August 8, 2008

Travel has been getting a bad rap lately, thanks to extraneous airline fees, crowded airports, and concern over security and safety. Many of these inconveniences are beyond the traveler’s control, but there is at least one thing we can do to make our journeys more pleasant: Bring the right luggage.

Don’t laugh. Having the right suitcase can allow travelers to save on luggage fees, take extra clothes, fit that suitcase overhead and even get out of the baggage area faster. “Two main things have changed lately weight and color,” says Buzz Kaehler, owner/president of Kaehler WorldTraveler. “The trend is to find lighter-weight luggage to make sure you don’t pay extra fees. People are also looking for something other than black, it makes it easier to find in the baggage claim.”

Kaehler’s family has been in the business for 88 years. “My grandfather, Walter, started it in 1920. He was a locksmith who serviced Chicago’s North Shore community,” he says, explaining that one common repair for the elder Kaehler was fixing steamer trunks his customers used for transatlantic travel. “At the time, the main mode of travel was by steam ship. People had these big trunks, and when the trunks were broken or needed locks, they’d call my grandfather. Since customers also would ask him about replacing their worn-out trunks, finally, a light bulb went off, and he started stocking and selling trunks,” Kaehler says.

The business began as Kaehler Lock and Trunk Store, establishing its first location in Evanston, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Walter Kaehler retired after World War II, and his son, Wallace (Buzz’s father), took over the business. Buzz Kaehler says he grew up in the family business, but officially became involved in 1979. “I did everything as a kid. I was a gift wrapper and worked in the repair shop and warehouse,” he recalls. “After getting my master’s degree in business in 1979, I had this opportunity to work with my father and expand the family business.”

Under Buzz’s helm, Kaehler WorldTraveler has grown to 14 locations, including two in St. Louis, and has a brisk online shop. His son, Benjamin, represents the fourth generation of Kaehlers, serving as the company’s director of store operations.

Kaehler says although there have been a number of changes in the travel industry over the decades, a small, personal company like his is welcomed by travelers. “The high level of service is still in place, and our knowledgeable sales staff can guide you through airline regulations and other changes,” he notes. “We are also able to take care of customers directly by maintaining our own repair shop.” Another plus, Kaehler points out, is that the company has evolved with the trends. “We know all the lines and can recommend the ideal luggage for all kinds of travel, be it adventure, casual or business.”

Kaehler also is proud of his company’s partnership with St. Louis-based TRG Group, the manufacturer of Victorinox Swiss Army luggage. “TRG has done a great job with the whole industry and is now a major player when it comes to bringing out the latest styles in luggage,” he says.

Kaehler’s St. Louis stores, at the St. Louis Galleria and Chesterfield Mall, feature the newest in travel gear and accessories, as well as back-to-school items. “We have everything from backpacks to messenger and duffel bags,” he says, adding that school accessories now come equipped for the modern-day student. “Backpacks are now padded for computers, and they are outfitted for iPods and cell phones.”

While luggage and travel have evolved with the times, Kaehler says one thing hasn’t changed. “We still offer 100-percent customer satisfaction, free gift wrapping service and a generous refund policy, among other things,” he says. A specialty store designed to make travel easier, Kaehler notes, “We fully cater to our customers, just like we did back in the 1920s.”