Samsonite and TUMI: Transforming Retail and E-Commerce

How do established brands like Samsonite and Tumi rethink their digital strategy for retail and e-commerce. Samsonite and TUMI executive, Charlie Cole, shares his strategy and plans on this exciting episode of CxOTalk.


Aug 09, 2019

How do established brands like Samsonite and Tumi plan their digital and ecommerce strategy? Senior executive, Charlie Cole, shares his ecommerce strategy for 2019 and 2020 in this exciting CXO executive interview.

Charlie Cole joined TUMI in 2015 as the company’s (CDO) Chief Digital Officer. In this role, Mr. Cole is responsible for overseeing and developing the brands’ national and international e-commerce and digital platforms. Since Samsonite’s acquisition of Tumi in 2016, Charlie has also taken the role of Global Chief eCommerce Officer for Samsonite Corporation – which includes oversight of global ecommerce strategy for brands such as Samsonite, American Tourister, Hartmann, Gregory, High Sierra, eBags, Speck and others.

As a top Chief Digital Officer, Charlie Cole brings a wealth of insight to this episode on digital business, digital transformation, and ecommerce marketing strategy 2019 and 2020.


This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Michael Krigsman: There are so many changes happening in retail and e-commerce. Today, we're taking a deep dive into this topic. I'm delighted to welcome Charlie Cole of Tumi and Samsonite. He's the chief digital officer of TUMI. It's a well-known luggage brand. In fact, I'm one of their customers. He is also the global chief e-commerce officer of Samsonite, one of the largest luggage brands in the world and a brand that I'm sure everyone is familiar with. Charlie, tell us about TUMI and Samsonite and what you do.

Charlie Cole: Samsonite has really grown by way of acquisitions and functions as a holding company similar to Proctor & Gamble. Underneath the Samsonite banner, we have brands like Samsonite,, Speck, et cetera. When they acquired TUMI in 2016, that's when I came over and joined the corporation.

My job is to drive a digital and e-commerce strategy across the holding company and around the world. We function in more than 100 countries. We have brand websites in over 60 of them. It's certainly a job that requires a little bit of cohesion.

Tell us about digital transformation at Samsonite?

Michael Krigsman: Charlie, Samsonite was founded in, I believe, 1910.

Charlie Cole: It really serves as sort of a case study for how companies have had to evolve. I've been really fortunate to be a part of it. Samsonite, in its history, was very much a wholesale-centric company, so I always say that they thought of their customers as Macy's and Nordstrom as opposed to Charlie and Michael. From our perspective, that's kind of where I came in is to drive e-commerce.

Part of my job is the multi-brand wholesalers like Macy's or Amazon but, really, the job that I'm most passionate about is driving our direct to consumer business because I think, in the modern-day, having a one-to-one relationship with your customer as opposed to allowing multi-brand retailers and middlemen to kind of drive that relationship for you is really important. I think that transformation of evolving from wholesale to kind of this hybrid company that includes a direct to consumer capability has been the most fun evolution for me to be a part of.

How did you drive digital transformation at TUMI and Samsonite?

Charlie Cole: The people were really first. I think that that is where we've made the most positive impact. When I joined the Samsonite corporation, the first thing that really matters in a transformation like this. I don't mean to sound like a suck-up, but it really is true. It's that CEO buy-in and CEO sponsorship.

Simply, the creation of my role was a message to the organization that we were evolving, and then getting the right people in each region around Asia and Europe. I could tell you; we hired Sheldon in Asia about a year or so ago. Just having him and having a great digital leader in each region was step one.

We have seven or eight digital leaders around the world that have driven the tone. I really rely on them to drive it operationally. Then, as long as we're aligned strategically and from a vision perspective all the way to the top.

Now, my CEO Kyle really kind of gives us free rein to drive the strategy. It's not a micromanaged organization. We're very decentralized by region. To me, the first step for any transformation, it sounds a little cliché, but it does start with getting the right people in the right places, but it had to have buy-in from the entire organization, and that's what I give a lot of credit to my boss to.

How does customer experience drive revenue?

Michael Krigsman: Charlie, we have a question from Twitter that gets to the heart of a topic that I wanted to talk with you about. This is from Sal Rasa who says, "How do you leverage the customer experience for your revenue objectives to move beyond," and this is the key point, "just a transactional exchange? How do you weave empathy into this?" because, of course, historically, for retailers, you go to your corner store. She knows you. There's a relationship. How do you manage to do that now with e-commerce?

Charlie Cole: Love this question. I think that the idea of moving beyond transaction is key to add to this idea of custom centricity and customer experience. The thing that I always try to remind myself is, the customer expectation experience is an evolution.

One of the things I say frequently, Michael, is this idea that, five years ago, seven years ago, the idea of having to have everything in two days via the Internet was insane. It wasn't really thought of. It wasn't a customer expectation. I think, for us, trying to be a part of that evolution and understanding that customer expectations are evolving is step one.

Also, we have a very long transaction cycle. We build the greatest travel products on earth and so, if we do our job right from a manufacturing perspective, which we certainly do, I theoretically won't see you again for seven to ten years. I think that idea of customer experience has to evolve over that amount of time. That puts a lot of pressure on us from a service after sales perspective or a customer service perspective. I think that that makes our job a little bit more challenging but, frankly, it also causes us to be a heck of a lot more authentic with our customers.

I think about TUMI, specifically the brand TUMI. They've been investing heavily in our customer service platform. We recently partnered with a group called Gladly, and it allows us to really have a one-to-one relationship with our consumers.

A very small thing, Michael, if you were to call into TUMI and you were to talk to, say, Cedric. If you call back, if Cedric is there, you're going to get Cedric again. This idea of actually creating a relationship on a one-to-one basis because your relationship with the brand is going to be predicated on your relationship with our people. I think that that's a good example of where we understand that customer service and customer experience has to evolve beyond thinking of you as a transaction or a ticket number, but really thinking of you as an individual.

Is relationship the foundation of digital leadership and customer experience strategy?

Charlie Cole: Yeah, I really do kind of harp on this idea. For years and years and years, when someone called in to a customer service call center, you were a ticket, like ticket number 12469 or whatever, and you have to solve this problem. That literally dehumanizes someone. It makes it so you're having a relationship with a problem as opposed to a person.

I think if you evolve beyond transaction and beyond these ideas of issues of tickets and actually view a customer holistically in every single interaction wherever possible, it does give you that more warm, one-to-one relationship because transactions are, frankly, the start of the journey. They're not the end. I think if you think of that kind of idea in your company, you're going to have a much more genuine relationship with your customers.

Michael Krigsman: How do you do that? How do you, first off, change the mindset to think of customers that way because it is different? It's a different way of thinking, especially if you've grown up in a traditional retail environment. Then what's the kind of activities, data, and interactions that you can drive online in order to understand whether or not you're achieving that goal?

Charlie Cole: I'm glad you mention data because it frankly is probably the most tactical but also most difficult part because, if you are going to have a view of Michael as a full customer, I have to have a cohesive view of your purchases, your email open/send/click behavior, your customer service requests, your browsing requests. There are so many things that go into the identity of a customer.

For us, we made pretty heavy investments on that side and what is now known as the space called the customer data platform. I like to think that TUMI was one of the first ones to really adopt this idea before it was even being called a customer data platform. We installed a group called AgilOne in 2016, right?

We immediately recognized the challenge of having a cohesive view. That becomes the tactical part. Then when you get to the idea of, "Okay, now what? Now I know who Michael is. Now I know everything he's done. What do we do now?" you can do a variety of things.

We do algorithmic-based targeting, so we try not to send people messages that are irrelevant. When we are sending, say, a message about women's backpacks, if you've done nothing in your history, both historically and recently, that would indicate that you're interested, you don't get the email. That's another very tactical thing around this idea of personalization and having a more one-to-one relationship with the customer.

Now, we start asking this question. For me, it's what I'm really passionate about and what we're working hard on is, how should we use that data to give you a better experience when you've already bought something? When you call into the call center, we can have a good idea of, here's what Michael has recently bought. Here's what Michael has bought historically. Also, here's what Michael has been looking at via email. We can have a good idea of what you want to talk to us about and we can give you much more context on if you have a warranty problem, if you have a product question. It gives our customer service agents much more information to, frankly, help you.

I would say, simply, Michael, start with it culturally. Make a decision that you're going to be customer-centric. Tactically, have a really good view of your customer data. Then from a more strategic perspective, make sure that you're actually using this data in a way to help the consumer regardless if that means another transaction or not. I think you have to really think about what is the goal of every customer interaction as opposed to just driving sales through ad nauseam.

How do you gain buy-in for transformation and innovation?

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. This is from a former CXOTalk guest, Dana Randall. Dana asks, "Since digital transformation extends beyond e-commerce, what approaches do you find most effective to get buy-in when spinning up initiatives that impact other business divisions such as store operations, product development, or customer service?"

Charlie Cole: Yeah, the concept of buy-in lends itself to a lot of, I guess, noise. I think you always talk about internal company silos, bureaucracy, or politics. I think those are all things that might be a little touchy to touch on in certain organizations. But, at the same time, it's reality.

In our case, one of the first things, actually, when I was at TUMI, when I was being recruited at TUMI by Jerome Griffith, who eventually sold the company and is now the CEO at Lands' End, one of the first conversations he and I had was, I had no intention of joining the company if I was only compensated on digital revenue. I think it starts there.

You have to have alignment on initiatives because I have so many people that when they say they're the VP of e-commerce and you ask them, "What is your bonus based on?" they're like, "Oh, e-commerce revenue." I think that that is the start of a really problematic journey because, if you don't have alignment with your offline partners, wholesale partners, and customer service partners, you're going to do the wrong thing.

If you are only compensated as the VP of e-commerce on e-commerce revenue, you're going to minimize the store locator. You're going to not focus on context. You're not going to focus on your wholesale partners. I just think that that's where it starts.

It might sound extremely obvious, but there are so many compensation plans that basically doom digital transformation at the start because people see this digital person or this e-commerce person as almost the enemy. I think you have to really align that. If you start there at that very kind of barbaric level of just how we all get paid, then once you're on the same level, people will see you as an ally. If you can drive that organization where, in my case, probably the first year I was in this role, all I did was try to learn from my regional counterparts because they're really the ones that drive the business, but it would have been doomed in the start if we hadn't been aligned at a basic, amino acid level on the compensation side, which again sounds obvious but you see it very, very often where there's just a misalignment.

Is ecommerce primarily about driving revenue? 

Michael Krigsman: Actually, it's funny. To me, it doesn't sound obvious at all. Well, yeah, I mean from a common sense standpoint, definitely. But let's drill into this a little bit more. In an organization that is trying to drive revenue, which is all organizations, and the goal of e-commerce is to drive revenue, then how does one escape from having e-commerce revenue as your compensation metric?

Charlie Cole: I would actually disagree on something, which is, I think it starts with the idea of e-commerce can't just be about driving revenue. Look. I'm a capitalist. We're a publicly-traded company. We are held to revenue standards, so I'm not trying to say that that's not a part of it.

But, for example, when you ask in the organization, "Hey, who is responsible for online to offline traffic?" I think the e-commerce person has to raise their hand. I think we have to be the one that is holding ourselves accountable for traffic as a company-wide goal as opposed to an e-commerce initiative.

One of the things that I've been known to say in the past is, a great e-commerce site, the best e-commerce site on Earth, is going to have a conversion rate of what, 5%, 10% maybe? That means 95% to 90% of your job is this idea of making that traffic as useful, as powerful, and as relevant as possible. You have to just make peace with the fact that people still go into stores and people still go into your wholesale partners.

I think it does start, Michael, with the idea of, yes, e-commerce revenue is a goal but it's not the goal. We have to hold ourselves accountable to more metrics such as how many people come to the store locator page; such as, how are we tracking online to offline attribution. There are a lot of ways to do that. I think that is the e-commerce department's job.

Number one, we live in the numbers on a daily basis. Number two, if you do make an effort to think of your digital strategy as cohesive, you will get organizational buy-in, but it takes with the idea of evolving beyond revenue.

Michael Krigsman: What are the other kinds of metrics, beyond revenue, that reflect the nature of the ongoing relationship with the customer, especially in your case? I'm also, by the way, a Hartmann customer. By the way, as a customer of Hartmann and TUMI, I'm listening to this very carefully. [Laughter]

Charlie Cole: [Laughter]

How can you build customer relationships in an ecommerce and online environment?

Michael Krigsman: How do you drive that relationship beyond just revenue when, as you said earlier, a person buys luggage; they come into the store, say, once in seven years?

Charlie Cole: Yeah, and this is where it comes back. You started the question, Michael, which metrics, right? I have a predisposition to numbers. It's kind of what I love. I do believe that you have to have more measurements than the classic e-commerce formula of traffic conversion rate and average order value.

That's great. That is important. That is how you drive revenue and profitability. I get it. But we are constantly working with our partners to understand, how can we correlate whether or not we drove store traffic? I talked about that. Google and Facebook are now offering some pretty good options there where you can start to hold your advertising accountable in a more full-funnel way.

Then you start talking about this idea of the store locator. The store locator is such a powerful tool that people use, particularly on mobile devices, where you can make correlations between advertising buys and what's happened on the store locator.

Ultimately, what we end up talking about is this idea, this very ethereal idea of attribution. Top of funnel, bottom of funnel, mid-funnel, all of those various sources of traffic or people coming to your website should be treated differently.

The idea is this. When you send out an advertisement, it's the equivalent of walking down the street, stopping a random person and being like, "Hey, do you want a backpack right now?" Of course, most of those people will be like, "Actually, no. I'm good on the backpack front," so your goal can't be transactional all the time. It might be a goal of time on site, visits per session, or did they watch a video. All of these goals have to be quantified and aligned with the traffic source because then you start to get into this idea of usability on the website.

I think it does start with aligning metrics for where the customer is in their journey. The hard part there is having the technology that allows you to do so effectively and at scale.

How do you use data to create customer relationships?

Michael Krigsman: When we talk about this type of data, in effect what you're doing is building up a two-dimensional representation of customer behavior or, let's put it this way, a wireframe diagram of points of customer behavior from which you are trying to construct a three-dimensional picture of that individual. Can you talk a little bit about how you make the leap from points of data to the human being for whom you must have understanding, caring, and empathy?

Charlie Cole: Yeah, and it's tricky because you only know what you know. I think there is also a meta over this conversation, Michael, which is, consumers are rightfully concerned with how their data is being captured and used. I think, on a daily basis, that becomes a more relevant conversation. As you make those leaps, I think it's very important to remind yourself to not be presumptuous.

I'll tell you a very quick anecdote. We were in the process of a client telling test. The test was, on one side we're going to have our stores use their little black books, what they had for years, and call customers. On another side, we were going to use our data out of AgilOne to programmatically decide who should be called about what.

We were in one of our stores in New York City. I asked the store manager, "Who is your best customer?" He said, "Oh, it's Bob. Bob probably spends $30,000 a year here." Sure enough, there is Bob.

I was like, "Great. You should call Bob and talk to him about a women's backpack." The store clerk just kind of looked at me like, "Why would I sell a guy a women's backpack?" Sure enough, the data had shown that Bob had been opening emails about women's backpacks. He had been browsing the site on women's backpacks and so, when we talked to Bob, he was like, "Oh, yeah. I'm actually looking for a present for my mother."

Now, I couldn't have got from data to present for mother, but I can use that context in a way to humanize the message I send to Bob like, "Hey, Bob. We're listening to you. We're trying to get you the right thing for what you're looking for."

That's where I think you have to make those leaps, Michael, but you have to be very careful to not be presumptuous. Just because my data shows something, it doesn't necessarily give you the full context.

I think you use data to map where the customer is in their journey. You try to give relevant messaging based on that. But it's important to avoid these leaps and jumps that some people make that, frankly, get a little too aggressive.

Michael Krigsman: How do you avoid it? It's human nature.

Charlie Cole: Side of caution. I would say, err on the side of caution is important here because, personally, I've been in the market. My wife and I were having a conversation last night about trying to find a frequent flyer ticket to Sidney. I might be speaking at a conference there next year.

If you looked at my Delta browsing session, I have been looking at Sidney, Sidney, Sidney, Sidney, and we've been trying to move around dates to find ones that we can use on miles so my wife and daughter can come with us. Frankly, I'm actually not that far down the buying journey yet. I haven't even made the decision where I'm going to purchase.

If Delta started hammering me with a message saying, "Buy a flight to Sidney," it's probably going to turn me off. That's what I mean about erring on the side of caution. If Delta sent me something saying, "Hey, do you want to set up an alert when Sidney frequent flyer miles drop?" I'd be like, "Oh, yeah. That'd be helpful." It's this idea of erring on the side of caution and not treating your customers, to your point, as just a transaction.

How do you create a seamless multi-channel ecommerce strategy?

Michael Krigsman: We have another great question from Twitter. This is from Arsalan Khan. It's a great question. "How do you create a seamless channel from offline to online and vice versa?"

Charlie Cole: I'm not going to be redundant. I do think compensation is important. I do think personalization in the message is important. But I would also question the word "seamless" a little bit because I do think it's important that you appreciate the channels as individual channels but also as a cohesive company.

When someone walks into the store, do they expect the exact same experience as somebody on a website? I would argue no. I would argue there actually is an idiosyncratic difference between the two.

I think there are certain things that need to be consistent. Your brand point of view needs to be consistent. Your messaging needs to be consistent. I'll say another thing. Your pricing needs to be consistent.

I think where you really break the customer journey, specifically with our TUMI, when I joined TUMI, TUMI was on this dangerous journey of, "Hey, we need to make more money. Have an online promotion." It's a tried and true thing. You've seen brands hurt by doing this over and over and over again.

One of the first things we tried to do was align the promotional calendar between stores and websites. Now, look; that's really hard. It's really hard to put that genie back in the bottle, but that's a small example of what I do think should be seamless.

Then, when you're in the store, you have such an opportunity to have a more tangible, physical experience of opening the bags, playing with the bags, and actually talking to another human being in an active way. That's why I think you do need to let the channels live on their own and I do want my store associates to feel comfortable sending someone to the website.

This goes back to this idea of compensation. Do we give the store credit for someone that they sent to the website? How do you do that?

I think that this idea, and this was sort of a rambling answer, but this idea of making sure the brand experience is consistent but allowing the channels themselves to live on their own is an important dichotomy. If you can find that balance, it's very, very powerful.

What is the relationship between ecommerce and brand perception?

Michael Krigsman: On the topic of brand experience, to what extent do you think about brand and does that turn you into a marketer without tentacles into all of these different processes and parts of the company?

Charlie Cole: One of the first hard lessons I learned in e-commerce is, digital is not the company. I used to believe that if you followed what the analytics told you and if you just did what we said we should do from a numerical perspective on e-commerce then, frankly, merchandising and branding be damned. I was, frankly, very young and very arrogant.

What I've learned is that digital is at service to the brand and at service to the product as opposed to the other way around. It sounds a little bit idealistic, but I think it's an important thing to remind ourselves as digital leaders. I am there to support Victor, who is the creative director at TUMI; Latay, who is at Samsonite Europe. These people know so much more about the product than I ever will. We're at service to support their mission.

To answer your question really simply, Michael, I think we should always be at service to our brands. Our job is to butt up against it. I always talk about this idea of guardrails. On one side you have the brand. On one side you have the product. Digital is in between. If I can widen them, if I can make our message larger by giving feedback and telling them what consumers are saying, that's a really powerful thing. But I never forget that I'm working for our creative directors and our product merchandisers as opposed to the other way around.

Michael Krigsman: Can you give us some practical examples of how those relationships work?

Charlie Cole: I'll tell you my favorite Victor Sanz story. Victor Sanz is the creative director at TUMI. On like my first or second day, we were doing this orientation. It's the standard orientation that I think you do at any company where you bounce around and you meet people for 30 minutes like, oh, this is Jean the merchandizer, this is Heather the head of marketing, et cetera.

I met Victor in the TUMI showroom. I'm kind of walking around with him and he's telling me a little bit about the history of TUMI and his role. I point to these two bags that were just both carryon bags. I'm like, "Hey, Victor. Why would I buy this one instead of this one?"

He gave me the most elaborate, engineering level answer about weight, about durability, about technology, about functionality. I remember thinking to myself, "Oh, my God. I've got to figure out how to put this in a digital experience. I have to take this five-minute soliloquy that Victor just told me about and make it consumable to someone on a mobile phone."

I think that that's something that we forget, as digital leaders, at times. I can look at the analytics and be reactive, but how do I be generatively creative? If you go and you spend time with the creative directors and with the product people, you will make your digital experience so much better than if you're just iterating on the analytics.

It sounds like this thing that's not a big unlock, but ask yourself a question as a digital leader, "When was the last time you talked with your creative director about the products they're creating?" If the answer is longer than a month, you should probably spend more time with the people that are actually making this stuff that's being consumed.

Michael Krigsman: Presumably, if you're not doing that, then you're perpetuating silos that have existed previously.

Charlie Cole: I completely agree and I would go one step farther. I think you're sort of tactically, slowly deteriorating your brand because if all you're doing is iterating on the analytics you have, those are reactive. You are not doing anything generative. You are not doing anything proactive.

Look, I'm happy to say, if you make a UI/UX change on your cart and you pick up a tenth of a point on conversion, good for you, but you still need to make sure that you know the next thing you're talking about and the next product you're going to have to sell. If you don't tell that product story well, all the tactics on Earth for e-commerce and digital optimization, or whatever phrase you want to use, they're worthless. We need to remember that we're completely at servitude to the products we create.

Now, it's another way of saying, I'm extremely lucky because, between Samsonite and American Tourister and TUMI, I feel really confident telling you, Michael, we make the best travel products on Earth. I've seen the innovation that's done in our factories in Hungary and Belgium. It's phenomenal. That gives me a leg up, but that leg up is worthless if I don't tell that story in a pragmatic way.

Michael Krigsman: We have some questions and comments from Twitter. First off, Dana Randall comes back and says that Charlie Cole is the definition of a change agent and has been extremely effective within his organization. I think that's clearly true.

Charlie Cole: Thanks, Dana.

Do you use social media advertising on LinkedIn?

Michael Krigsman: Then another Seattle resident, Buzz Bruggeman, asks a very tactical question and I'll be listening closely to the answer to this one as well, which is, "Charlie, have you cracked the code of advertising your brands on LinkedIn? We keep thinking that it's the perfect place if you understand a great vertical that your customers work in."

Charlie Cole: I'll give a really honest answer. The answer is no, we haven't cracked the code. I think, for us, LinkedIn has, from my opinion, one major shortcoming, which is the ability to sort of test small and learn is sort of tricky. It's been a while since I've reached out to them, but the thing I love about other advertising channels like Facebook and Google, I can prove or disprove theories for a couple hundred bucks.

I think, when you talk about building out your advertising strategy, I don't want to allocate $100,000 or $1 million to something that may not work. I kind of think that's an archaic way of thinking in advertising.

I believe in LinkedIn as a channel. I personally use it a lot and I think it basically serves as my Rolodex at this point in my life. But I'm probably the wrong guy to ask on the advertising side, although I do believe in the channel.

What roles does IT / business alignment play in successful transformation?

Michael Krigsman: We have yet another question. Arsalan Khan again asks, "Digital leaders should align to business objectives but sometimes lack of business-IT alignment is due to culture, which is hard to change." I think that gets to the transformation aspect we were talking about earlier.

Let me extend that question and say, with the type of transformation you've been discussing, does it come from the top down? Does it come from the bottom up? How do you drive it?

Charlie Cole: I think the fact that we reference the business-IT relationship is something that should not be glazed over because, again, something I was guilty of in my past and I try to remind myself and learn from my mistakes all the time is treating your IT team as order takers. I'm again extremely lucky; Andy Wells is our CTO. I think, at first, it was sort of an interesting waltz to kind of learn where I started and he stopped and where he started and I stopped.

The reality is this. As a digital leader, or whatever your title may be, you cannot be, "Hey, CTO. I need to do one-to-one marketing. Install the solution." You can't do that. I think that that's where people make huge mistakes. The cultural answer to your question, Michael, is really this idea of collaboration at the top, but also buy-in and implementation at the bottom.

I'll give you another real example. I referenced our relationship with Gladly. Gladly is a customer service platform. The people that are going to use that platform are our call center agents.

When we were doing the evaluation of the platform, it wasn't just me and a CTO sitting in a room and saying, like, "Wow. This platform looks great." We had call center agents involved in that.

I think we lose sight at times because we have all these huge, amazing gadgets that allow us to do amazing things. Who is actually going to use it? Who is going to be the person pulling the levers in your ESP? Who is going to be the person using Visual Data Studio to analyze things?

Don't drive initiatives from the top down. You have to have buy-in. You have to have everybody seeing the same thing at the top and feel good that they're collaborating. But the evaluation of all these technologies and changes you make, make sure to involve the people who are actually going to use the damn thing. I think it's an area that we forget about sometimes and get a little too much gravitas because of our titles.

Michael Krigsman: Is that a cultural attribute at Samsonite or is that yours?

Charlie Cole: Yeah, and I would go one step farther. I know I feel very comfortable saying this. I think Kyle, our CEO, and Reza, our CFO, would feel comfortable saying this. I don't think anything is really out of bounds in our company. I think we are very much a company founded on the Golden Rule. We always talk about this idea of, do unto others as others do unto you.

The way we put it into practice is this. A retail store associate at TUMI, we have a store at Belleview Square that's about ten miles that way. If they emailed me and said, "Hey, I hate this about the website," my reaction is not going to be, "Well, who are you? You're not in the digital department." My reaction is going to be like, "This is someone who talks to customers live all day every day. I need to listen."

I think that is the culture, this idea of transparency. Transparency is a word that's overused, but just having people that are willing to reach out to me and tell me what they think we could do better is sort of the coolest part of our company.

How does Samsonite manage innovation?

Michael Krigsman: Where does innovation fit into all this? Obviously, the nature of innovation is change; doing things differently than we did before.

Charlie Cole: I think innovation is a tricky thing because, done properly, innovation in a tactical way means you're investing in something now that may change over time. That's risky, right? You put that in a P&L form, you're spending money and you're not making money instantly. People don't like that. We all like to make money all the time and that's the way we are.

The reason I'm talking to you from Voyager Capital here in Seattle, one of the things that we do that I think every company should think about is, we have relationships with around ten venture capital companies in the United States, about five in Asia, about ten in Europe, and we're still working on getting our network in Latin America.

I basically have those relationships because I want to know where they're spending their money. I want to know what they see as investments because these companies are predicated on the idea of predicting the next big thing, and so I want to see their technology pipeline all the time.

Eric, here at Voyager, can call me and be like, "Hey, we just invested in this company. Do you want to meet the CEO?" We have a relationship with Lightspeed down in San Francisco. I'm going to meet with Plug and Play in two weeks.

That is a key to us, but the important takeaway there, Michael, is this. You cannot rely 100% internally on innovation. There are things happening around you. Samsonite is not going to crack the code on autonomous vehicles, but autonomous vehicles may fundamentally change the way we can help customers. I think that that's important is that innovation cannot just be an internal capability, but you need to rely on people around you who are changing factors that are tertiary or tangential to your business but may, again, change your operational structure altogether.

Michael Krigsman: For a company like Samsonite, what does innovation mean? Where are the focus points of innovation?

Charlie Cole: I think what we're best at on the innovation side is actually in product. I think, again, going back to my point of how this isn't what I do, but we have a team in our factories Belgium, and I referenced our factory in Szeged in Hungary. All they're doing is trying to make better stuff.

It sounds like, "Of course they are. Why aren't we all doing that?" But I think that's where innovation should start and the majority of our investment should go into making our products as good as they could possibly be. I think that's really our core and that's what we're best at.

Then for our side, what we do is we try to innovate to support those efforts. All the stuff I'm talking about in one-to-one marketing, all the stuff we're talking about in customer service with Gladly, it's really at the core of making our relationships with consumers who are using these products better.

If I was to pick one, Michael, I wouldn't point to our team. I would really point to Paul's team and the innovation team on the product side.

How can organizations become data-driven enterprises?

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Fair enough. We're almost out of time, and so let me ask your advice on a few different topics. Number one, for companies that want to become a data-driven organization, what advice do you have for them?

Charlie Cole: Push data throughout the entire organization. One of my favorite statistics that I can't remember where I read it, but I think it was 80% of Airbnb employees pull their own data.

This idea of an analytics team and they're the only ones that look at data, it's archaic and it needs to be done away with. I think you need to push analytics throughout the entire organization as opposed to have it siloed.

One of the models that I really like, a friend of mine runs the analytics team at Starbucks. What he referred to his team as, he has basically mercenaries that bounce in and out of different departments to help, but it's not a siloed team. They're basically at the beck and call, if you will, of the marketing organization or the operations organization. That's the way it should be because analysts are just that. They're analyzing something, but they need to have the full context of the business.

My advice would be, Michael, push your analytics downward. Push your data downward and make it accessible to everybody.

Michael Krigsman: What are the organizational conditions inside the company that will enable a company to actually make the kind of mindset shift that you're describing?

Charlie Cole: I do think it starts with tools. This is an area that, again, I gave a lot of credit to Andy, our CTO. If you have the right tools, if you have a Power BI interest, we use Microsoft Teams. I'm going to lose my millennial street cred here because MS Teams is such a good product and I really wanted to stick my nose up at it because it wasn't Slack because that's what you're supposed to use when you're a millennial is Slack.

These kinds of tools is where it starts because if data requires you to write SQL to get to it, it's never going to permeate the organization. It's only going to be the small subset of people that can use it. I do think it starts with tools.

Then it starts with a culture where you use analytics. There's this old adage of, always bring data to the party. I think that's the cultural fabric you have to use. If you have a data-centric organization and you have the tools that allow people to access it, I think you'll find it's fairly self-serving and, in a lot of ways, addictive.

Michael Krigsman: What about the sources of data? What's involved in figuring out the kinds of data that you should be looking at and then gathering that data? What's involved with that?

Charlie Cole: I hope that's really kind of what the senior leadership is for. It's very easy to get access to data when it's all said and done. That might sound anaphora to some people, but it really is. Data is just a pipe of information.

You asked the question of, what should you actually be looking at? I think that's where the senior leadership really needs to kind of sponsor that from a cultural perspective. It goes back to a lot of the things we've talked about, which is moving beyond revenue and profit.

Everybody knowing the business results is great, but everybody following the same sort of KPIs to get to that is much more important. I think that's where you need to have executive buy-in and you need to have really identifying, like, "Hey, our big goal is $4 billion in revenue this year. But if we don't focus on store traffic, net promoter score, blah-blah-blah, we're never going to get there." I think that should be a job of really kind of the senior team to drive it culturally.

Michael Krigsman: Correct me if I'm wrong. It seems like you're just saying that the core strategies and the linkage of those core strategies to the metrics needs to be the senior management decision.

Charlie Cole: Well, I think it needs to be driven and aligned with, but I would hope any good senior manager is getting feedback from around the organization. I think it's really more the cohesion of the message, Michael, where, if you have people saying different things on what's being tried to accomplish, that's where you have a problem, which is why I think it needs to be aligned at the very top level as well as kind of based on the feedback from anyone in the organization.

Michael Krigsman: Cohesion of the message around the types of goals that we're trying to achieve and the data, the types of data metrics that will demonstrate whether we're achieving those goals, that's a key part of using data effectively.

Charlie Cole: Yeah. If you think about it this way in a more kind of example form, if we say we want to be the most customer-centric organization in our space, it's just sort of this almost throwaway comment that doesn't mean anything unless you say, "How are we going to prove we're doing that?" That's where measuring things like customer satisfaction, net promoter score, and aligning on what those data points are that we are accomplishing, this more visionary goal, is important.

If all you have is platitudes that sound like bumper stickers, you're probably not going to be very effective. If you have actually an alignment on this is how we're going to hold ourselves accountable to these really big visionary statements, I think that's the key and that's the cohesion that I was referencing.

Michael Krigsman: Charlie, as we finish up, any final thoughts?

Charlie Cole: When we talk about this conversation and we try to put a bow on it and put in a couple, three points, I would just say, don't underestimate your compensation plans, one. Get alignment within your entire organization by talking to more people, two. Don't get a big head as a digital leader.

Digital has been this hot button topic where every organization on Earth says they want the best CDO or the best iterative transformation. Always be at service to your brand. Again, it's a lesson I had to learn the hard way and it sounds a little bit fluffy, but I do think that's the core takeaway from this.

I really enjoyed it, Michael. I appreciate you having me.

Michael Krigsman: Okay. Thank you so much. We've been speaking with Charlie Cole. He is the chief digital officer at TUMI and the global chief e-commerce officer at Samsonite. Charlie, thank you again for taking your time on a Friday afternoon to join us today.

Charlie Cole: Totally my pleasure. It was a lot of fun.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching. Please subscribe on YouTube and hit the subscribe button on our website at the top. See, it says, "Subscribe." Subscribe to our newsletter and we'll send you all kinds of great stuff. We have amazing shows coming up. Check out and we will see you again next time.

Published Date: Aug 09, 2019

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 615