Tom Nelson

Tom Nelson

Global President and CEO | Zero Halliburton

Industry
Luggage

Location
New York 


Tom Nelson: A 30-Year Travel Goods Executive Shares What It Is Like to Re-Launch a Luggage Brand in the Wake of the Crisis.

Tom Nelson joined Zero Halliburton as its global President and CEO in January 2017. Prior to that, Nelson spent the last 30 years in the consumer goods industry, focused mostly on premium accessories and travel goods for brands like Louis Vuitton, Coach, and Tumi, and has lived in New York, Paris, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. 
Conceived by American Industrialist Erle Halliburton to survive the tough environment of the Midwest oil fields, Zero Halliburton was launched in 1938 with the brand pillars of protection, strength, and dependability. With its trademark aluminum exterior, the bags have carried such treasures as moon rocks from Apollo 11 mission, the rarest of gemstones, and blueprints for some of the world's greatest works of architecture.

What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19? 

Like most of the world, my concerns are numerous. The safety of our employees and customers the top among them. This becomes especially important as we consider how we return to physical stores and offices in the future.  

Zero Halliburton’s primary focus is on travel and movement. We make travel cases and other accessories, operate retail stores globally, and our corporate headquarters are in New York.  The Coronavirus has impacted us on all fronts. Thankfully, our employees are healthy thus far and our robust e-commerce platform is operating smoothly.

I’m not an oracle, however, I think it will take at least 18 months to fully recover from this crisis and even then, how we travel and shop will have been significantly changed. We were becoming aware of the virus from our markets in Asia just as we were launching our new product design and brand campaign starting this year—the culmination of a rebranding endeavor that took nearly two years. The frenzied demand that typically accompanies the Lunar New Year was not there. At that point, we began to discuss the possibility that winter travel and tourism might be impacted. As February progressed, we started to revise our forecasts and inventories for certain regions recognizing this was going to be a global issue with staying power.

The Zero Halliburton 22″ Continental Carry On in silver aluminum.

What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation? 

We have obviously had to change retail and wholesale forecasts and operate under the assumption that the demand for travel cases will slow significantly. We also made the decision to move forward with our long-planned online “warehouse sale” which was prearranged to move out older, discontinued products and make room for our new design. Considering the courageous response from frontline workers to the pandemic and the suffering of so many, we felt compelled to make the sale a fundraising effort and decided to donate 15% of the sale proceeds to Feed the Frontlines, Direct Relief, and International Medical Corps. The results of the Warehouse Sale exceeded our wildest expectations. This speaks to not only the generosity of our customers, but also to a sense of optimism and desire they have regarding the return of travel. That spirit encouraged us to pay it forward again this past week with a donation of 100 of our Edge Lightweight Carry-On Cases in the new (and joyous), Sun color filled with care items to the first responders “living” at the Four Season in New York while they care for our city’s many victims.

The need for real-time interaction between online shoppers and brands will continue to grow in place of the experience of going to traditional retail stores—which may be slower to open and will do so dramatically changed.

How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now? 

I think the economic impact of this Pandemic will make consumers—especially Millennials and Gen Z—become more discerning in their spending. Instead of trend-driven “disrupters”, people will seek out brands that prioritize quality, design, and authenticity in the products they buy. Luggage, for example, will not be as “disposable” as it was in the pre-COVID-19 world, and there will be many luggage brands that won’t make it through this period of turmoil.

Additionally, a more personal approach in online shopping will become very important. The need for real-time interaction between online shoppers and brands will continue to grow in place of the experience of going to traditional retail stores—which may be slower to open and will do so dramatically changed. Additionally, the demand for augmented reality and 3D imagery will increase on e-commerce platforms.

The brand’s special initiative for doctors in New York at the Four Seasons.

What have you learned from other difficult times in the past? 

I’ve been at companies that have experienced business downturns associated with 9/11, SARS, the Financial Crisis, etc. The human costs of those events are deeply tragic, as is this one. You pause, you reflect, you take stock, but ultimately you also must move forward. I’m a big believer in the positive impact of commerce around the world and of the fundamental desire by the majority of the people worldwide to improve their lives, make progress and make this a better place. 

Zero Halliburton has been making travel cases for 82 years. The brand’s reputation for strength and security is woven into the fabric of American history and together we have survived some very trying times. The pioneering spirit, drive for innovation and craftsmanship, and quite frankly, the humanity in our DNA is more applicable than ever. This crisis is new to all of us, so we’re bound to not get it right all of the time as we manage our way through it. For the team at ZH, it is less about avoiding mistakes and more about learning from them very quickly and readjusting. 

Safe–and entertained–at Home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime

 

Morning routine? 
We’re staying in the mountains several hours outside of NYC. Instead of a morning shower and commute to my office, I walk the 30-or-so steps to my laptop and phone and start the day. Morning showers have become evening showers…with some grooming in between before Zoom video sessions.

Currently binging? 

My wife and I binged the three seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Now we know why all the buzz. Also, polished off Ozark’s latest season, Homeland’s final season and about to jump back into Better Call Saul. 

Currently reading? 

I’m now reading Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham. How’s that for some light reading during a pandemic?!  NY Times and Wall Street Journal are on my daily digital feed, as are Medium, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork. I also need to get my dose of Conan O’Brien, so I often listen to his Conan Needs a Friend podcast while working out. The laughter alone helps develop muscle tone.    

What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?

Staying out of the kitchen. My wife is an exceptional cook; me, not so much. However, I am great at entertaining the chef while she cooks, an attentive wine steward (at all times) and a hard-working busboy/dishwasher after the meals. It goes a long way to ensuring good marital harmony.    

What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically? 
Hiking. I’ve never been an especially big fan, but my head has been turned during this lockdown. I feel really fortunate to have the woods and many trails nearby. Also lots of HIIT videos.

Where are you dreaming of visiting once things are back to normal? 
Visiting my daughters in Boston and Nashville as a very first trip, next France and especially a return to the Chateau St. Martin in Vence—and Palm Springs (where we’ll attend a wedding in November, we hope!).