THE GODFATHER OF AMENITIES
Amenities caught up with WESSCO International founder and CEO Bob Bregman, to hear his thoughts about family, the future, and ensuring longevity in a competitive and ever-changing aviation travel industry
You set up WESSCO International in 1979, what brought you into the amenities industry?
Back in 1979, I had been working for a NYSE-listed company for 17 years. I knew I could probably have a career there, but decided I wanted to be in my own business. I had a very good friend who owned hotels – still does as a matter of fact – and he said “let’s work together. I have a company that supplies hotels called West Side Supply. You should be involved in it, expand it and bring it into other areas. Because I had a little bit of experience in getting to the Airlines, I thought that this would be a good springboard. The name WESSCO came from the telex-answerback for West Side Supply Company.
What is the most significant change you have seen in the amenities market since WESSCO started?
Branding is the key element that’s changed. When we first began, our very first amenity kit order was with Delta, at the time, somewhere in the 90s, they were putting their own name on the kits; TWA was also doing that. The idea of branding kits was kind of out there, but not (established) like today. Today’s market is totally different. In the old days you could put the airlines’ name like we did with TWA, the moisturizer, the lotion were TWA branded, so there was a change from what was ‘private label’ to ‘branded amenities’ where the key is the brand, and the key for the airline to put a brand is for business and first class passengers to see and recognize those brands and go ‘oh boy, this brand is on-board” the given airline.
Passengers recognize the brands because they’re familiar with their product advertising, so you’re picking up on the amount of emotion the brand generates as well as the emotion of being on board the airline.
What do you think the future of amenities should be?
The continuation of the use of branded products, which will include a wave of new companies disrupting established industries, in addition to the “well-known” brands. These companies are relevant with millennials and other young professionals, who either aspire-to or are now traveling in Premium-class. Casper, now onboard American Airlines is one of those companies.
What are you most proud of?
The fact that next year will be our 40thyear in business. Not many family businesses can say that, and certainly not in our industry.
WESSCO often works with exciting, young brands – how do you ensure you stay at the forefront of the market?
Our teams in Los Angeles, New York, London and other global hubs are plugged into the world of fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands and are constantly looking for ways to create value for those brands and for our travel partners. A perfect example is our bringing Cowshed skincare products to United Airlines,
Are airlines changing their needs and requests to you, the supplier?
It is a collaborative effort. We learn of new requests that are occurring by staying in constant contact with our airline customers, not just due to an RFQ. In the same regard, we will offer new ideas and products that we know will be of interest.
Passenger needs seem to evolve very quickly – do you think airlines are doing enough to keep up?
While the airlines do a good job of reacting to new situations, they depend on reliable suppliers like WESSCO to present the items and programs that will truly resonate with their passengers.
Do you think personalisation of amenities, and onboard experience will be the ‘next big thing’?
We live in a great time where data can be used to tailor offerings to individual tastes. On the other hand, there is a lot of logistical complexity that comes with trying offer customized amenity product onboard. WESSCO is working on ways to deliver such a solution, and this is just one of many “big things” that are coming next.
What are your thoughts on Airline’s move to allow Economy Class passengers to ‘purchase’ First or Business Class amenity kits during their journey?
As with personalization, it’s a nice added feature. In this case, though, airlines need to be careful not to dilute their premium cabins value proposition.
With most if not all the airlines in America having gone into Chapter 11 or filing for bankruptcy in the past what were the biggest challenges you faced as a supplier?
It was an interesting time and a huge challenge for us. Fortunately, we were able to survive because of our successful track record with our financial institutions and our adequate capitalization. Also, we never stopped shipping to our airline customers during the time they were in Chapter XI, and they certainly remember that.
What is your favourite city?
Not just one – Besides my home city of Los Angeles, I love Hong Kong, Shanghai, London and Paris.
What is your favourite holiday destination?
Positano, on the Amalfi coast.
Favourite on-board tipple?
A good Chardonnay
What are your ‘travel essentials’?
Besides the usual ones, my Kindle with several books pre-loaded.
How do you like to pass the time when onboard?
I’ll watch new movies I’ve missed and/or read one of my books on the Kindle.