By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Functionality and style continue to hold down key roles in the design of portable storage bags for consumer electronics products.
With active people on the go no longer satisfied just with dark colors, one large pocket and a durable outer material, bag makers have responded with numerous extras.
To satisfy demands stemming from a diversity of consumer lifestyles, soft storage now offers a variety of colors, an abundance of "hidden" space for the growing amount of CE gear and an ever-widening range of unusual construction materials.
For example, the AeroPack, model F8E511, from computer accessories maker Belkin, features an ergonomically designed and padded backing to cushion the user's shoulders and back, a removable padded inner compartment for a notebook computer and a convenient, comfortably oversized rubber handle for lifting ease.
Other AeroPack features from the Compton, Calif.-based Belkin include ample storage for pens, pencils, business cards, PDAs, mobile media and floppy disks. A ventilated back for the $69.99 suggested retail storage bag provides increased comfort, while a cellphone pouch on the shoulder strap offers quick and easy access for important calls.
Smart classic style and functionality are combined in the Ambico PD-4504 case.
"Consumers want convenience and value when buying a bag," said Gary Moritz, senior sales VP for Recoton. "They want a high quality-to-value ratio in the bag itself."
Part of the six-piece Blue Tab Series, the PD-4504, from the Lake Mary, Fla.-based Recoton company, is ideal for digital cameras and small camcorders. It presents a slim profile that simplifies carrying — whether by its cushioned handle, detachable shoulder strap or belt loop.
The PD-4504 offers a padded main compartment, which provides a snug fit for equipment. A padded adjustable divider with Velcro fasteners can be used to secure any size camera and provides separate shoulder strap storage. A front zippered pocket incorporates side gussets that allow a wide, spill-proof opening for accessories storage, plus three interior mesh pockets to hold batteries, memory cards and film canisters.
The outer shell of the PD-4504 utilizes a variety of textured nylon fabrics and rubberized material. Ridged vinyl forms the base of the bag for improved stability. Twill nylon and mesh provide fashion-minded elements, while piping and a pull-tab in deep blue accent the bag's solid color. Suggested retail is $14.99.
Scosche Industries is expanding its SoundKase line of detachable Audio/Hydration backpacks, continuing the evolution of its SoundSAK ATB product line.
The All Terrain Audio/Hydration bag is ideal for people partaking in action sports such as road racing, biking, snowboarding, trail riding, hiking and kayaking. The zip-off 8 CD/CD player case with belt loop and detachable shoulder strap has a double zip main compartment that holds most water hydration bladders of up to 70 ounces.
A detachable waist belt keeps the pack secure when snowboarding or biking. It includes zippered front accessory pocket, elastic tie-down cord and lightweight mesh shoulder straps and fully padded back.
The SKATR-8CBK, available now, has a suggested retail of $29.95 without hydration and $34.95 with hydration. Colors available include mango/white, light blue/white and charcoal/black.
The Oxnard, Calif.-based company also plans to launch Urban Hawaiian, what it calls a fresh, new approach to Hawaiian theme CD storage, "with an edge and coolness even some machismo guys can dig," according to Kasidy Alves, sales and marketing VP of the SoundKase division.
Breaking the mold on carrying cases with its Urban line, Targus is targeting a young, hip mobile user with its line of contemporary cases. "As technology has advanced, its design has kept pace," said Brett Johnson, Targus president. "People want cases that can carry all of their accessories, but they also want cases that reflect their modern lifestyle."
The New York-based Targus has launched its Urban Brief Case with a new lightweight design. It features a spacious front compartment that offers accessory and storage-file space and is equipped with a Protective Notebook Section.
The main compartment features mesh side webbing and additional file space, and the bag is equipped with an elastic security strap for safe computer storage. The Brief Case also is equipped with a multi-pocket filing system, enabling carriers to transport their laptop and important files with relative ease.
The Urban Brief Case is designed to hold another new Targus bag, the Urban Slip Case, which can be transported easily through checkpoints, while still providing adequate protection for laptops with its high-density padding and scratch-resistant interior lining.
Urban cases are constructed of 2520 denier nylon and carry a lifetime warranty. Suggested retails start at $59.99.
"Whether designing photo, audio, cellular, PDA, game or computer storage, we are focused on exactly the two same things — protection and fashion," said Bruce Teicher, CEO at Solon, Ohio-based Photoco, which manufactures bags and cases under the Samsonite brand.
"Protection has been a given for years, but with all that has been going on in the world the last year or two, we're finding that consumers are hyper-sensitive to it. At the same time, it's clear that fashion is driving the impulse purchasing in these categories like never before," Teicher said.
The newest Samsonite portable storage product is the Journey 805, which does double duty as a digital camera bag and a portable CD player case.
Samsonite designed the case based on market research showing that whether carrying a digital camera or a CD player, people carry along lots of other stuff. Three roomy pockets, in addition to the main compartment — each almost as large as the bag itself — help satisfy this need for space. Suggested retail for the Journey 805 is $19.95.
Heralded as the perfect gift for the sophisticated music enthusiast, the handcrafted Painted Leather CD Wallet from Philadelphia-based Computer Expressions offers a distinct hand-painted design and a rustic look. The design is available in Kokopelli, a Native American symbol of fertility, and Cats and Gecko motifs, authentic folk art created by artisans carrying on village traditions.
"Natural leather is a timeless classic," said Bennett J. Beer, Computer Expressions president. "By incorporating earthy, interesting designs, we've created CD storage that's a practical work of art." Each unit is unique, with the variations in color and texture attesting to the creativity of the craftsman, the company said.
Holding 24 CDs, the CD Wallets feature non-stick sleeves and a suggested retail of $24.
RoadWired has taken what it calls a unique approach to gadget packing and travel with the introduction of R.A.P.S., or RoadWired Advanced Protection System accessory wraps.
R.A.P.S. are soft, padded squares that can be rolled or folded in virtually any shape or configuration and self-secured, creating a protective cocoon, ideal for packing portable CE products inside luggage or unpadded carry-on bags.
The wraps actually conceal a high-tech "sandwich," the Advance Protection System, initially developed for the Henrietta, N.Y.-based company's collection of carrying cases. The system features a multi-layer construction that helps protect contents from moisture, humidity, bumps and shocks.
RoadWired R.A.P.S. are available in 12-, 16- and 20-inch square sizes, to fit virtually any camera, handheld computing device or MP3 or portable CD player. Suggested retails for the three sizes are $12.95, $14.95 and $17.95, respectively.
For consumers on the go with CD-Rs, music CDs, DVDs, game discs or similar media, ProLine is offering new Ultra-Slim Double Unbreakable CD Cases that store two discs in half the space of a normal sized CD case. The product provides a very thin and secure means to carry two discs in each case. A clear-title selection window is on both sides of the case, for ease of disc selection.
"Storing, protecting and organizing the greatest number of discs in the least amount of space is the mission for today's disc owner," said Tony Marcon, president/CEO of the Denver-based ProLine.
"It's a very different economic and cultural climate than 1982 when the music CD came about," Marcon continued. "As DVD grows to 40 percent household penetration and beyond, with DVD gaining a foothold, the ever increasing escalation of CD-R/RW media and the growth of other formats, disc management is a way of life."
ProLine is marketing the durable, clear polypropylene Ultra-Slim Double Cases in a pack of 25 that provides protective storage for up to 50 discs. Suggested retail is $14.95 for the 25-pack.
"Esthetics are finally becoming an important part of bag design," said Nicole Mummenhoff, senior/VP at Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Lowepro.
"We're seeing cases borrow from the more modern esthetics seen in backpacks and sport bags in the outdoor industry as opposed to the boring black cases we've seen for years," continued Mummenhoff. "Notebook computer backpacks are also increasing and with the continued strength of digital camera sales, there are more and more brands and styles of cases being introduced in the category.
"Color selection in all case categories is huge," said Mummenhoff, "and consumers and buyers alike are also finally demanding higher quality cases in all categories."
To this end, Lowepro is introducing its Linx collection of camera and laptop bags, said to offer "hip styling and great versatility."
Camera bags come in five styles, including a backpack, two sizes of shoulder bags and a top loader. The Linx 120 top loader can carry a digital APS or SLR camera. The body hugging Linx 140 is the smallest of the shoulder bags for camera, PDA or cellphone. The slim profile Linx 160 is a shoulder bag. The Linx 220 sling bag conceals photo and electronic gear, with dividers for digital camera, CD player, camcorder and lenses. The Linx 320 daypack can carry a digital still or video camera.
Linx laptop bags are designed for the business traveler, urban warrior or student, and include a wide variety of styles and sizes. The Linx 240 shoulder-sling computer bag wraps around a user's body for comfort and security, and carries a laptop and digital camera and removable phone pouch. The Linx 330 backpack has a padded harness and sternum strap for stability. The Linx 430 is larger briefcase bag with padded shoulder strap and handles. The Linx 420 brief case is a virtual office and can carry a large laptop.
All bags should be available in early 2003, with pricing information not yet available.
Citing a trend toward larger size portable storage as today's main direction in the category, Fred D'Angelo, manager of consumer communications at Fellowes, said "lifestyle products are the key to sales today." With the lines between work and play more blurred, consumers "need mobility, more fashion, individuality," D'Angelo said.
For people on the go, Itasca, Ill.-based Fellowes is introducing its line of Body Glove wallets, which currently are shipping.
Body Glove Extreme CD wallets fit an outdoor lifestyle. Protected by shock, scratch and water-resistant material, the wallets come in 32 CD size for a suggested $9.99 retail, 64 CD for $14.99 and 32 CD/CD player size, also for $14.99. Colors include neon blue and sun yellow, both with black trim.
Fast Track CD Body Glove wallets offer built-in handles and heavy-duty zippers. Available in three models, the 32 CD wallet is $9.99 suggested retail, while the 64 CD and 32 CD/CD player types are $14.99. Color is sport blue.
Fellowes offers a sporty twist with its Body Glove Fast Forward line of CD wallets. The classic black and gray units are securely zippered on three sides. Suggested retails are $9.99 for the 32 CD and $14.99 for the 64 CD and 32 CD/CD player.
The Body Glove High Performance I CD wallets are designed to keep pace with a high speed, high style way of life. Wallets come in four sizes — a 32 CD at $9.99 suggested retail, 64 CD and 32 CD/CD player, both at $14.99 and a 128 CD album at $24.99 suggested retail. Colors include blue/black and black/black, each with tailored and detailed piping and stitching.
Body Glove High Performance II wallets are made of weatherproof material with silver Body Glove logo added for distinction. Wallets come in 32 CD size for $9.99 suggested retail, 64 CD and 32 CD/CD player for $14.99 and 128 CD album for $24.99.
In pointing toward the teen market with its lineup of Oxygen and Halogen CD cases, Atlantic is offering this demanding demographic a selection of trendy, durable storage products that look cool, but will not break the bank. "Teens and young adults today are extremely style conscious, but they are also smart shoppers, watching their wallets and looking for good deals," said Nancy Dolliver, market manager at Santa Fe Springs-based Atlantic.
Oxygen CD cases, available in shiny clear or iridescent blue with black trim, come in 24 or 48 CD sizes. The square shaped wallets with convenient carry handle have rounded corners and a durable zipper to keep CDs locked in. Suggested retails for 24 CD wallets is $6.99; larger 48 CD sizes have suggested $8.99 retails.
Round shape and sporty colors highlight Atlantic's Halogen collection of CD cases. A belt loop hook on the side of the case makes for ease of hands-free toting, and users can simply use a handle on top of the case. The 24 CD wallets retail for a suggested $9.99 in blue, yellow and black colors, and feature black trim and reflective stripe down the middle.
In addition to the slim, circular-shaped CD cases, Halogen types offer a round CD player sport pack, enabling teens to take tunes on the go. The 12 CD player sport pack carries a CD player, 12 CDs and accessories for a suggested $12.99 retail. Color is a silver/black combination.
One of the newest, most unusual items from Longmont, Colo.-based Case Logic is its Board Series of storage accessories, geared to both snowboarders and skiers.
The series consists of four separate products. The SPW-20 has a sleek compact design that allows a user to take 20 favorite CDs everywhere. The SCW-24 and SCW-48 Wallets feature hidden "stash" pocket and a slim-line design. The SDM-4 disc player case offers a patented headphone jack and see-through window for ease of plug and play. It also has protective slots for four CDs and a removable shoulder strap.
The Board Series has suggested retails of $11.99 for the SCW-24 and SPW-20 and $16.99 for the SDM-4 and SCW-48. Availability is early November.
Also new from Case Logic is a hologram CD wallet. Fun and stylish, the units are available in purple, green, silver and orange, and have a disk capacity of 24. These are made with ProSleeve technology, making them as durable as they are hip, said the company. Suggested retail is $9.95.
Calling it the next-generation casual laptop case, Kensington Technology Group said it is breaking new ground with its Liberator, which incorporates high-tech materials, fresh design and innovative features that make it easy to safely transport a laptop, accessories, documents and personal items.
The Liberator, which does not look like a traditional laptop bag, offers a Junk-It drawer, which keeps cumbersome AC adapters, cables, cords and other accessories out of the way, yet easily accessible. The drawer can be pulled out through a small "side door" at the bottom of the Liberator, providing more than 75 cubic inches of storage space, while helping to keep the main compartments and multiple organizer pockets neat and clutter free.
Also new from the San Mateo, Calif.-based Kensington is the Liberator's SnugFit laptop compartment. This uses elastic stretch materials to create a form-fitting space that "embraces" a computer, keeping it safe and secure during transport. The compartment is designed to hold larger laptops with 15-inch screens, as well as sub-notebook computers.
The Liberator, constructed of ballistic nylon, offers a four-way portability system that allows it to be carried by its easy grip handle, padded shoulder strap, hideaway backpack straps or the new luggage strap that fits over the handle of a wheeled suitcase. Suggested retail is $119.95.
Urban, young singles and couples, as well as suburban families, are being targeted by Naneu Pro. By researching and developing storage bag and case product lines that incorporate consistent quality, old-world practicality, coupled with new-age design and desirable price points, each demographic group's particular buying habits are satisfied, according to the company.
Typical of the products pointed toward both singles and families is Naneu Pro's latest edition to its Travelers Series, the TS-9. This top-of-the-line SLR case incorporates bump-proof design, "tick tak" clasp for maximum camera security, thick padding, water resistant 600D nylon and double stitching.
The inside of the bag from the Orlando, Fla.-based Naneu Pro has a mesh pocket for extra accessories, and a detachable padded strap for ease of carry on. The TS-9 is currently available at a suggested $29.95 retail, while each item in the Travelers Series includes a free memory card/AA battery holder valued at $12.95.
Portable storage also is being designed for the mobile "gamer." The GamePak from Huntington Beach, Calif.-based LASR Accessories, maker of portable storage bags and accessories, is said to be the ultimate carrying bag for "never-get-enough gaming fanatics who want to take the action wherever they go.
"Functionality will be as vital as storage capabilities in the new generation of portable storage products," said Richard Sherman, sales VP. "The need for creating innovative portable storage units that have the capability of housing everything from video game systems to cellphones, PDAs and MP3 players solves the problem of consumers having to purchase multiple bags, wallets and cases," he said.
The GamePak, which combines the storage of a home gaming entertainment center with the mobility, look and feel of a backpack, is custom designed to store a gaming console and its accessories. Users can play right out of the bag, while the internal padded compartment secures the console in place and features properly placed "windows" to ensure maximum ventilation for the console to eliminate overheating.
The main storage compartment provides room for two game pads and offers a multi-storage game organizer that includes eight non-scratch CD/DVD pockets, two memory card pouches and a game manual pouch. Zippered storage holds cables.
The GamePak is available for the Nintendo GameCube, model GP001-BLK; the Sony PlayStation 2, model GP002-BLK; and the Microsoft Xbox, model GP003-BLK. It is set to begin shipping in North America in mid-November at a suggested retail of $34.99.
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.