By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
An up-to-date recipe for successfully retailing portable storage bags and cases, including computer luggage and backpack-style product, demands that truly functional merchandise be combined with the utmost in comfort — whether being hand carried or back borne. Once that's done, functionality and comfort are brought to a slow boil, while good looks — using a dash of color and a touch of unusual design — are added. Then, serve and sell.
However, in the real world, cooking up this scenario is not always so simple.
"We've done a lot of research into how to make computer cases significantly more comfortable to carry," said Jamie Elgie, product manager in charge of cases at San Mateo, Calif.-based Kensington, "and we've put all of what we've learned into our new cases."
Typical is the company's Contour Pro 17-inch, which offers users premium protection and exceptional comfort for all laptops up to 17 inches. Its SnugFit protection system keeps a notebook computer safe and a contour panel helps reduce weight impact by 35 percent, so the case feels lighter, said Kensington.
"Computer users are telling us that carrying comfort and protection are the most important features they want in a computer case," said Elgie. "Of course, looks are very important, but not at the expense of real functionality."
Other features of the Contour Pro include ergonomically designed handles to distribute weight evenly across all fingers, shock-absorbing shoulder strap, heavy-duty outer case, unique layout of front pockets for ease of access and organization and secure rear compartment behind the contour panel to keep peripherals from poking the carrier. Suggested retail is $79.99.
"Larger notebook models require quality protective cases in large part because of the larger dimension of vulnerable screen surfaces," said Sandra Wirth, Targus product manager, about the company's new TXL line of over-the-shoulder carrying cases and a roller option for mobile professionals.
Due to increasing demand for notebook computers, in general, and larger, wide-screen notebooks specifically, Targus is offering the TXL417 Notebook Case, which weighs just 3.5 pounds. With a locking zipper, the notebook compartment fits most models with a 17-inch screen and comes with non-skid shock absorbing feet. A zip-down workstation for business cards, media and pens accentuates the case, which has a suggested $59.99 retail.
The TXL717 Rolling Notebook Case, from the Anaheim, Calif.-based Targus, is a rolling case that makes it easy to transport an entire mobile computing environment. The TXL717 fits most notebooks with a 17-inch screen and has a two-section expanding file area with two removable accessory pouches. It features smooth ball bearing, in-line skate wheels and a four-stage telescoping handle that extends to 36 inches. Suggested retail is $99.99.
Maximum comfort when carrying a notebook is the rallying cry for the Belkin NE-TL2 Top Loading XL Case, which packs all electronic essentials and gives users the utmost in comfort when they travel. In addition, the lightweight design features a comfortable, ergonomic shoulder strap and a soft, sturdy handle for lifting ease.
The case's top loading convenience makes it easy to get in and out of the notebook section, while the durable honeycomb frame provides ample protection. There also is plenty of storage for pens, pencils, ID cards, paper files, CD or MP3 players and floppy disks. It includes two removable cellphone, PDA or MP3 player cases. Suggested retail is $79.99, and availability from the Compton, Calif.-based maker in November.
The ICON Ramp slim neoprene laptop case from New York-based Motion Systems offers consumers the chance to eliminate all excess baggage, since the case can either be carried within luggage or on its own. The Ramp fits most 15-inch laptops, along with peripherals, has a sporty cushion mesh design and supplies ideal protection and function with its front-flap organization. The company has it pegged toward both male and female customers at a $19.99 suggested retail.
Motion Systems also is featuring its ICON Morph and Capsule computer laptop carrying cases, said to be ideal for the tech user. These two cases welcome all gear in multi-compartment interiors, while an ergonomic opening allows for fast, convenient access into the cushioned laptop section. Their 840 denier nylon sports mesh and ultra suede make these cases highly styled for the fashion conscious user, while heavy-duty hardware and rugged construction attract the mobile consumer on the go. Suggested retails are $39.99.
When it comes to mobile consumer electronics hardware, "cases have now become [a] necessity in the high-tech accessory marketplace," said Mike Paull, associate product manager, technology accessories-mobile computing, for Fellowes. "As consumer adoption of new mobile technology continues to grow, the need to protect these devices becomes paramount. Additionally, consumers are looking for accessories which make the use of their technology more convenient and quickly accessible," he said.
Typical of this concept is Fellowes' Body Glove Case for XM SkyFi Receivers, said by the Itasca, Ill.-based company to be the first-ever protective case for satellite radio technology. The case is designed to provide superior and stylish protection, whether the user is at home, in the car or on the go. A Velcro closure keeps the receiver easily accessible and a belt clip holds it firmly in place for mobile ease.
The sporty scuba look and Body Glove logo is said to complement any personal style and helps protect against dropping, water exposure and other accidental mishaps, The case comes in black for a suggested $9.99.
As more products are developed in the coming year, "there will be a large emphasis on fashion-forward styles that incorporate advanced function to enhance the mobile technology experience," said Paull. "Mobile technology is truly becoming a fashion accessory in its own right and mandates that its accessories keep pace."
With the growing sales of smaller digital cameras and the debut of SLR digital products, storage protection and creative bag design are playing critical roles in putting cameras on the road.
A new six-model lineup of digital point-and-shoot camera bags from Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Lowepro, called the Rezo-series camera pouches, offers consumers a "custom-fit" for their digital cameras, by using a special stretch fabric designed to hug the camera. Rezo also provides superior protection without the bulkiness found in other camera cases and pouches, said the company.
"The design of Lowepro's Rezo-series camera pouches offers a safe and convenient way to transport nearly every brand and model of digital point and shoot cameras on the market," said Nicole Mummenhoff, senior VP. "Their superior styling and functional design makes Rezo the perfect accessory-pouch for today's high-tech digital cameras."
Ranging from Rezo 10 through Rezo 60, the pouches are sold for specific camera brand and model. For example, the opening price point Rezo 10, at a suggested $9.99 retail, is an ideal choice for ultra-compact camera models. The top-of-the-line Rezo 60, at a suggested $16.99, is perfect for housing slightly larger, fully featured models.
Every Rezo pouch also is designed to hold essential accessories such as memory cards and batteries. Other suggested retails are $10.99 for the Rezo 20, $12.99 for both the 30 and 40 and $14.99 for the 50. Availability of the line was scheduled for October.
Two backpacks designed as carrying bag solutions for cameras and collateral accessories, called K-1 and K-2 Deluxe, are made by Orlando, Fla.-based Naneu Pro. The backpacks feature an orthopedic back support, and an AirFlow Support System, which is said to reduce body heat and perspiration. The backpacks also offer an extra padded adjustable shoulder strap and protective rain jacket made of a durable, water-resistant material.
The K-1 Deluxe is 16 inches and has a suggested $119 to $129 retail, with a $55 dealer cost. The K-2 Deluxe is 18 inches and has a suggested $129 to $139 retail, with a $60 dealer cost.
The Naneu Pro backpacks feature a tripod carry-on system and front storage for media accessories, while each holds one camera body with zoom lens, three extra lenses and a flash unit.
Tried and true storage for portable audio hardware and media continues to feature lifestyle design as a primary merchandising tool.
For example, an addition to the lifestyle lineup from the SoundKase division of Oxnard, Calif.-based Scosche Industries, called The Fast and The Furious CD/DVD folder, is designed to provide both outrageous looks and outstanding music/movie storage. If this film, commented Scosche, ties to the user's lifestyle, then the movie and sound storage folder "are for you."
Licensed by the Universal Studios Consumer Products Group, the CD/DVD folder is tied to the release of The Fast and The Furious 2 movie on DVD, the follow-up film to the original 2001 hit. Driven by the popularity of both movies, the SoundKase CD/DVD folder features an aggressive tread design, and will hold 36, 96 or 208 CD/DVDs. Suggested retail prices are $11.99 for the SKC36FFP, $19.99 for the SKC96FFP and $37.99 for the SKC208FFP. When not geared to lifestyle products for the late teens and early 20s crowd, audio storage can turn to plush to attract the early and mid-teens customer. Prime examples are the new CD/DVD wallets, called Kiss Case Lips and Ladybug, from Philadelphia-based Computer Expressions.
Introduced for the past summer selling season, the "fun, flirty and functional" wallets are expected to sell well into the holiday fourth quarter, with Kiss Case Lips carrying through to the first quarter of 2004, due to the Valentine's Day holiday.
Both plush wallets, which offer protection for 24 discs, are made with non-stick polypro sleeves to shield music and movies from dust, dirt and scratches. Suggested retails are $12.99,
Bold color and durability highlight the LWT Portable Solutions line from Norwalk, Conn.-based Laserline. The wallets feature a durable and translucent cover with a stylish zipper closure for added protection. The plastic-sewn products ensure quality and durability, said Laserline.
Cover color choices are black and blue and include a 12-CD visor; 40-, 72- and 144-CD wallets; and a 20-DVD wallet.
Suggested retails are $2.49 for the CD12VISLWT, $5.99 for the CD40LWT, $7.99 for the CD72LWT, $11.99 for the CD144LWT and $7.99 for the DVD20LWT. Availability is October.
For users who want to take their discs anywhere, the Discgear Discus Sport 20, from Round Rock, Texas-based CD3 Storage Systems , features a textured, easy-grip exterior and comes in seven colors — blue, black, yellow, red, ocean blue, pink and silver. A water-resistant shell makes the Discus Sport 20 perfect for boats, and it even floats.
The Discus, part of the company's Discgear product line, holds 20 discs and offers a protective shell that shields discs from temperatures as low as minus 70 degrees and up to 400 degrees, said CD3. It comes with a carry strap. In addition, the company is offering its Discus Sport Docker, which holds three Discus Sport cases.
A durable case that has "techno automotive appeal" and lends itself to the car and home environment, called c4, is a hard-shell portable CD carrier, from Atlantic, that opens by simply pressing the button on the locking mechanism. Made of stamped metal and injection molded plastics, the c4 offers 24-CD capacity at a suggested $14.99 retail. Availability is February, 2004.
Also from Atlantic is a 24-CD carrying case, called Switch, which targets the fashionable portable media user. The unit offers nylon silk-screened outer cover, metal snaps and a two-way reversible zipper. The cover case is fully reversible to another design and the handle and sleeves are removable. Suggested retail is $11.99 for the currently available product.
A sleek and modern 24-CD case from the Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based Atlantic, called Capsule, offers rigid construction to protect media and a "unique" clamshell hinge. Designed for the upscale, cutting edge media user, Capsule comes with ABS plastic coating or PVC covering and has a $7.99 suggested retail. It currently is available.
Portable storage often means products that are different from, or are designed to be more than, purely travel bags or cases.
For example, the ATVH-9-Inch Portable TV Suspension System, from Longmont, Colo.-based Case Logic, has a dual function. The system attaches between front auto seats for convenient viewing of a 9-inch portable television from the rear seats of an SUV or a full-size vehicle.
The mounting system, which has a suggested $16.99 retail, quickly detaches and converts to a portable TV carrying case that features a sturdy handle for ease of transport to and from any vehicle.
A collateral portable storage bag product, from Rochester, N.Y.-based RoadWired, called the Travelock Security System, is a multi-purpose bag/travel security kit. The product uses the company's original card-activated lock, but it features interchangeable accessories that let it convert from a bag lock to a laptop lock to a sporting goods lock, and more.
With the continued trends of product emphasis on the digital lifestyle and all-in-one carrying solutions — combining laptop, PDA, digital camera and MP3 player — that have brought about a growing concern for bag security, consumers have a lot to lose, said Michael Hess, RoadWired president.
To this end, the company's Travelock Security Kit uses mechanically encoded cards in place of small metal keys or numeric combinations. A thin slot on the narrow edge of a Travelock accepts plastic KeyCards for opening purposes. The design, said the company, makes the lock virtually pick-proof and eliminates the need to carry tiny keys or memorize combinations.
Two KeyCards come with each kit, one wallet sized and one key chain sized, and multiple locks may be purchased in matching combinations. The kit, at a suggested $15.95 retail, is available in black, nickel, red or yellow.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.