Covid takes its toll on 65-year-old iconic luggage brand

‘Not an easy decision’ says company as it shuts its business.

Mumbai: The pandemic has taken its deathly hold not just on people’s lives but also their livelihoods. Business organisations across different sectors are struggling to wade through the detrimental impact of Covid-19, and many others are facing closure. One such casualty has been the Chennai-based luggage retailer, Witco.

After running for nearly 65 years, the iconic luggage retail chain has announced its decision to shut shop after it could not recover from the severe downturn caused by the ongoing pandemic. “We regret to inform you that we have closed down our business. The decision to close down this business was not an easy one, but unfortunately due to COVID-19 and the restrictions on international travel it was not sustainable for us,” the company wrote on its website.

The company’s mainstay was international travel which contributed a significant portion to revenue. "While domestic travel resumed to some level towards the end of last year, International travel did not pick up and this impacted our sales,” the company’s MD VP Harris told Moneycontrol.

The initial three months of the last financial year were a complete washout because of the lockdown, and the company could recover only 25-30 per cent of business after the economy reopened. “Given our rentals, employee salaries, and other expenses, we would have not been able to survive even if we had done 50 percent of our pre-Covid business,” he added.

According to Harris, Witco’s downward spiral began with demonetisation, announced by the government in November 2016, which worsened further, after GST impacted its sales. The pandemic and lockdown proved to be the final nail in the coffin for the retail chain. The brand also tried to take the e-commerce route to survive and registered on Amazon and Flipkart but that too did not yield returns, shared Harris.

Travel & tourism has been one of the worst affected sectors due to the pandemic. The market share for travel-related accessories and equipment has also taken a huge hit. While most sectors are still hopeful of recovery by the end of this financial year, the travel sector remains apprehensive and could take a long time to revive, according to industry experts. Consequently, the outlook for related segments such as luggage, too, remains grim.

The brand with a strong presence in Chennai also had stores in Trichy, Kozhikode, Bengaluru and Kochi. Witco offered not only travel bags, but also laptop bags, backpacks, school bags, as well as handbags, from renowned brands like Samsonite, Delsey, American Tourister, Nike, Puma, VIP, Skybags, Baggit, Hidesign, Wildcraft and more.

The sudden closure of the brand has left its decades-old customers dismayed. Several of them reminisced on social media, and shared childhood memories of shopping at the stores before starting the academic year of school and college or for their first trip abroad.

“This is super sad. Witco was that one stop that you always window shopped and ogled in Forum Mall. It was also the place where we bought the first two large samsonite boxes that every graduate student buys before he goes to the US (and that was 18 years ago!),” shared one of the customers.

Another tweeted, “This is terrible news. the 65-year-old brand shuts down. I fondly remember trips to Anna Nagar Witco ahead of school reopening to purchase school bags. One such backpack bought in 2002 is still in use.”

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