetia.

McKlein Company’s Morgan 83346, a 17” Litigator Laptop Briefcase in full grain cowhide leather finished with silver hardware and a 3-digit combination lock, launched in the new burgundy colorway. MSRP: $250

Contact info: Parinda Saetia, psaetia@mckleincompany.com, 312-636-9615

Lesson learned: Be willing to take risks.

Saetia’s advice: “We need to be able to take risks for keeping up with the market demands.”

Bottom line: One thing McKlein would have done differently with its new colorway was to launch it much earlier.

Keep on Keeping on

According to TALUS President David McClees, it was smooth sailing in launching the new Southwest pattern for TALUS’ High Road® Southwest Collection of car organizers. The timing may not have been ideal, but the company still wanted to be proactive in attracting additional attention with brighter colors in the marketplace and differentiating offerings from typical commodity sellers.

TALUS’ High Road® Collection offers an assortment of problem-solving car clean-up and containment products to add comfort and eliminate clutter for every area of a car’s interior. MSRP: $17.99-$24.99

Contact info: Kim Filippone, kim@talusproducts.com, 207-871-9230

Lesson learned: How to better package for both ecommerce and retail.

McClees’ advice: Even in a pandemic, “it is important to keep moving forward.”

Bottom line: There were no obstacles with the launch but, in hindsight, TALUS would have better planned packaging for multiple channel sales.

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