unched in 2018, BEIS is a travel brand built on the concept of giving every consumer the chance own stylish luggage that doesn’t break the bank. Co-founded by actress Shay Mitchell, of “Pretty Little Liars,” the line makes sleek carry-on and check-in roller bags, totes and weekenders. In the wake of the pandemic, the company set out to redefine what travel meant at the time and translated that definition into “on-the-go”, where it could apply to any staycation or remote travel during a time when the world was largely shut down. “I knew you didn’t have to be jet setting to resonate with consumers,” says Mitchell.
Following are excerpts from a recent interview with Mitchell and the company’s CEO Adeela Hussain Johnson.
Why was BEIS originally created and when did it launch?
Shay: BÉIS launched in October of 2018 and honestly came about out of my own growing frustration with market offerings. I’ve been traveling since I was a teenager and was always a bit frustrated by the travel accessories on the market. I always felt like the bags I was finding were either out of my price range, looked good but lacked function, or were ugly and super packed with features. As I got older, I found more and more that there were no options of chic looking, highly functional AND affordable items in the travel category. This was the white space opportunity that I wanted to carve out with BÉIS.
Was it inspired by your love for travel?
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Shay: For sure, my love of travel led me to have my own travel experiences – and experiences with bags and travel accessories – which led me to have very specific opinions about what constituted a “good bag” vs a “bad bag.” I would find myself on a trip, having the best time but with a bag that was epically failing me. This happened a lot and at a certain point, I started taking my frustration to paper…or more often than not, cocktail napkins or whatever other random scraps I could get my hands on…doodling my ideas for my dream bag. The bags in my head always combined form and function and when I encountered a “problem,” I thought through how I would like it to be fixed. Starting BÉIS was one of those “perfect storm” opportunities that I literally jumped at when it came up. All of my experience from travel, and my doodles and ideas from traveling with bags that didn’t live up to my expectations, have endlessly served me as we dream up, design and maximize function (and form!) of BÉIS pieces.
How quickly at the start of the pandemic did Beis see they needed to pivot their inventory and their approach?
Adeela: Right away. I remember calling Shay the day after lockdown and discussing how we have to pivot our assortment strategy and adjust our inventory plan. There was so much uncertainty at the time and my number one priority was to remain nimble so that we could understand the environment, read the consumers’ needs and be able to react, quickly. We leaned in to our top sellers and scaled back a bit on the pieces that were more overtly “plane travel;” such as rollers. We also looked at our future assortment plan and scaled back on luggage innovation but leaned into our smaller and “hands free” fashion and seasonal pieces. No one knew, at the time, how long we would be “grounded,” but we had to make some big bets, without a lot of foresight, because production timelines are at least 3-4 months. With a little luck we got some things right.
Which of these pivots worked the best and why?
Adeela: There were a few key decisions we made early and decisively that I believe helped us. Our inventory and assortment strategy aligned with where we predicated the market would move during a time when people would travel on planes less, but still need to move around. Instead they would travel in cars, go on more staycations with their families, get outdoors more and likely go on more walks – so, our assortment and buy strategy supported what we believed would be the “new normal.”
Also, we had to take some big bets in terms of where to invest. We wanted to be conservative where we could and double down in areas that were important to integrity of our business, our brand and our consumer. We pulled ads that spoke just to plane travel and repurposed those dollars to driving home the brand message of being an on-the-go and versatile brand, We also focused on creative content that highlighted the functional aspects of our products. The consumer responded very well to this because it showed value for their spend and continued to showcase our points of differentiation. The weekender, as an example, drove 4x DTC revenue and the work tote 2x DTC revenue, almost overnight, as we pivoted the message and creative.
Do you see the travel industry picking back up throughout 2021?
Adeela: Yes. Several industry reports are indicating that fall and holiday season this year will bring a resurgence, and I tend to agree. We’ve been anecdotally hearing that it’s going to feel like the roaring 20’s 2.0. If our recent sales trends are any indicator of what to expect, then I feel very confident that people are beginning to venture and move about – in the last month we have increased year over year growth by over 20%, from 113% year over year growth a month ago to 135%, now.
How do you think the travel industry has changed permanently, and what is Beis doing to accommodate this new perspective?
Shay: Honestly, I know that the function of travel has definitely changed, but fundamentally and from a philosophical perspective travel will remain much the same. People travel because they want to explore and grow and educate themselves. People travel to visit family, to seek new experiences, to make new connections….it’s a HUMAN experience. And for that reason – people will travel. They will continue to get on planes BUT maybe they are going to wipe their seats down now, or not use the seatback on the plane, or think twice about stacking their clothes in the hotel dresser.
As seasoned travelers we totally get it, and we are focused on growing our brand around those needs and changes. We’re going to continue to offer innovation in the hands-free space and offer solutions that allow you to essentially live out of our bag, so you can minimize exposure, but stay organized.
Where do you plan to travel to when the pandemic is behind us?
Shay: EVERYWHERE, but the first place will be back to Canada to visit family.