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Vancouver luggage seller Monos finds success, shifts to omni-channel

Brand is set to open first permanent store on West 4th Avenue in May
Monos CEO Victor Tam tows one of his company's suitcases on a sidewalk | Rob Kruyt

Fast-growing Vancouver luggage brand Monos plans to open its first permanent store, at 2131 West 4th Avenue, in May, follow that up with a location in Toronto by the end of 2023, and roll out stores across North America.

“We now have the capital,” CEO Victor Tam told BIV. “It's a possibility, if all things go well, by the end of 2026, we could have over 10 stores.”

Monos in September raised US$30 million in a financing round that Venn Growth Partners led, and Strand Equity and Michele Romanow participated.

This was on top of a US$10-million financing round in December 2021, which also involved Venn Growth Partners and Strand Equity.

Combined, those rounds bought a significant minority stake in the company.

Tam told BIV that “more than 80 per cent” of raised capital remains to be spent.

“We're likely not looking for another [financing] round and we are now testing these new channels,” he said of operating corporately owned stores.

“Once we have landed on something that we're happy with, then we now have the capital to do a fast deployment.”

Monos opened its first pop-up store in Toronto in October, with that location set to close at the end of this month.

Tam said he is actively scouting for a permanent Toronto site. The brand’s next retail opening would likely either be in New York or California, he said.

The vast majority of Monos’ sales are online, although its suitcases are also available at Nordstrom department stores.

Monos generated about US$1 million in sales in the last half of 2019. It then increased sales by more than 300 per cent annually in each of 2020 and 2021. Tam told BIV that Monos’ sales in 2022 topped US$75 million, as travel resumed in earnest once COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

While he normally talks of investment dollars and revenue in U.S. dollars, he said that 2022 sales were in excess of $100 million Canadian dollars.

Monos launched in spring 2018, after Tam bought a suitcase online and was disappointed with the quality, he said.

He had a background designing items and selling them online, so he called on friends he had known since childhood – Hubert Chan and Daniel Shin – to join him building a new venture selling luggage online.

The trio invested about US$550,000 to get the ball rolling, and spent the next year attending luggage conventions, designing suitcases and investigating potential Chinese factories that could manufacture their products, Tam said.

Sales launched in 2019 for two items that each came in two sizes, and in multiple colours.

The trio bought online advertising, and watched sales roll in.

Then the pandemic grounded flights and prompted lockdowns.

Monos worked with manufacturing partners to stagger payments. It also designed and sold a disinfecting wand to hold over products to sanitize them. They also added clothing to their website.

The company last year moved into a head office on Manitoba Street and it has about 50 staff, Tam said.

“This does not count staff in our stores, so we do expect head-count to grow,” he said.

His company has hired a store manager for what he said was a 2,000-square-foot West 4th Avenue store, but has yet to hire five or six employees to work at the location. 

“Kits is a go-to neighbourhood for gift shopping, brand discovery and on a nice day, coffee,” he said to explain why he chose to locate on West 4th Avenue.

He noted that popular brands, such as Lululemon, Arc’Teryx and Warby Parker, are nearby. The first permanent location in North America of the Adidas outdoor brand Terrex also opened on the street on Dec. 24.

“We're starting to see this combination of brands that are, I'd say, top of mind right now both digitally and offline,” Tam said.

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