You’d think it would be almost impossible to come up with a new idea for luggage these days. After all, there are already suitcases that act as closets, bags with charging stations, hard cases and soft cases, carry ons and checked sizes. What else could anyone need?
I discovered the bag I didn’t know I needed when I was sitting at a crowded airport gate, waiting for my delayed flight to board and trying to work on my laptop while juggling my phone and Starbucks and trying to keep an eye on my carry-on. The woman sitting across from me had all the same items but was calmly sipping her coffee and scrolling through TikTok while her laptop held court on a desk created by pulling the legs out of her carry-on. WHAT?
After staring for a while and trying to figure out how the whole thing worked – at first, I thought she had brought along a folding rack or something – I just had to ask her about it.
It turns out the suitcase is made by PROPS and it features its own patent-pending leg system that provides a built-in work surface/table/luggage rack. It’s pretty ingenious and, of course, I had to order one of my own. It’s come in so handy and I can’t tell you how many other travelers have asked me about it while I’m using it.
I was happy – and, honestly, not surprised – to discover that PROPS is a woman-owned business. I was so intrigued by the bag and the fact that no one had come up with something like this before that I reached out to CEO and Founder, Maggie Gerth, to learn more.
First of all, congrats on a really unique product. It’s such a great idea and is really practical. How did you come up with it?
Thanks, it’s been a long road, for sure. The idea evolved out of many different ideas. I love to travel and we love to travel with our four daughters. Yes, four daughters. When they were young, it drove me crazy to have all of their suitcases on the floor because, of course, there is always only one luggage rack in a room. Who wants to have their suitcase on the dirty floor? As the years went by and my girls got older, I never stopped thinking about developing a solution.
I was a stay home mom but always felt the draw to do something when the right time came. I was a big fan of the podcast, “How I Built This” by Guy Raz, and was fascinated by all their stories of entrepreneurship. I even attended two of the summits in San Francisco. It may seem like a strange hobby for a stay home mom but I had started working part time again on a design team for a housing development firm and really enjoyed it.
As I continued to think about a solution, my husband, Bob, and I wondered, “What if the case had its own stand?” The discussions continued and then one night one of my daughters looked at me and said, “Mom, why don’t you just do it?” I have always taught my girls to go after their dreams and that there is nothing they can’t do with hard work and determination. Now I had to teach them by example. Yikes.
Did you have any experience in the luggage industry?
No, my learning curve has been a big one. I joke that I should have studied harder in college.
Once you decided to move forward, what was the process like?
We attended the Travel Good Show in New Orleans, where we met a consultant that we hired. He was instrumental in introducing us to engineers and different factories. We began working with one engineer only to have to begin from scratch one year later because the first prototype was such a failure. And then Covid hit and I thought, “Wow, I am developing a travel product at a time when all travel has stopped.” Looking back, I am surprised that we continued but, through all of our setbacks, I can honestly say I never did think about quitting.
It’s so easy to use. How did you figure out the correct height for the legs and create the system to make it work?
I give all the credit to our amazing engineers. The leg height is 21” and was dictated by the length of a carry-on. It’s the perfect height to serve as a workstation sitting at the gate in an airport.
What was the most challenging part of the actual creation of the luggage?
That engineering was the most difficult job and made us understand why this had never been done. It’s not easy to design a leg system that’s sturdy but easy and does not add weight or bulkiness to the case. But four years and eight prototypes later, we were finally happy with the case we now call PROPS Luggage. I believe all that time served us well. We redesigned quite a bit and made changes that really helped us.
When was the official launch and how did you feel about it?
We launched one year ago, June 20, the day my first grandchild – a little girl named Molly – was born. I hope to someday tell her that PROPS Luggage was launched on her birthday. I was convinced that was a good sign.
It sounds like this has been a real family affair. How involved was everyone?
I would not have been able to do any of this without my husband of 36 years, Bob. He has supported me and taught me through the entire process. My four daughters, Colleen, Mary, Elizabeth and Kathleen (we stopped having kids because I ran out of Irish names) have been so supportive. They’re always there to help with a computer question.
How long did it take from inception to execution?
I decided to begin this journey at the age of 55 and have said a few times, “Aren’t I supposed to be on a beach lounging?” I’m joking, though, because it’s been five years and I wouldn’t change a thing. I have loved every minute of the journey – even the struggles. Plus, it’s been an amazing thing for my husband and I to share together too.
What was the most surprising part of the whole process?
The phrase, “If it was easy everyone would do it,” now made sense. I think if I had any idea of the road this was going to be it would have been very daunting. But we took one step at a time. For me, personally, I am surprised by my own personal growth and confidence. My husband really taught me that it is okay not to know everything, that you just have to hire and surround yourself with the right people.
What’s been the reaction of travelers?
We have been so happy with the reaction. It has been termed their go-to bag. Our initial idea of the built-in luggage rack has been popular but what has been just as important to people is the use at the airport. To set up their computer or eat their meal. Every time I am in the airport, I get stopped by travelers, pilots and flight attendants asking about it. It has been called a “game changer.” We have started to see repeat purchases which we know is a good sign.
Right now you only offer carry-ons. Will you be adding checked bags, as well? Will you be adding other colors?
Currently we offer the carry-on in four colors but hope to add one or two more colors. We have the drawings for the larger, checked bag which we hope to launch in the future.
What’s next for you?
I am excited to see where PROPS goes in the next year. Every day brings something new and exciting. I am never bored, and I love the learning. Although mine was not the usual path of entrepreneurship, I’m glad I didn’t do this at 30. I loved raising my girls and my oldest daughter started her own company five years ago so we are traveling on this journey together. There is nothing better than hearing my kids tell me how proud they are.
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