Interview with Niamh Barker, CEO and Founder of The Travelwrap Company

Read how Niamh Barker turned her business, The Travelwrap Company, from an expensive hobby into a profitable business by changing her pricing structure and featuring more design-led wraps that attracted celebrity fans, including Kate Moss.

What’s your career background?

I founded The Travelwrap Company in 2007, having left a senior role at Pfizer. My previous career was as a hospital pharmacist. I used to travel to the States with my pharma role and grew to hate the airline blanket that was offered.

I have always loved cashmere and have a passion for design so came up with the concept of ‘Travelwrap’ – a high end ‘special blanket’ for ‘grown up’ girls. In 2006, Pfizer moved offices, I was offered voluntary redundancy and saw the opportunity to start my own business.

What’s your brand’s USP? 

The originality of the concept ‘Travelwrap’ The ‘Travelwrap’ was an original concept when I introduced it to the market in 2007. We continue to own and promote the strapline ‘the Original Travelwrap’

Each Travelwrap is an exceptional product with an engaging Scottish heritage story. We have a brand that is unique globally and is finding an audience throughout the throughout the world. By adding to the core collections every season with new designer pieces we build on our story and also make our designs and brand more difficult to imitate.

We sell direct to the customer through our online platforms and we control our pricing and marketing.

The product itself our Travelwraps are ‘one size fits all’ which is one less barrier to buy particularly for international customers. We also have exceptional customer service and product feedback which serve to increase our conversion rate to online audience.

Through our global social media campaigns and sites we have built a network of customers and Travelwrap ambassadors that engage with our brand. 

We are proud to be a British luxury brand in a global market sharing our British heritage, story of craftsmanship and ethical business values and practice. 

Our mission statement on the wall reads: Our Travelwraps are the best in the world because we care passionately about our cashmere, our craftmanship and our customers.

Who’s your target audience?

The majority of our sales revenue is now achieved through on line and direct to customer sales alongside some corporate gifting opportunities. E commerce revenue is split: 41% UK/ 59% International.

Our key international markets outside the UK are the USA, Europe and Australia. We continue to serve a few retail outlets outside the UK. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Marketing for us is critical to our business success and we have a number of different marketing channels which we track and monitor closely, including paid digital marketing (Facebook, Instagram), Google Adwords and affiliate links and partnerships.

Off- line marketing and PR is also very important to us for improving our brand exposure and presence in the offline word of magazines, interviews and other opportunities. 

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

Often the press we achieve does very well for us. We did a ‘not for profit’ design collaboration with Liz Earle last year and we achieved a huge brand reach. Liz has a fantastic fan base in the US as well as here in the UK so it worked well for all of us.

We provided Kate Moss’ Christmas presents last year to her friends and they were all monogrammed, this was another great opportunity to allow our brand to be seen by some future Travelwrap brand ambassadors. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

During our early years in business revenue grew slowly and margins were being eroded by rising cost of cashmere. Six years after I started the business, we were still losing money and we were churning capital. My husband used to call our business ‘an expensive hobby’!

Our turning point came when I decided we needed to drastically change our business model. We cancelled all upcoming trade shows, changed our pricing structure and built five additional websites serving different regions.

I started working with a knitwear designer and we introduced our design-led ‘travelwraps’. We added value to the offer by introducing monogramming, reconditioning and even bespoke travelwraps. We built on our original collections, adding My Little Travelwrap (for kids) and a men’s collection.

As we began to grow our traffic internationally, conversions and profit improved. As a small independent Luxury British brand we now find ourselves with a growing global loyal customer base. We saw our revenue and profits begin to grow to grow and our business slowly felt like the fly wheel was beginning to turn.

And your proudest moment so far?

Bringing a new concept, ‘the travelwrap’ to market and now scaling an international luxury brand. 

Why is work so important to you? 

Running our business gives me a purpose and a passion. I have had over a decade worth of wonderful opportunities and experiences, including meeting a Prime Minister (won’t say which!)  being interviewed on podcasts and collecting a business award in Time Square New York and then on top of that all the ups and downs and learnings of day to day business! I don’t regret a day of it! 

Who inspires you?

I have an unending list of individuals that I have the utmost admiration for different reasons but I have just finished Michelle Obama’s autobiography. I really admire her leadership, integrity and constant strive for female empowerment in the world.

How do you balance your busines with your family?

I have learnt the hard way that putting myself and my own wellness first is critical to juggling a busy family life and business.

I used to be in the office at a ridiculously early time in the morning a couple of hours before the children got up. I now make sure I exercise, read a bit and meditate before I get into work mode. I make a better wife, mum and leader if I manage those bits first! 

The juggling gets easier as the kids get older and I can delegate a bit more in business. I love this quote from Steve Jobs:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

What are your two top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

1) Focus on the numbers

Understand the bigger picture numbers get a good financial director on board as soon as you can afford to. My business was an expensive hobby for a few years until got a grip on the numbers and found my financial director. Not paying attention to the numbers will be fatal for a business. 

2) Get a mentor

I have a business mentor that has supported me for the last five to six years. Simon has run a couple of big global businesses but not in the luxury sector so where he helps me is with generic business skills, financial insight and scaling our business.

I also tune in to many female business women and leaders that that I admire or follow. Some of them are even travelwrap fans so a perfect fit! Often the best role models and mentors are busy people so tapping into different networks for different skillsets makes sense. 

You can find out more about The Travelwrap Company on their website.