Rimowa – International luggage maker chose Ontario for its North American operations

Rimowa Luggage, the world’s premier manufacturer of ultra lightweight yet durable luggage, is a company with a great story.

The fact that it has been operating since 1898 speaks to the level of commitment that both staff and management have made to the company over more than a century.

Rimowa has more than 650 staff worldwide with manufacturing plants in Germany, the Czech Republic and most recently in Canada, and is represented in more than 50 countries.

In fact, the company is bucking a trend among other manufacturers that take production off-shore to sites in China and the Far East. Until 2008, Rimowa has always produced its luggage in Europe.

In 2008, the company invested in Canada by building a new manufacturing plant in Cambridge, Ontario.

Rimowa chose Canada due to the country’s worldwide success in producing quality manufactured goods.

And it chose Ontario because, just like Rimowa’s product, Ontario is also a premium brand, with pride in manufacturing excellence and a well-educated and skilled workforce, a strong innovative culture, reduced business and employer health care costs and a renewed infrastructure. Direct links from Europe to Toronto Pearson International Airport are also invaluable.

These are winning qualities, the kind that attracts successful companies to do even better.

The company has become a highly innovative and ambitious leader, well respected within the luxury luggage industry.

Rimowa CEO Dieter Morszeck and his team continually strive to stay at the forefront of their industry by recognizing opportunities, implementing new technologies and taking strategic measures when possible.

In 2000, Rimowa set a higher standard for lightweight luggage by using new technology. It was the first manufacturer in the luggage industry to use polycarbonate to make innovative, extra-lightweight business and travel collections. Within 10 years, Rimowa’s innovation revolutionized the manufacturing industry, producing luggage that makes travel both lighter and easier.

Rimowa uses space-age materials and state-of-the-art production equipment at its Cambridge plant – “high-tech meets craftsmanship,” notes Morszeck.

Cambridge is in the heart of Canada’s Technology Triangle – an ideal location for “just-in- time” shipments due to its proximity to major transportation routes.

Just-in-time shipping of product isn’t some idle industry jargon. At the Cambridge plant, Rimowa luggage can be built on a Monday and be in retail stores in Toronto, New York or Boston by Thursday. (For a west-coast, destination, the process takes only about a week longer.)

When Rimowa officials were deciding where to expand, they explored a number of locations in the USA.

But they definitely ‘set their sites’ on Ontario.

Usually, it is the staff at the Ontario government’s International Marketing Centres (IMCs) that proactively seek out foreign direct investments for Ontario. But according to Terrie Romano, Senior Economic Officer at Ontario’s IMC in Munich, it was Rimowa representatives who initiated contact.

The company needed a good production facility in Canada to export to the USA and Mexico. The IMC laid the groundwork for the company’s entry into North America via Ontario by preparing a business case which detailed the advantages of investing here.

The business case showed that Canada’s business environment compared favourably with Europe and offers easier access to the North American market – something Rimowa representatives appreciated. Ontario offers outstanding infrastructure and numerous growth locations.

Then the Investment Division in the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade stepped in to facilitate site selection for the company.

With the right combination of innovation and manufacturing expertise coming together, Rimowa decided to invest in Ontario and more specifically, Cambridge.

It turned out to be a very wise decision.

Carsten Kulcke, Executive Vice President for Rimowa North America Inc., says just 18 months after opening its first North American facility, Rimowa expanded both its local production and international product lines. Its staff has grown to 110 in Cambridge – one-sixth of its global operation.

The company’s projection in 2008 was to use its Cambridge facility for five years before considering expansion. By 2009, it needed outside storage space. By its second year of operation, it was already planning to build another factory down the road from its existing plant.

The Cambridge plant now manufactures the aluminum Topas collection for the North American market. The Topas line, known for both style and stability, is the classic aluminum collection that Rimowa has been manufacturing since the 1950s.

Rimowa has experienced growth in double-digit figures throughout many countries across the globe. It operates flagship stores in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Beijing, Shanghai, Sao Paulo, Macao, Seoul, Munich and at 101 Bloor Street West in Toronto’s fashionable Yorkville shopping district. In North America, growth figures for the company in 2010 exceeded 100 per cent.

The company’s prestigious luggage has won over showrooms worldwide. Lufthansa and Porsche are among its global partners. It has a niche product, with a strong emphasis on quality.

Rimowa has a clear vision for success: to be the first choice worldwide among travelers for luggage quality, function and design. The company also likes to be known as the most “gripping” travel companion in the world.

How influential is this classic luggage line produced by Rimowa? Last year, the venerable rock band KISS set out across Canada and the USA on its “Hottest Show on Earth” tour with luggage and cases manufactured by Rimowa. The company’s products can also be found on many Hollywood movie sets. And the German National Soccer team traveled to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup with special models of Rimowa luggage.

Rimowa has many of the attributes admired by Ontario:

  • It’s a business driven by innovation.
  • It’s a growing company that provides jobs wherever it invests.
  • Its management team places its people and strategic growth at the core of its business plan.

That’s a winning combination that helps both Rimowa and Ontario forge ahead in world markets to create good jobs at home – clearly a journey for continuing growth and even greater success.