Stephen Hersh may have been born to sell bags but who knew those bags would lead him to jumping into a tank filled with sharks. Since his fateful appearance on the show Shark Tank, Hersh’s luggage company Biaggi has certainly made a splash so big that Hersh is being featured on the show Beyond the Tank. Beyond the Tank allows viewers to see how favorite Shark Tank entrepreneurs have progressed with their products.
Hersh’s father, Ron Hersh, is the founder of Rosetti Handbags & Accessories, an innovative bag company with over 30 years experience in manufacturing and importing handbags and luggage. The trendsetting Rosetti is known for being the first company to design a bag with a pocket made to hold a cell phone, as well as have a light inside a bag. Stephen followed in his father’s footsteps by jumping into the family business to help with new inventive designs. Along with his father and another partner, the three set forth in 2011 to implement the idea of creating the luggage company, Biaggi, featuring ground-breaking travel bags that could easily be stored without taking up bulky space. The inspiration came from Stephen’s own small space apartment living situation.
Biaggi uses their patented hinge-lock technology to craft fully structured four-wheeled luggage that fold efficiently for easy storage in a small space. The idea was wonderful but the original implementation was not working. The money being spent on Biaggi was eating any profits and the luggage was heavy and expensive. Hersh’s father and partner jumped the sinking ship to let Stephen to flounder for himself and Biaggi.
Perhaps by fate Shark Tank rescued Hersh and his invention from drowning by asking him if he would like to appear on the show in 2014. The show appearance resulted in national recognition for the Biaggi brand and a partnership for Hersh with American celebrity entrepreneur, and Shark, Lori Greiner. Since the show the Biaggi brand has been a top selling item on QVC and is thriving being sold on various retail channels. Biaggi’s Zipsak, a small pouch that transforms in to a large four-wheeled suitcase, immediately became a best seller with almost $5 million in retail sales in one year. Greiner showcases how Biaggi’s ZipSak works on QVC. Hersh keeps his overhead low, and the cost of Biaggi to the consumer very reasonable, by working from home and doing just about everything himself.
Carol Ruth Weber: Did you envision sales to be as high as they are?
Stephen Hersh: I was projecting $1 Million at wholesale, $2.5M retail, for the first year since we re-launched, and $2.5 Million at wholesale in year two. So we’re a full year ahead of schedule. Our success on QVC is the biggest reason for that, but biaggi.com has been a lot more active than I anticipated as well. Even when we aren’t doing any digital marketing, we still get between 450 and 500 visitors per day to Biaggi.com. The exposure from Shark Tank is the main reason.
CRW: With the Zipsak being the big seller do you plan on making its design even more user friendly?
SH: Since the Zipsak is our biggest seller, we are both expanding the line and also adding accessories, which will make the existing Zipsak more user friendly. For example, we’re making packing cubes which will be custom made for each size Zipsak. The Zipsak is a soft bag, so it has to be packed correctly in order to function well. The packing cubes will distribute the weight of your contents evenly, and will also help the bag keep its shape.
CRW: What is your favorite Biaggi bag?
SH: My favorite Biaggi bag is a bag that we haven’t even sold yet. It’s going to be available in the spring, but I’ve been using a sample for around a month now and it has really made my life easier. It’s a garment bag that folds in three and zips up on the sides, which creates a large pocket for you to put other stuff into. I take a lot of short business trips, and this new bag has been a godsend for me.
CRW: Shark Tank helped to rescue Biaggi and gain fame. What do you hope Beyond the Tank will do for your brand?
SH: I’m looking at Beyond the Tank in a completely different way than I looked at Shark Tank. I’m not expecting or hoping that it’s going to lead to sales or to the growth of my company, although the exposure will be nice. I’ve learned a lot of important lessons from the Biaggi story, and Beyond the Tank will cover a lot of that. I feel that other entrepreneurs can learn something from it too, and the best part about it is that it’s an ongoing story and the lessons are universal. So I guess you can say that I’m looking to branch out a bit, and share the Biaggi story with anyone who would find it helpful to them.
CRW: Give us a hint at what big things are going to happen with Biaggi?
SH: We’re trying something out which is a little bit unconventional for a company like ours, but is low risk/high reward. I just signed a lease on a retail location in Long Island where I now live. So I would like to test out a retail model and if it works out, then I’ll replicate it in other locations. The idea is to sell Biaggi luggage, but also to sell other innovative travel products. Basically, anything that can make your life easier when you travel. That’s the idea. The reason why this is low risk, is because the space comes with a large basement I’ll be fulfilling website orders out of this location. So I’m actually saving money by not having to do web order fulfillment through a third party.
CRW: With sales being so high in the one year since appearing on Shark Tank, what do you envision for the future? Will you continue to work from Home?
SH: Starting in March, I’m going to be splitting time between my home office and the store that I mentioned. I’ve gotten used to working from home, and I have to do things that other business owners don’t have to do such as cooking dinner for my kids and being there to help them with their school work when necessary.
CRW: The movie “Joy,” about single struggling mom Joy Mangano who became a TV entrepreneur selling her inventions beginning with the Miracle Mop recently came out. It has brought to light how anyone with an idea can make their dreams come true if they believe and work hard enough to sell it. You broke away from your own family business to follow your dream; what advice do you have for others looking to create and sell their own inventions?
SH: At a certain point, I had to make a decision about whether I should be moving on to something else or stick with Biaggi and figure it out alone. Joy Mangano is successful because her products fill a void, and really make peoples lives easier and more convenient. Lori Greiner was successful for the same reason, and I really admire both of them they are very inspiring. So the question that I had to answer very honestly, was do Biaggi products do for people what Joy Mangano and Lori Greiner’s do, and are our products worth the price that we need to charge for them. So my advice is to be brutally honest with yourself about the viability of your product. Persistence will only pay off if the product is viable and the price is right. Move on if you aren’t sure. What I’m advising is not easy to do, especially after you put your heart and soul into creating something. The Biaggi story would have been a classic “good money after bad” nightmare had I been wrong about my assessment of our products and pricing. Sometimes switching gears is the answer, such as what we did with the Zipsak.
Hersh’s exposure on Shark Tank also revealed his entrepreneur side shining the spotlight on his personal brand. Not only an innovator in the world of travel bags, Hersh is now well received as a thought-leader to follow for entrepreneurs and start-ups. He is speaking at LI University, writing an ebook and will be featured at a TedX event in 2016.
CRW: Did you every envision yourself as a leader to tutor fledgling entrepreneurs on their own quests?
SH: I actually was a teacher so I am naturally like to share knowledge. You always have to talk to people and take lessons from others. I am not secretive at all. Sharing contacts is very important because you will get the sharing back from others. I believe if you listen to people they will listen to you. The fact that I was on TV gives me the opportunity to have people want to listen to me. I like that Beyond the Tank shows the company side and everyday working side of the business. It shows the decisions you have to make in order to grow yow your company and how you have to make decisions for yourself.
Humbly the single father of two speaks lovingly about his nurturing of Biaggi. “We’re a very 21st century minimalist start-up which is the way that it should be. Biaggi is a healthy company now, with a bright future.” Hersh continues “We have big things happening in 2016 starting with Beyond the Tank.”
Take a chance with sharing an idea forward. Never be afraid to dance!
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