How BÉIS Travel and Glossier are transforming markets at the speed of retail

NRF 2024: BÉIS founder and Chief Brand Officer Shay Mitchell and Glossier CEO Kyle Leahy in conversation with Shopify President Harley Finkelstein
Peter Johnston
NRF Contributor

In a keynote session at NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show, Shopify President Harley Finkelstein discussed the art of rapid growth with two young, fast-moving companies: BÉIS Travel, represented by founder and Chief Brand Officer Shay Mitchell, and Glossier CEO Kyle Leahy.

Finkelstein began by noting just how young the two companies are: Glossier “barely 10 years old” and BÉIS “barely six years old.” How, then, did they become so dominant, so quickly? So disruptive?

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“Both BÉIS and Glossier have grown at unbelievable speed,” he said. “Three things I want to point out: One, both of you are continuing to disrupt yourselves. Two, you’ve created a category within a traditional category that didn’t exist before. Three, you have this sort of vice-like grip on the consumer.”

BÉIS surpassed $200 million in revenue, he said, and expanded across international markets. Among the 300 million products sold on Shopify, the company’s Weekender bag was among the top products sold in one weekend. “So, tell me,” Finkelstein said. “Tell me how you made luggage sexy.”

An opening in the market

“We’ve always seen ourselves as an on-the-go brand rather than a luggage brand,” Mitchell said. “Remembering my first ‘Caboodle,’ I just loved that I had a place where I could put all my belongings and it looked cute. When I was shopping for my own luggage, I noticed that there was a wide place in the market. I couldn’t find anything good-looking, affordable, and that had all the space I wanted.”

So, she decided to make her own category, she said. “I was looking at fashion, I was looking at sneakers, and thinking, what is going on? How can we put in the energy, along with four items, to keep people coming back?”

“It kind of gives rise to the idea that people can create their own market niche,” Finkelstein said. 

Setting new rules

Glossier, meanwhile, is the top-searched beauty brand within Sephora, he noted; its ‘You’ brand sells more than once every minute, and its deodorant sold out in 48 hours.

“Other than for Supreme and a few other established brands, you almost never see lines round the block,” Finkelstein said to Leahy. “How do you feel about Glossier’s place in the cosmetics market?”

“Cosmetics is an old industry,” Leahy said. “Glossier came and said, ‘We want to do it differently. Our call was, ‘Come as you are, who or whatever you are. What makes you feel good?’ People want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and they want to do that through the products they buy, the experiences they have and the way they connect multi-generationally.”

“It’s easier to launch retail than ever before, but a lot of brands never get to the scale you’ve gotten to be,” Finkelstein said. “A lot of companies get to a point and plateau, but somehow you manage to remain at the center of the cultural zeitgeist. It’s so different now. When I was coming up, retail set the rules: Pay how, where, when. Now Glossier says, we’ll sell to the consumer where and whenever she wants to be sold to.”

What the consumer wants

BÉIS launched in 2018, two years before the pandemic hit and baggage companies around the world had to figure out how to survive. Four years later, BÉIS seems to have not just survived but thrived.

BÉIS founder and Chief Brand Officer Shay Mitchell at NRF 2024: Retail's Big Show.
BÉIS founder and Chief Brand Officer Shay Mitchell.

“It was a fun challenge, wasn’t it,” Mitchell said, adding that the company’s success lies in portfolio diversity. “We span over 13 different categories, from kids’ backpacks to cosmetics bags to rollers. When Covid hit, we were gearing up for a huge launch of all of our rollers. Then, boom! Nobody’s traveling. We diverted quickly to other categories we already had credibility in — shoulder bags, hands-free bags.”

“Let’s talk about the consumer,” Finkelstein said. “You both seem to know what the consumer wants. How do you consult your crystal ball?”

“Intuition backed by knowledge,” Mitchell said. “I get stuff from consumers, from Shopify … and at the end of the day, I myself am a consumer. I know what I want. The team and I ask each other, what would make it easier when I leave the house?”

“Community is at the core of everything we do,” Leahy said. “From the Slack channel to customer engagement — we’re constantly fostering dialogue.”

Watch clip: Shopify President Harley Finkelstein, BÉIS Travel Founder and Chief Brand Officer Shay Mitchell and Glossier CEO Kyle Leahy discussed how the brands’ retail models have evolved, incorporating both physical and digital touchpoints to meet consumers where they are.

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