Features Editor, Lily-Fleur Bradbury, caught up with Cindy Lam, Director of Clip Limited, to get her perspective on the Industry and find out what inspiredher to starther own company
So Cindy how did you come to work in the Airline Amenity Industry? Was it something you knew you wanted a career in?
It was actually the case of being in the right place at the right time. I moved to Belgium with my partner, and was fortunate that they had a job lined up for me at Sabena Catering, which was part of the SAIR Group. However, shortly after I arrived the whole SAir Group collapsed. No more SAir Group; No more Sabena. Thankfully, being in the right place provided me with an opportunity to join Dester, where I was responsible for the development and sales of all the Harmony products within their amenity kit portfolio for the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe! That’s where I started in the amenities and inflight equipment industry!
What inspired you to set up Clip?
I was working for Helios when Dester (part of Gate Group) acquired itin 2012. Having worked for both Gate Gourmet and Dester, I knew the corporate culture of both well. I had spent almost seven years at Helios seeing the dynamics of a small entrepreneurial company being very agile and flexible, I knew that this corporate world was not where I wanted to spend the rest of my professional working life. Knowing the market and understanding the ‘ins and outs’ of the inflight product business, and with Helios disappearing from the market, I was inspired to dive in and start my own company – which was a wonderful opportunity to fill the gap in the market.
How did you go about ensuring that Clip had a strong design ethos?
When I started on my business plan, I spent quite some time thinking about what we wanted to achieve, how we wanted to be perceived and where we wanted to position ourselves in the inflight market. I specifically didn’t want to hire designers from the industry and so I approached a design team based in Lausanne, Switzerland, who not only work as a design studio but are also professors of design at Ecal, one of the top design schools in Europe. Our design partners are an exclusive trio designing under the studio ‘BIG-GAME’. They have worked with international brands such as Alessi, Nespresso, Muji, Opinel, HAY and many more. We have Augustin Scott de Martinville (French), Elric Petit (Belgian) and Gregoire Jeanmonod (Swiss). Combined together, they have a unique perspective on design different to that of the airlines, and so through amalgamating design expertise with industry expertise, we have the freedom to approach projects from a far more refreshing and innovative angle, which I think gives us the edge over our competitors.
What sets Clip apart from other suppliers?
I don’t really see us competing with speciality amenity companies. For me, our strength is that we work together with airlines to create comprehensive inflight equipment portfolios, inclusive of design and branding, reflecting each cabin class appropriately. A lot of airlines need that support as they don’t all have full teams of people who can address these elements and deliver special, smart solutions to fulfil the airlines’ needs. There are not many companies who do what we do, therefore we have very few competitors. Of course, amenities are still an important part of our portfolio, and we have customers where we have been working in a very unique way by matching the brand to the right airline. That’s really important for us. It’s essential the airline and brand share the same sort of DNA otherwise it doesn’t work. For Example; the partnering of Hong Kong Airlines with Ricebowl Republic. The kits we have produced are fun and surprising, and it’s a Hong Kong brand so it has truly captured the spirit of Hong Kong Airlines.
What have been the biggest challenge of setting up your own company within the industry?
I think the challenges of entering the industry is making sure you have the right resources and financial support. Sometimes we are selective with which airlines to work with, because we are essentially a start up company. Some of the airline quantities are massive, and because we have to pre-finance everything, the financial consequences could be dire if you choose to accept a contract perhaps bigger than your balance sheet can cover. Another big challenge has been timing and scheduling an effective business plan in correspondence with that. The airlines will not tender until their contract is coming up and if you miss that you have to wait for another two years or more, especially when it comes to onboard equipment. If you miss that opportunity, you have to be very patient. But the good news is that there are so many airlines and they are all trying to outdo each other; whether it’s aircraft types, or aircraft interiors; and when that happens, with a new aircraft introduction, most airlines work on new equipment concepts to upgrade their offer. That’s the dynamic of the industry; it’s ever-changing! People ask me why did you come back, but you know it’s a very special industry and once you’re in it’s hard to leave!
How have you seen the industry change over the years?
I think brands have definitely become more dominant compared to 10 -15 years ago. At the very beginning, I remember in the mid 90’s, I think Cathay was one of the first to have Crabtree and Evelyn onboard. That was a really big deal, because airlines at that time did not brand the bags with the same skincare brand! Since then and over the years, the dynamics have changed dramatically, where in the past you had many big fashion brands, now you see more speciality and diversified brands onboard, and not only in First and Business but also in Premium Economy and Economy Class. Whether that’s right or wrong, it’s great when it’s done effectively and there’s a perfect match, but if it’s not done well then it ends up diluting the airline and the brand’s image. The problem with some brands is that they’re not even in charge and give control to licensing companies who are just saying yes to their partners. There is a lot of pressure on airlines when it comes to brands, to continue to surprise and provide something more upscale and prestigious. I think, of course, when you do have a brand on your bag it does add more value to the perception of that product.
Where do you see the future of amenities?
I think in general the trend of brands will continue because it’s so competitive! Certain brands realise the high level of exposure they have when placed onboard. In essence, this will continue and everyone will try and out do each other by bringing new brands to the industry. I hope there will be more brand alignments rather than brands thrown out there for the sake of it. The future I see is suppliers finding even more niche brands to work together with the right airlines on really special developments which aim to create unique experiences for the passengers time onboard. That’s how we have to try and set ourselves apart.