Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

New Turns: Wheeled Luggage Suits Travelers on the Move

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

New Turns: Wheeled Luggage Suits Travelers on the Move

Article excerpt

IF YOU GO shopping for a new suitcase, as I was forced to do recently, you may find the terrain unfamiliar.

The sets of big, hard suitcases were back by the walls, and virtually everything in the middle of the floor had wheels, including many of those g arment-suit bags that remind me of semideflated elephants bumping through the coach cabin.

"If it has wheels, it moves" was the message from Stan Schwarz, president of Innovation Luggage, a major retail chain. Fran Philip, a spokeswoman for L.L. Bean, the mail-order company based in Freeport, Maine, said the same.

Michele Marini Pittenger, spokeswoman for the Luggage and Leather Good Manufacturers of America, confirmed that wheels were the major trend.

"Anyone who has sat in an airport for any length of time, as I did recently, for 13 hours," she said, "never wants to carry a suitcase again. Everything rolls by." Five years ago, she said, only flight attendants wheeled their luggage, but now a majority of passengers do.

Several clerks I interviewed, as well as executives in the business, said that people of all ages bought wheeled luggage now; it is no longer considered for older travelers. The wheels have also grown larger, quieter, less erratic and less stubborn.

There is a second trend: The walls and structural columns at one big store I visited were draped with shapeless colorful pouches, duffels, day packs, backpacks, waist packs, shoulder bags, cloth briefcases and all sorts of canvas devices for carrying belongings. Not a straight line in the bunch.

A couple of stores had separate departments for soft luggage. It would be hard to imagine a scene farther from the 1900s visions of a regiment of matching square-corner leather luggage, ranging from a steamer trunk down to a jewelry case. Like passengers, today's luggage is destined to be squashed.

When did garment bags grow wheels? Around the end of 1994.

According to Pittenger, garment bags, the favorite of business travelers who need to arrive unwrinkled and the steady No.2 seller na tionally, were showing a decline in sales.

In 1993, she said, garment-bag sales were worth $352 million, according to the association's research; in 1994, this total dropped to $288.5 million.

Robert K. Ermatinger, executive vice president and statistician for the luggage association, said it was still too early to see whether customers find wheels as valuable on garment bags as they apparently have on everything else, but manufacturers and stores are watching attentively.

Wheeled garment-suit bags, to use their formal title, appear in two configurations. In one, a rigid pulling handle is drawn up from the broad side of the bag, and the bag, with the zipper, or catch, facing down, is tipped toward the owner to balance and roll on two wheels. This produces the weightless feeling that makes well-designed wheeled bags easy to travel with. …

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