Designing stylish handbags and wallets, crafted with high-quality leathers and thoughtful details has always been the primary mission at Hobo The Original. “We create stylish solutions for everyday journeys,’” Chief Visionary Officer Koren Ray says. “Our heritage-hip designs offer purposeful fashion that allows every woman to express her individual style.”
The Annapolis, Md.- based company was founded by Ray’s mother, Toni Ray, in 1991. Before Hobo, Toni Ray had established a chain of retail stores in Washington, D.C. that crafted handmade sandals and leather goods. At the age of 50, Toni became unemployed and decided to use her expertise in leather to make real handbags that worked for real women. “She believed that quality leather and cool never went out of style,” her daughter says.
The original line of Hobo handbags was designed by the mother/daughter-duo at the kitchen table. “It was a partnership from the get-go, but it was my mom’s vision and her expertise that was the brainchild of Hobo,” Koren Ray says. After completing the first line, Toni Ray cashed in her lifesavings and traveled to Colombia to meet with a leather manufacturer that made her dream become a reality.
Koren Ray’s business-savvy future husband David Brewer joined the company and the team traveled to New York to begin selling the brand. “We started our business selling to small specialty retailers and this remains a very important part of our wholesale business today,” Koren Ray says.
Today, Hobo is a multi-million-dollar design and wholesale company. Its products are sold in more than 3,000 retailers worldwide, including department stores, e-retailers and specialty stores. Hobo also sells out of showrooms in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta, but it also sells direct to customers on its website, www.hobobags.com.
Hobo has stayed successful for more than 20 years, Koren Ray believes, because it has stuck to its founding principles of crafting creative, purposeful accessories at accessible price points. “We are firm believers in quality and have delivered beautiful hand-crafted leather handbags and small leather goods season after season,” she says. “Consumers understand that we built the Hobo brand on the foundation of timeless style, quality, materials and affordable value.”
Despite delivering on its business model, Hobo was not exempt from the economic downturn in 2008. Hobo was hit with massive cancellations, and that hard reality gave the company an immediate reason to look inward and make sure it stayed relevant in the marketplace. “We needed to figure out how we were going to innovate and survive,” she says. “We saw the value in establishing ourselves as a true heritage brand. What that means for us is instilling confidence in retailers that we are experts in quality leather and innovative styles.”
To maintain that reputation among retailers, Hobo’s independent sales representatives are armed with samples and a wealth of information about the leathers used. This information helps retailers understand what makes Hobo special and how we support their success, Ray says. “This is an opportunity to stand out to the customer,” she adds. “Consumers today look for brands that have been around a while and that have a story that means something. We are a family business, have an American heritage and all aspects of that register with consumers.”
Although finding its marketing strategy was important, Hobo is also streamlining its supply chain and as a consequence will be able to significantly lower the cost of some of its core merchandise this fall. “We took a close look at our business and were able to really tighten up operations while still offering the same quality materials and unique designs our retailers and customers expect,” Ray notes.
For years, Hobo also had separate warehouse and office space, but has recently consolidated the two spaces to realize an even greater cost-savings. The space is for the Hobo team of 45 employees, and a number of them have been with the company for more than five years. When hiring new associates, Hobo looks to hire to new ideas.
“Part of our company culture is to embrace the creative and unexpected,” Ray explains. “We are always looking for people that bring new thinking. For example, we hired a young designer from an industrial design background. His collaboration with our fashion designers has brought an exciting dynamic.”
To strengthen its position as a heritage brand, Hobo recently released a new collection of handbags inspired by its early designs. The collection offers soft, casual silhouettes in rich natural leather.“These styles celebrate our long-standing commitment to creative designs, infused with a casual ease that reflects our original, quirky point of view,” Ray adds.
The brand has also put down roots in its hometown by opening a flagship store in 2011. “This is where the brand began. We are a family company and all of our history is here,” Ray notes.
To further communicate its rich history, the company has built a mobile Hobo unit out of an old delivery truck. “It’s a traveling Hobo showroom and store and a wonderful opportunity to tell our story,” Ray says. “Hobo hopes to partner with some of its retail stores to create some buzz around the brand and share new product introductions. Mobile Hobo is a return to our roots. It expresses our brand philosophy that we should all choose our own road and express our individual style.”
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