Travelling Light

Caribee

CEO Global Logistics partners with clients to manage every detail of their exports and imports. The 100 per cent Australian owned company can handle virtually any job, no matter the size or challenges.

Caribee is the brand marketed by Clipper International, of Sydney, which was established in 1956. Having recognised the huge potential for goods in the outdoor and leisure markets in this wide-open country, the Caribee brand was launched in the early 1980s, initially with a focus on camping equipment.

The company still offers a wide range of outdoor products but it has more recently – over the last decade or so – changed its focus to concentrate more on the burgeoning travel and adventure markets, developing more items in these sectors as consumer tastes became more sophisticated. The growth of the ‘designer backpacker’ – by no means only in Australia but also very much in Europe and North America too – and the desire to travel stylishly as well as a long way off the beaten track has been spectacular; the company nowadays sells much of its product through travel shops and department stores, a far cry from the utilitarian days of tents and sleeping bags. Indeed, that sector, although holding up, is not one where product differentiators make much impact – you can’t interest people in that market in a “stylish” or “trendy” sleeping bag – people just want something that keeps them warm.

So Caribee has successfully moved more toward what might be termed ‘luggage’. Not mere boxes, but practical, often innovative and – that word again – stylish pieces of useful equipment that can fulfil many purposes and meet the traveller’s needs on several levels. Today this is probably Australia’s largest and most trusted travel and outdoor brand, and Caribee is now well on its way to becoming an international star. High dollar? Can’t export from Australia? Not so, as Caribee convincingly demonstrates.

The name, by the way, derives from a South American piranha-like species of fish, the Pygocentrus nattereri, or Caribe. The red-bellied (or red) piranha is native to South America, found in the Amazon River Basin, coastal rivers of north-eastern Brazil, and the basins of the Paraguay and Parana. Its compact size masks the fact that it is a dominant and resilient species in its environment – making it an ideal marker for the brand.

While Caribee still offers the full camping range domestically, for export markets it focuses solely on the travel products, products which it designs itself and has control over rather than simply sourcing generics, products which can contain added value and are not simply ‘me-too’. The aim is for products in the range to be singular – unavailable anywhere else. On that peg one can hang a brand image, in this case a very positive one of practicality mixed with good looks and design.

Designing and manufacturing unique products is more expensive, of course, than simply rocking up at the Guangzhou Fair, for example, and buying ‘off the shelf’ generic items to stick your logo on. But that is where the market is and that’s where the profits are. At the same time, the design has to be keenly competitive – not many travellers will be prepared to pay $600 or $700 for their bag just because it’s special and beautifully made. Striking the right balance between cost and design is a substantial factor in the secret of Caribee’s success.

A speciality of the range is the wheeled travel pack, the kind of luggage that one might use on a gap year’s travelling; something that can be worn on the back but can also be wheeled, often with a detachable day pack. Loaded with features, these and larger, wheeled gear packs are flying out of stores all over the word, increasingly with that Caribee logo. The trend is for strong but squashy – bags that can be crammed into small spaces when necessary, such as on a train hold or an already-full overhead bin. Hard-sided luggage is definitely out of fashion these days.

Caribee’s customers tend in any case to be the more adventurous travellers. They also go for the travel accessories in the range, such as shoulder bags, document wallets, toiletry kits, hydration packs and reservoirs, waist packs (also known as fanny bags or bum-bags), security products (locks, combination straps and the like), products to keep your laptop safe and well, high-visibility gear (Clipper International has a range of workwear, Brahma, which is run as a completely separate operation but has obvious synergies), and travel adaptors (globalisation has definitely not extended to electric plugs and sockets!).

The company maintains strong relationships with a number of manufacturers in Asia and always retains staff on hand to ensure attention to quality control and on-time shipment; it maintains an office in Yangzhou in Jiangsu province near Shanghai. Product is usually warehoused in Sydney, at the company’s ultra-modern 6,000 square metre facility near the airport, in order to ensure distributors worldwide can get stock with minimal delay in these days of shorter lead times and reduced stockholding.

Having a strong and distinctive set of products has enabled Caribee to build distribution in important export markets such as Europe; currently it is present in some 23 countries. Caribee takes full advantage of the strong Australian brand, the image the country has abroad. It is positive, politically largely neutral, and bespeaks good quality. This holds as much in Europe, where Caribee is meeting with substantial success as in Asia, where the company is now expanding (in full accordance with the ‘Asian Century’ concept). Europeans are more used to buying rucksacks than wheeled travel packs and appreciate the novelty of the Caribee range, not least because as a relatively small player in a market of global names, this is a niche and slightly exclusive brand.

Indeed, being small helps Caribee move faster. For example, a leading low-cost airline in Europe abruptly changed the dimensions of allowed carry-on luggage last year, flat-footing the big boys, but Caribee was able to put revised products in the shops within a couple of months.

Even being small, Caribee has noticed the occasional rip-off, fake product in the markets in China – inevitably. But the company shrugs it off as a flattering comment on its range and quality. China, and the rest of Asia, beckons very seriously; a launch in China itself is expected within the next year, while markets such as South Korea are going well. The company’s newest international distributor is OKGOOD Co Ltd of Seoul. This experienced team will service the South Korean market and provide a great range of Caribee products to this market; the first deliveries were scheduled for early 2014.

That said, Caribee remains quintessentially Australian. Clipper International was started by Bernie Seve and is today run by his sons Matthew and Michael, although Bernie still takes a keen interest. As a brand ambassador, they use surfer Jeff Rowley, a finalist in the Australian Surfing Awards ‘Waterman of the Year’ and Australian Surfing Life Oakley Big Wave Awards last year. Jeff is a big wave surfer and professional athlete specialising in paddle-in surfing the biggest waves in the world. By travelling the world at a moment’s notice, Jeff chases monster swells that develop on the weather map. You can bet he is travelling light – and comfortably.

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September 26, 2018, 10:02 AM AEST