The Disruptors: Vancouver’s Monos takes on Away

The luggage brand, which expects to make $5 million in sales this year, is leveraging Away's awareness and promoting its quality.

Monos

Monos co-founders Hubert Chan, Victor Tam and Daniel Shin.

A ballpark 90% of Monos customers first encounter the Vancouver-based startup having heard of D2C luggage competitor Away, says Victor Tam, one of three co-founders at the company. Naturally, one of the most common questions people ask is: How does one-year-old Monos’ suitcases compare with those of the older and larger American travel accessories brand?

Since launching in 2018, Monos has had success selling a limited range of fashionable suitcases online to customers in Canada and the U.S. The company is on track to hit $5 million in sales this year, though Tam believes Q4 sales could push that number even higher.

The company has so far been able to weather the storm of COVID-19, which has upended a number of businesses and is expected to further impact the global tourism industry. In February, sales were up 45% over January, and March is showing early signs of outpacing last month’s sales, according to Tam. The company has nevertheless taken its “foot off the gas a little bit” on manufacturing in anticipation of an eventual slow-down.

The plan, within the next two years, is to open flagship stores in high-demand neighbourhoods in a limited number of large Canadian cities. However, its immediate goal is to expand the product assortment beyond luggage, says Tam. Since January, Monos has launched new products as it looks to round out its offering, including a luggage cover for its checked baggage, a limited-edition colourway and a Carry-On Pro Plus that comes with a hard-shell front pocket. It plans to continue expanding the line, possibly through collaborations with other brands, prior to moving offline with its first bricks-and-mortar store, for which no specific timeline has been set.

To date, Away’s success and its expansion into physical retail (announcing last month that will open its first store in Canada) hasn’t hampered Monos’ efforts. In fact, Tam says, Away has been “paving the way” for Monos and other DTC brands by getting customers to think beyond established players like Hudson’s Bay and Costco for their next bag purchase. Much like first-to-market disruptors in other categories (Uber, Casper, Netflix, etc.), more awareness of Away could lead to more business for Monos.

Monos-ProThanks to some basic retargeting, every customer who visits any luggage company online will likely be served an ad for Monos. Its current marketing strategy currently prioritizes posts on Facebook and Instagram, though it anticipates eventually shifting more dollars toward Google buys to capture customers who intend to buy. And with a marketing budget that continues to grow – an initial ad budget of $10,000 per month has turned into a $100,000 monthly ad spend – the bulk of Monos’ communications are focused on answering the initial question: whose luggage is better?

In some ways, Monos posits itself a disruptor to the disruptor. From the outset, its co-founders’ goal was to build a brand that they say is design-driven, made to last (they are guaranteed for life), and sold at accessible prices (in the $300 to $500 range). Other brands, such as high-end Rimowa, offer quality goods at premium prices of upwards of $1,000. As a DTC brand, Away is able to offer Instagram-worthy luggage at affordable prices (between $300 and $700).

But whereas Away has also put money into incorporating battery chargers into its suitcases, Tam says Monos has eliminated any “unnecessary distractions” in order to maximize quality and keep costs as low as possible.

“One key difference that I think a lot of people will notice immediately is that we chose not to include a battery in our suitcases,” says Tam. “Because we’re not trying to position ourselves as smart luggage. We want to be known as good luggage and be a good suitcase first and foremost, that’s our focus.”

Believing that the category lags on educating consumers on things like the types of materials used to make luggage, and the differences between certain wheels and handles, Monos has dedicated a lot of its time educating potential customers about its quality positioning.