Best 4U, Start small, Word-of-Mouth, multi-talented Team, Decisions, Improve, Cust Service, Risks, Partnering, (+) Impact.
In 2013, Abel Samet and Samuel Bail, two friends and former colleagues living in London, decided to design the perfect overnight bag. Unknown to them, it would be the beginning of a 10-year journey that would result in running a seven-figure business.
What is a Troubadour – really?
Composer and performer of Lyric Poetry during the High Middle Ages
A Troubadour was a composer & performer (singer) of lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages (1100–1350). Since the word Troubadour is etymologically masculine, a female troubadour is usually called a trobairitz. The troubadour school or tradition began in the late 11th century in Occitania, but it subsequently spread to the Italian & Iberian Peninsulas. Wikipedia
The name “Troubadour” refers to traveling minstrels with bags that can be taken anywhere—from mountain hikes to boardroom meetings. Troubadour bags are refined enough for work and durable enough for the outdoors.
Trabadour was Co-Founded by Samet and Bail nearly a decade ago, Troubadour crafts modern bags—backpacks, totes, briefcases, and duffles—with comfort, luxury, and performance in mind.
It hasn’t always been easy.
“There were definitely more dead ends than thru-ways along the path,” says Samet about the early days of the company. But they’ve grown a brand that customers love, have forged partnerships with retailers like Nordstrom & Saks Fifth Avenue + opened a flagship retail store in Central London. Facing a downturn in the bag sales following the pandemic, fuelled by less commuting and less travel, Troubadour still had its best year in business in 2021.
In this episode of the Shopify Masters podcast, we sat down with Abel Samet to discuss the company-building lessons he’s learned throughout Troubadour’s decade in business.
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1. Design your Product with yourself in mind
It was a long and unsuccessful search for a high-performing weekender bag that fuelled Samet and Bail’s idea. This took them on an 18-month odyssey across Europe, meeting with manufacturers and artisans. Those conversations taught them about the manufacturing process and helped them create their first prototype.
“Troubadour crafts modern bags with comfort, performance, and durability in mind”.
As professionals who enjoyed travel, they wanted a weekender bag that was beautiful, but also performed like sportsgear does—lightweight, waterproof, & comfortable. By building for themselves, they created a product others enjoyed, too.
“The journey really started with creating bags for ourselves,” says Samet. “It wasn’t originally about trying to create a bag business for others.”
2. Start small before Expanding
Before becoming an Ecommerce force, Troubadour products were a well-kept secret (stealthy) amongst the co-founders’ inner circle. Once colleagues caught wind of their side-hustle project, they asked for bags too. After finding the right manufacturer with a minimum order quantity of 30, they got to work finding more people who might be interested in their bags.
“We’ll just do a friends and family event, one in London, one in New York, and if we hit 30, everybody gets a better price in their bag,” says Sam, recalling their strategy to fulfill the minimum order quantity. “A small step became a big business.”
3. Lean into word-of-mouth Marketing & Referrals
“Our number one way that we acquire new customers is through word of mouth-of-mouth & referrals,” says Sam. “Since the very early days of Troubadour, the #1 way that we’ve really grown is with how enthusiasm our customers are and journalists who get exposure to the brand.”
The Troubadour Apex Backpack is designed for everyday and anywhere, from commuting to the office to Traveling the world.
This reliance of word-of-mouth marketing and referrals has helped Troubadour do what other businesses can’t: avoid a reliance on paid advertising. says Sam, “If Facebook shut down tomorrow we would be fine.”
4. Hire a multi-talented Team
What started as the quest for the perfect bag has led to a diversified product line that includes products like their Ridge backpack and Daytripper Carry All. Sam attributes the success of their products to building a strong team that works holistically to understand what customers want and uncover pain points in their current products.
“We’re making the improvement process a more whole team project,” says Sam. “Instead of just having a design team that’s designing whatever the next season’s bag is, it’s bringing in 1) our store sales team into the conversation, 2) our online customer service team into the conversation, and 3) our repairs team into the conversation.”
5. Make decisions with both Qualitative & Quantitative data
Troubadour collects and tracks qualitative feedback from customers, like what buyers like about their bags and what they might change. But Troubadour also tracks quantitative data to understand their best selling bags or products with a higher return rate. Often they go even deeper, collecting data on which suppliers provide zippers that last, informing their supply chain decisions.
Every Troubadour bag is thoughtfully designed for optimal organization and access.
“There’s often a lot of discussion of big data & analytics as part of design, which I think it can be tricky to do,” says Sam. “But that’s one area where we’ve really found it very useful.”
6. Continuously improve your Product & Processes
Troubadour is constantly improving thru modification. This culture of improvement extends to every corner of their business—from their product development to manufacturing. “We have our major production runs roughly every six months – each of those is an opportunity for revision and improvement,” says Sam. “No bag is ever done, no supply chain is never done.”
7. Provide strong Customer Service
Strong customer service touches every part of the Troubadour brand—from their online support and Email marketing to their in-store retail staff. To manage all its customer channels, Troubadour uses Shopify Point of Sale (POS), a system that unifies customer’s shopping experiences in real life and online.
“I’m a big fan of Shopify Point of Sale. I’ve recommended it to a few other entrepreneurs who are also opening their own business,” says Sam. “The integration of the website and Shopify POS has been great, both for understanding a customer and giving that customer a more simple experience with us as a brand.”
8. Take bold Risks instead of Playing it safe !!!
When the pandemic began in 2020, the Troubadour team saw an opportunity. Sam noticed their competitors were bracing for the worst—fellow bag brands, who they competed with for factory time and design time in sampling rooms, had cut back.
“There was a real open capacity from some of the best sampling rooms and some of the best factories in the world to be doing product development,” says Sam. “We had a real belief that – if we continue to create what we think are some of the most exciting bags out there, that there’s going to have a market for them.” The end result was a period of creative focus that led to the design of 8-10 new products.
(ie, The Embark Compact Duffle is ideal for visits to the gym or overnight trips.)
During this same time at the height of the pandemic, as other stores shifted their focus to Ecommerce and shuttered, Troubadour opened its flagship store in central London. Again, their risk paid off. Troubadour had their best revenue year in 2021.
9. Go further by Partnering with others
Troubadour has partnered with over 60 top Retailers to spread their brand further, including Harrods, Harvey, Nichols, Liberty, Nordstrom, Equinox, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts + more. “That’s often a great way for customers to discover Troubadour,” says Samet.
Additionally, Troubadour recently acquired Mojjo, an innovative phone case and tech accessories brand. “Both teams are very focused on creating best in class products and growing, because customers are so passionate about the products that we make,” says Sam.
10. Leave a (+) Impact on the world
Troubadour has always aimed to have a positive impact, beyond the products they sell. In 2021, Troubadour became a Certified B Corporation, taking an approach to business with people, communities, & the planet in mind. The journey to becoming a B Corp included a rigorous auditing of their financials and the impact of their business.
Troubadour considers the environmental impact of its products and uses materials that can be recycled without down-grading. This has meant keeping polyurethane out of their products, in favor of polyester, to keep their bags out of landfills.
“It’s really important that we back up anything we’re saying about sustainability,” says Sam. ”Having an audit process and a certification from an independent non-profit focused on this for the right reasons…that’s the kind of sustainability that we really want to be focused on !!!
Comments: Do you know any other good Lessons to have a successful business?
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