The privately held company experienced virtually uninterrupted growth through 2001. But in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, the travel category imploded, the luxury goods and services market sagged, and the recession wasn't far behind. Add to those calamities conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and the global SARS epidemic, and Tumi was no longer rolling full tilt on the wheels of its stylish wheeled cases.
"It was the catalyst that forced Tumi to change," says Mr. Mellen, a boyish 40-year-old who saw his opportunity and grabbed it. He devised a strategy to help propel growth again, developing direct-to-consumer distribution via the Web and its first catalog, opened international channels, spurred the creation of new product lines to target women and younger consumers, and struck partnerships and loyalty programs with the likes of Seabourn Cruises and Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
Women, a growing target for Tumi, currently make up 20% of total sales. "One bag fits all is a thing of the past," he says. In 2004, the former Coach executive plans to solidify relationships with a credit card company and an airline.