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Interview with Alistair Callender – Founder of Gate 8 Luggage

Interview with Alistair Callender – Founder of Gate 8 Luggage


Alistair Callender is the founder of Gate 8 Luggage which offers a range of premium business Travel Bags carry-on luggage, that enables you to pack all your business essentials and business garments into one stylish and highly practical piece of Business Travel luggage. With Gate 8’s luggage you can keep your bag with you when you board and you can whizz straight past those poor souls at baggage reclaim when you arrive.

Alistair is a British designer who decided to enter the world of business. With his innovative products – all designed to be airline compliant cabin size – he is entering the very competitive luggage market, up against much larger and established competitors. With the global luggage market predicted to reach US$48 Billion by 2015, Gate 8 Luggage is working hard to grab its slice of the cake.

Easyspace recently caught up with Alistair for an interview to find out more about his business:

Q1. Alistair, tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to becoming an entrepreneur and setting up Gate 8 Luggage.

Spurred on by hefty fees, confusion surrounding each airline’s requirements and a plethora of bags on the market that met some BUT not all of my requirements and would enable me to travel on some BUT not all airlines , I decided that as a frequent business traveller, I could design a bag that meets all hand luggage size limits for different airlines and was the ultimate Road Warrior one bag for all your needs – there had to be a better way..and I was right…GATE8

86 per cent of work trips last three days or less so I designed a bag to hold clothes for a typical journey, including two suits and a pair of shoes + your technology.

Q2. Britain has a proud history of inventors and designers, but not such a proud history when it comes to turning them into a commercial success. How difficult has it been moving from being a designer developing a product, into being an entrepreneur trying to sell the product?

The transition has been very challenging. After I went into bulk production and started to make sells online and generating some retail interest, I thought I had made it!..I was wrong, very wrong!! I could sell (poorly), I could manufacture (I was taking BIG risks without any local knowledge) but I couldn’t sell in volume and grow a strong business and make a true premium product – I needed help!

Q3. What products & features does Gate 8 Luggage offer? Why would people want to use them?

In 2012 an estimated £186 million was paid to airlines in excess baggage fees, but GATE8 have launched an innovative new product to help travellers take control back from the airlines. GATE8 is a clever new range of patent protected cabin baggage that not only meets the hand baggage criteria of ALL airlines, but also offers a stylish and practical way to carry technology, accessories and crease-free clothing in ONE single bag, that saves time, money and frustration for travellers.

The laptop case also unzips quickly and easily, which not only avoids the hassle rummaging to remove it for the airport metal detectors, but also makes it conveniently accessible to catch up on work in the departure lounge.

Q4. Where do you manufacture the luggage? Describe your experience in choosing a manufacturer and how has it been working with them?

Our manufacturing is in China. During the early manufacturing days (GATE8 are now into Year 3) I should have worked more closely with product designers, manufacturing engineers and quality control agencies. As a result of relatively light-touch approach to this part of the business, I made some mistakes with factory selection and learnt very quickly the value and importance of local knowledge.

Q5. How have you funded the business?

The initial capital required to complete the prototype, sampling and initial bulk order was financed by personal finances. The business has zero debt and is enjoying a profit status.

Q6. Did you follow a business plan when you started and how difficult was it getting the business established?

Absolutely yes! This was very important to me and I was very lucky to receive free business mentoring advice from Hounslow Chamber of Commerce to help develop and fine tune the business plan. Without realistic forecasts and control of costs you are running at risk – take advice, ask dumb questions and sharpen your pencil!

In addition, I have been very fortunate to have had a number of GATE8 Business projects implemented by very talented teams of MBA students from the Judge Business School at Cambridge University via their Management Studies course

These projects have covered initial GATE8 startup business strategy, online marketing and more recently business growth and international sales channels. All these projects have added enormous value and accelerated my early years growth.

I would recommend any startup to consider and use all available professional business help. There are a lot of very talented sources of help out there – it just requires research and effort to adequately engage – the effort you put in will be rewarded many times over – the Cambridge University experience has been fantastic!

Q7. After being in business on your own for 2 years, you eventually brought in your business partner/mentor Lara Morgan. Lara is a successful, high profile entrepreneur – why did you want a partner/mentor and what drew you to Lara? How did you convince her to become involved with Gate 8 Luggage?

After I went into bulk production (small volumes), patented (via Design Registration) the product and started to make sells online and some retail… I thought I had made it… I was wrong, very wrong!! I could sell (poorly), I could manufacture (I was taking BIG risks without any local knowledge) but I couldn’t sell in volume and grow a strong business and make a true premium product – I needed help!

I then started to research entrepreneur’s who were successful in the retail of products that could help me. I was then given the name Lara Morgan..this is where the fun (and stress) began. I managed to secure a meeting with Lara in 2011. I demonstrated the product and discussed my ideas with her, she rejected my offer, in fact she did more than that, she gave me a list of 19 reasons why my business was doomed to fail – thanks Lara!!!

However, I noted ALL these reasons and thought that was the cheapest piece of consultancy I have ever received…Lara’s typical consultancy fees were more than my current annual profits, and I just received a one-to-one for a cost of a coffee…I actioned all the points (re-branded to GATE8, worked with designers on branding, point of sales, outsourced fulfilment, have representation in China for quality control + manufacture inspection etc.) and then a chance encounter 18 months later, Lara saw me at an exhibition I was exhibiting at and noticed I had converted all her points.

She offered me another opportunity to meet, I carried her bags for a 30 minute run (have you ever walked with Lara?) through the West End and this time we agreed terms for her to invest..and wow, GATE8 now has one of the most successful women entrepreneur’s in the GATE8 team. We are having losts of fun exploring all the channels to market, Lara is stretching my abilities to sell and seeing the real potential of my products and business!

Q8. What weaknesses in the business did Lara Morgan first identify and how did you go about improving these?

Principally it was around brand, and at that point how poor my branding was.

Q9. What areas of the business has Lara Morgan helped develop?

Selling! This is her passion and she is committed to making the UK better at this skill. She believes with utter conviction, this is the best way to achieve a successful company and has a proven track record to back-it-up.

She has also offered excellent advice on PR and with recent success with editorial in the Mail on Sunday, The Times and Monarch in-flight magazine.

Q10. How do you sell your luggage?

Currently most sales are online, we do however have plans to explore many more sales channels. I outsourced the website design and development to the professionals.


Q11. Are most of your sales made in the UK? How are you aiming to expand sales overseas?

Currently yes, the majority of sales are UK and Europe predominantly online. GATE8 is also available in store in premium department stores Bentalls (London), A de Gruchy in Jersey and Creaseys in Guernsey.

Our next sales territory to explore is the USA and we are reasonably far down the setup route.. We now have stock held in USA, relationship with a logistics and fulfilment house to ground ship and working on USA PR. Our USA website is now in development. We will launch in the USA in 2013.

Q12. There are numerous businesses offering luggage. How does Gate 8 Luggage match up against your competitors and how do you stay competitive?

I have designed and manufactured the ONLY wheeled garment bag with zipoff laptop case that is ALL airline cabin size, accommodates crease free garment storage (for 1-3 days travel) and acts as a single solution bag that can protect garments alongside + technology + accessories. It stands up to the challenges of budget airlines (i.e. easyJet + RyanAir).

I am literally changing people’s lives by enabling them to travel at pace, effortlessly and avoiding painful check-in and boarding gate excess luggage fees.

Our competitive edge is based on our ability to continue to manufacture premium niche products.  GATE8 is a highly energetic, innovative young British business expanding rapidly on growing demand from cost-conscious customers for affordable premium Cabin Size luggage.


Q13. There’s always the danger that competitors could copy your luggage designs, so have you patented your designs? What did this involve and how difficult and expensive was this process?

This unique product has been acknowledged as innovative via the successful Patent Design Registration “International Registered Design Classification Number 4023558 – Tri-Fold Garment Bag with Zip-Away Laptop case (Registered Design Act 1949).” Which offers adequate protection against competitors copying our “hero” products.

I completed all the Design Registration steps myself online – which was time consuming, but saved upwards of 2K – it all helps!

Q14. How did you market Gate 8 Luggage when you first started and how do you promote it now?

Initially I sold my products at local Christmas events (school fairs + church halls) and then as the cash flow improved, expanded to larger business-2-consumer fairs such as Spirit of Christmas (Olympia) and Ideal Home (Earls Court).

I also used the Pop-UP sales model and arranged one-day-sales at City Banks, Accountancy Firms and other large corporates. This was a great way to connect to my target audience, receive feedback on the product, learn how to sell and market GATE8. I am looking to start this Pop-Up sales programme again, it is good fun, and a nice way to earn money – any readers interested in working with me on this? Drop me a line….

I now also have a PR agency (startuppr) doing a great job in promoting GATE8 and have a sensible marketing budget for advertising. We have placed adverts in inflight magazines Monarch, easyjet, Ryanair and FlyBe all with strong success.

Q15. Do you use Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc, to promote your website? How successful has it been for you? 

Twitter yes, Facebook with less success.

Q17. Which entrepreneur/person has inspired you the most & why?

I am a great sucker for the underdog, people who keep failing to achieve their goals and yet never give up, often they can provide great inspiration – as a boxing fan, Audley Harrison’s journey is very interesting and clearly demonstrates the need for desire and belief to keep going when you are surrounded by doubters – sometimes it can be a lonely journey, particularly when it appears you are failing.

Q18. What mistakes have you made in your business and what would you have done differently?

During the early manufacturing days (GATE8 are now into Year 3) I should have worked more closely with product designers, manufacturing engineers and quality control agencies. As a result of relatively light-touch approach to this part of the business, I made some mistakes with factory selection and learnt very quickly the value and importance of local knowledge.

With Lara on-board and her background in successfully growing a business in Hong Kong and China, GATE8 now only use world class manufacturing facilities and employ the highest quality control processes. This has enabled us to offer a Lifetime Warranty on all our products.

You cannot under estimate the value of local knowledge and experience.

Q20. What advice would you give to somebody thinking of starting their own business?

As stated earlier, seek advice during company startup from any professional Business Source. I was lucky enough to have been successful with Cambridge University, there are however Business Schools throughout the UK looking for “real” business projects for their students to work on. Ensure you have a clear brief, scope and objectives for the students to deliver against.

Ensure you are passionate and have absolute belief in your product or service. You will need to make many sacrifices to succeed (I am still in very early days), particularly with your “free” time. I undertook the early pre-Business Start Up years whilst working full time and with a small family – this meant many early starts and late finishes to my day.

I am lucky enough to have won the financial backing of serial entrepreneur Lara Morgan, who founded toiletries firm Pacific Direct, however this did not happen overnight and without several previous knock backs (rejections!).

Without the determination to succeed, the energy to keep going and utter belief in your product (or service) you are unlikely to secure the financial and strategic backing you require to grow your business.

Having failed to secure these business commitments on several occasions, such as rejection at the final auditions for series 9 Dragons Den and when I first asked Lara for advice at a business event. Both of these knock backs required enormous amounts of emotional energy and belief in myself and product to continue.

It was also important for me to have the ability to not only listen to advice but act on it! Some of the changes I implemented to reengage Lara in investment discussions were not small scale changes, but wholesale Brand name change etc. All of which required a huge leap of faith (from me), but in someone (Lara in this instance) who had a proven track record in success. You have to be prepared to listen and act on good advice. I have witnessed several other early day entrepreneur’s who are not prepared to make the necessary changes to atract investment in their business offering.

Q21. What are your future plans for Gate 8 Luggage?

IN FIVE YEARS WE’D LIKE TO BE…A global brand, being sold around the world and recognised for innovative cabin size solutions helping millions of business and leisure travellers around the world.

Thanks Alistair, from everyone at Easyspace. Good luck with your future plans.

If you want to find out more about Alistair Callender and GATE 8 Luggage then you can visit his website at: