This is us at our holiday party! Note the guest of honor in the photo: June Johnson, TOM BIHN Production Manager Emeritus.
You guys told us you like the new pre-order system for new design debuts and we worked hard to make it as efficient as possible on the production/shipping/customer service side of things. To us, that means it was a success. We expect most major design debuts going forward (with the exception of the Cyber Monday debut) to be pre-order debuts.
Updates on the Luminary backpacks
And a third update — today (Tuesday, January 8th) Victor and Irma spread and Irma cut the PPB (pre-production batch) of the Luminary 14:
New or Updated Designs
On the left is Nik’s Minimalist Wallet #3 in Island. On the right, the wallet from which our photographer downsized.
Nik’s Minimalist Wallets
Small Zip-Top Shop Bag
Large Zip-Top Shop Bag
Road Buddy Duffel 36
Road Buddy Duffel 60
Aeronaut 45 Internal Frame
Aeronaut 30 Internal Frame
Aeronaut Padded Hip Belt
Mesh/Aether Packing Cubes
Freudian Slips in 210d ballistic nylon colors
Tom’s Firewood Carrier
We debuted new Mesh/Aether Packing Cubes. Design criteria: packing cubes that don’t weigh much, allow one to see the contents of the Packing Cube without revealing too much and provide enough body and structure to make packing the cube easier. This also marked the debut of a new color of Aether: Island blue.
Our first pre-order of 2018 was for The Truck, Zip-Top Shop Bags, and a special production run of the Small Original Shop Bag.
Our last debut of 2018 featured four designs: Nik’s Minimalist Wallets, the Shadow Guide, Road Buddy Duffels, and Tom’s Firewood Carrier.
The Field Journal Notebook bid its final farewell after returning from retirement one last time.
We retired the Packing Cubes sized specifically for the Pilot, Night Flight Travel Duffel, Stowaway, Hero’s Journey and Yeoman Duffels. We also made a list of the Packing Cubes and Stuff Sacks that work great in the place of those bag-specific cubes.
Essays, Reflections, Notable Posts
Over the past several years, interest in designing bags has increased. We’ve given several tours to folks who want to become bag designers (including an eight-year-old who wanted to become a bag designer to earn enough money to help her family adopt a sister for her!) In this blog post, Tom shared his advice for prospective bag designers.
Darcy’s blog post On The Design Process: Inspiration, Timeline, Testing shares some insights on Tom and Nik’s design processes and explains a little bit why some new designs take so darn long to make their way to you (ahem, Luminaries….)
Chef Simoni shared another recipe with us and we got to interview him this time.
Our Packing Cubes FAQ answers everything from “How necessary are Packing Cubes?” to “Should I fold, roll, or bundle pack my clothes in Packing Cubes?”
The Aeronaut 30/45 Travel Bags FAQ answers questions ranging from “What does Tom consider to be some of the more unique features and aspects of the Aeronaut design?” to “Why not just include the Internal Frame and sew in the Padded Hip Belt?” and “Can I lock the zippers of my Aeronaut?”.
Tote Bags: Frequently Asked Questions answers common wonderings such as “Why do you offer so many different tote bag designs?” and “If I knew I was going to be stranded on a deserted island, which tote bag would you recommend that I take with me?” and “I’m planning to take Ulysses by James Joyce, a water filter, my pet rock, an antique sugar bowl, a small adze, a picnic blanket, a jumbo bag of salt water taffy, and some antibiotics in case I need them for my rock. So, which tote?”
The photo posted by bouncing in the Forums that kicked off the “>”Post your favorite travel photo” thread.
Guest Posts and Portable Culture Portraits
Life is a Verb Campers Alison Campbell, Susan Lucas, and Jeanne d’Orleans on a meetup in Alexandria, Virginia. Photo from Patti Digh’s guest post for our blog.
Celebrating libraries with fun library factoids and a list of libraries to visit.
Patti Digh wrote a guest post for our blog all about how bags can create community.
Portable Culture Portraits
An interview series with members of the TOM BIHN Forums.
Seattle folks: come hang out with us!
Our Factory Showroom will be open Saturday, December 8th from 10:00am until 2:00pm.
We’ll have hot coffee, Darcy’s homemade chocolate chip cookies (gluten-free, vegan, and we swear they’re still really good),
Tom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies Tom’s homemade biscotti (definitely lots of dairy and gluten and also very good) and, of course, bags. This is the only Saturday we’re open all year. Hope you can come down and join us!
Kat and Cody have decorated the showroom with lots of reindeer. Apparently, reindeer are as fond of O-rings as we are.
Holiday Inventory Update
Zhong is currently working on making Brain Bags.
Next Friday, December 14th is the last day to place an order via UPS Ground or USPS to make sure it arrives by or on December 24th. In an effort to make sure as many orders as possible can ship UPS Ground, we’ll be shipping all orders received by 4:00pm PT (our typical shipping cut-off is 12:30pm PT). And, of course, there will still be time to order and receive your order by December 24th — see our Holiday Schedule for more details on all of that.
Our production crew is doing their best to make sure the bags you’ve been asking about most are restocked and ready to ship by then. Here’s an update:
Brain Bags in Black/Cloud and Nebulous/Cloud will be restocked early next week.
The Side Effect in Black/Northwest Sky (amongst other colors) is in the works / will be restocked by December 21st.
The Cadet in colors Black/Island, Burnt Orange/Northwest Sky, Verde/Northwest Sky, Steel/Island, and Navy/Northwest Sky is in the works / will be restocked by December 21st.
There’s lots of news and information to share, so let’s get right to it.
New Pre-Order System
This debut’s offerings — The Truck, Large Zip-Top Shop Bag, Small Zip-Top Shop Bag, and Original Small Shop Bag — will be available for pre-order on July 24th with an estimated ship date of early September. All four bags will ship on the same day. Each bag will be available for pre-order from July 24th until July 31st OR until the maximum production batch quantity sells out.
Those of you who’ve known us for a while know that we used to offer new designs for pre-order. The world (and our shopping cart system) have changed since then and there’s a few key differences in the new pre-order system: first, your credit card will be charged for the full amount when you place your pre-order, and second, you’ll be able to add In-Stock bags to your open Pre-Order up until two days before your order ships.
We expect you’ll have a lot of questions about pre-orders and have done our best to answer those in a mini-FAQ on each pre-order product page and in the two blog posts linked below. As always, you’re welcome to give us a call, live chat us, or email@example.com if you have additional questions.
Pre-Orders: Frequently Asked Questions
Pre-Orders: Past, Present, Future
This post also goes into the details of why we’re offering pre-orders once again — and shares how, if our pre-order system doesn’t end up being all it’s cracked up to be for either you or us, we may not opt to offer new designs for pre-order in the future.
New Designs: The Truck, Large Zip-Top Shop Bag, Small Zip-Top Shop Bag
We present for your consideration three new tote bag designs. To learn more about our various tote bag options and learn the answers to questions such as “Why do you offer so many different tote bag designs?” and “If I knew I was going to be stranded on a deserted island, which tote bag would you recommend that I take with me?” see Tote Bags: Frequently Asked Questions.
The Truck is a multipurpose carryall bag: it’ll haul groceries of course, but it might also become your go-to beach tote, laundry bag, work/tool bag, or gym bag. Like a pickup, you’re likely to find more uses for a Truck than you ever thought possible.
The Truck will look familiar to those who know our bags: it shares the basic design and layout of the Moveable Feast grocery tote. We saw that folks were using the Moveable Feast for more than just groceries, and how they appreciated its organization and utility. What if we made a simplified version of the Moveable Feast, removing some the grocery-specific features? How about making it a bit bigger? A bit shorter and shallower, to allow for longer handles so we could carry it over the shoulder? We made some prototypes, tweaked them a bit, and then made some more prototypes; we tested them ourselves and gave some to friends to use. The feedback was all good—and not just from the users, but from the baggers at the local co-op as well: the Truck was easy and intuitive to load up, and seemed to swallow far more than anyone expected.
P.S. You guys might prefer The Truck to The Moveable Feast or vice versa: we’ll just have to see. In the meantime, we’re holding off on making another batch of The Moveable Feast. You can still sign up to be notified via email when/if we make another batch on the Moveable Feast page.
Over the years, we received feedback here and there from folks who asked if we could add a zipper closure to the top of the Original Shop Bag. This was an especially common request from those who used the Shop Bag as a personal carry-on bag, every day carry tote, or lunch bag that would get stuffed into a locker or cubby. Darcy, who often carries an Original Small Shop Bag as her EDC, finally convinced Tom and Nik to tackle the project of adding a zipper to the Shop Bag.
Seems simple enough, right? Just add a zipper to an open-top tote bag so you can zip it shut. However, a zipper must have a beginning and an ending that must be engineered into the design. If that’s not carefully thought out, the zipper can constrict the size and utility of the very opening which you’re trying to close. We think we’ve managed to nuance these conflicting realities quite well in our Zip-Top Shop Bags. The zipper is longer than necessary, thus does not reduce the effective size of the opening. The fabric we added to the top of the bag on either side of the zipper (which allows you to close the bag even when its chock-full) drops graciously away from the opening when unzipped, and in doing so doesn’t encumber access to your stuff. And there you have it.
The Return of the Original Small Shop Bag
Left to right: Large Zip-Top Shop Bag, Large Original Shop Bag, Small Zip-Top Shop Bag, Small Original Shop Bag. Photo by Ilkyway.
We announced the retirement of the Original Small Shop Bag in February 2018. Thanks to the new pre-order system, we’re able to offer another production run of what’s become a beloved design for many good reasons. Will there be another production run of the Original Small Shop Bag after this? Maybe, maybe not: part of that depends on whether you guys prefer the Original Small Shop Bag or the Small Zip-Top Shop Bag.
This is an example of one of the reasons we wanted to try a new Pre-Order system: it allows for the possibility of an occasional production run of a retired design. See “What’s all this about some retired designs possibly being offered for pre-order at a later time?” from our Pre-Orders FAQ.
Last but not least….. three new colors
Three new colors are debuting for the first time in The Truck:
Aubergine 525d ballistic nylon
Nebulous Grey 525d ballistic nylon
Island 210d ballistic nylon
The second bag to be made in Nebulous Grey (after The Truck) is the Synapse 19:
The Synapse 19 in Nebulous Grey/Northwest Sky is In Production. Sign up on its page to be notified via email when it’s ready for order.
We’ll be offering various other bags in these new colors over the coming months. To be notified when more bags are available in the new colors, subscribe to the New Bags and Colors Ready To Order thread in our Forums.
You don’t need to read this FAQ to place a Pre-Order: it’s a pretty straight-forward process, so just go for it if that’s what you’d like to do.
If you’d like to know in advance everything there is to know about Pre-Orders, here you go! Below is a list of questions that we anticipated might be asked. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Can you give me a quick summary of how pre-order works?
- How do you define “pre-order”?
- When is my credit card charged for a pre-order?
- Can I ask you for updates on the progress of my pre-order?
- Can I cancel my pre-order and receive a refund?
- Can I return the bag that I pre-ordered once I receive it?
- Can I change the color of the bag I pre-ordered?
- I’ve placed a pre-order that will ship in 2-8 weeks. Can I add bags to that existing pre-order?
- I placed a pre-order and it shipped earlier than expected! Nice. How’d that happen?
- Will all new designs be introduced for pre-order?
- What’s the best way to be notified once a new design is available for pre-order?
- Can you accept pre-orders (backorders) for stock items?
- Hey, didn’t you used to offer backorders and pre-orders up until three or four years ago?
- Is it possible for a pre-order to “sell out”?
- How long will a pre-order be open?
- If a pre-order sells out, when will you offer the next pre-order?
- Why can’t you make enough bags to satisfy all pre-orders?
- How, and when, does a pre-order design become a stock design?
- When a bag is offered for pre-order, will there be any distinction made between limited run and stock items? That is, will it be clear which items will only be offered for a limited time, vs. those you expect to have on hand for the foreseeable future?
- Will the color options for pre-orders be the same as a regular run? For example, say I really want Bag X in Steel/Iberian, but the pre-order colors don’t include that combo. Can I find out if the regular run will have it?
- What’s all this about some retired designs possibly being offered for pre-order at a later time?
Can you give me a quick summary of how pre-order works?
Yes. And if you have questions, keep reading the FAQ or email@example.com
- We offer a new design for pre-order for one week or until the first pre-order batch sells out.
- The expected ship date of your pre-order bag is listed as part of the name of the bag.
- Your credit card is charged for the total amount of your order the day that you place your order. You can cancel your pre-order at any time and receive a refund.
- You can place one order that includes just a Pre-Order bag or a Pre-Order bag *and* In-Stock bags. If you place an order for both Pre-Order and In-Stock bags, you will see two shipping options at checkout:
A) Hold In-Stock Bags Until Pre-Order Ships – (one shipping charge: for example, $10 for UPS Ground)
B) Ship In-Stock Bags Separately – (two shipping charges: for example, $20 for UPS Ground)
UPS Expedited International shipping will also be available. 3Day/2Day/Next Day options are only available if you place two separate orders for Pre-Order and In-Stock items.
- You can also place additional orders for In-Stock bags to be added to your existing Pre-Order up until two days before your order ships. At checkout, our system will recognize that you have a current Pre-Order. You will then be given the option to “Ship with my existing Pre-Order” (no additional shipping charge) or, if you want the In-Stock bags to ship immediately, you can choose from any of the regular shipping options.
How do you define “pre-order”?
We may choose to offer a bag for pre-order because:
- It’s a new design offered for the very first time.
- It’s a new design that’s already been offered for pre-order but we plan to continue to offer it for pre-order for the time being because it’s either very popular OR we don’t plan to offer the design on a long term basis.
- It’s the last, or uncommon, batch of a retired design.
- It is a one-time only offering of a design, fabric, or color.
Please note that not all new designs will be offered for pre-order. For example: debuts of new designs before the holiday season typically won’t be offered for pre-order because there’s a shorter timeline — most folks want to receive orders they place in early December ASAP.
When is my credit card charged for a pre-order?
Your credit card is charged for the full order total at the time you place your order. That means we charge you before your order ships, which, depending on the bag being pre-ordered, can be anywhere from two to eight weeks.
To charge you before your order ships isn’t our preference; in fact, we’d prefer to postpone charging you until the day your order ships. That’s how we used to do it back when we took pre-orders before: our system would authorize your credit card for the total, but we wouldn’t actually charge you until the day your order shipped. However, since then, charging folks in advance of shipment of goods has become such the norm that most shopping carts and payment systems don’t allow for an alternative. This is due in part because of the success of crowdfunding. It’s worth noting that our pre-order system is very different from crowdfunding: we aren’t raising funds to make a product and you can be assured you will receive the bag you’re ordering.
Rest assured that we see charging in advance of shipment to be a serious responsibility and a matter that calls upon our integrity.
And you’re welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org at any time up until the day your pre-order ships to cancel your pre-order and receive a full refund.
Can I ask you for updates on the progress of my pre-order?
Totally. Of course. Feel free to email@example.com
We also might send you an update or two on your pre-order with some insights on the design and manufacturing process.
Can I cancel my pre-order and receive a refund?
You bet. firstname.lastname@example.org, live chat us up or give us a call and we’ll make it happen.
Can I return the bag that I pre-ordered once I receive it?
Yes. You can find our return instructions here. Note: part of what makes pre-order great is that we can more efficiently manage our limited production capacity by building exactly to order. Sometimes folks will order multiple colors and return the ones they don’t like, which makes total sense for In-Stock items but less so (at least for us internally) when we’re building to Pre-Order.
Can I change the color of the bag I pre-ordered?
Sorry, but no. Because we’re building these bags to order, folks can’t change the color of the bag they’ve pre-ordered.
You can, of course, cancel your pre-order — at which point we will refund your credit card. If it is still within the pre-order window — that is, the pre-order has not sold out — you can then place a new order for the color you’d like instead.
Can I place one order that includes both pre-order and in-stock bags?
Yes! You can place one order for Pre-Order bag(s) *and* In-Stock bag(s).
If you place an order for both Pre-Order and In-Stock bags, you will see two shipping options at checkout:
A) Hold In-Stock Bags Until Pre-Order Ships – (one shipping charge: for example, $10 for UPS Ground)
B) Ship In-Stock Bags Separately – (two shipping charges: for example, $20 for UPS Ground)
UPS Expedited International shipping will also be available for selection. However, U.S. domestic UPS expedited shipping options (3 Day, 2nd Day, Next Day) will not be available. If you would like to order a Pre-Order bag and an In-Stock bag and have both ship via one of those shipping methods, we recommend placing two separate orders.
If you choose Hold, we will hold your entire order until your Pre-Order bag(s) are ready to ship and then we’ll ship the entire order.
If you choose Ship In-Stock Bags Separately, we will ship the In-Stock bags that you ordered right away. We will ship your Pre-Order once it’s ready to ship.
Whether you choose to Hold In-Stock Bags or Ship In-Stock Bags, you will have the option of placing additional orders up until two days before your Pre-Order ships. At checkout, our system will recognize that you have a current Pre-Order and give you two options: Hold In-Stock Bags or Ship In-Stock Bags Separately for an additional shipping charge.
This will all make a lot more sense in practice than it does theoretically 🙂 As always, if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask: email@example.com
I’ve placed a pre-order that will ship in 2-8 weeks. Can I add bags to that existing pre-order?
Yes, you can. We will hold bags from any additional orders you place and ship them with your pre-ordered bag once it’s ready to ship.
And adding to your pre-order is easy: place the items you want to add in your basket and, at checkout and in the shipping options, you’ll see an option that says: “Add to my Pre-Order”. Our system will automatically add the new order items to your existing pre-order.
We thought of this too and made it an option in part because we think it will be especially convenient for customers outside of the U.S. for whom shipping costs are higher.
I placed a pre-order and it shipped earlier than expected! Nice. How’d that happen?
You received one of the few PPB bags available — congratulations.
A pre-production batch (PPB) of any new design will be ordered and completed by our production department prior to the new design being offered for pre-order.
The PPB is intended to:
- Serve as the first large-scale test of the efficiency of manufacturing the new design.
- Provide photo, review and employee loaner sample bags.
- Ship a small quantity of bags to a randomized selection of customers who place orders for the first pre-order batch. This will allow folks to post reviews and first thoughts / photos of a new design, which in turn may help other people decide whether a bag is right for them or not.
Please note that the design itself is tested and every detail finalized and approved by Tom, Nik, Lisa, and Fong long before the PPB is ordered. PPB bags are in no way “beta” or incomplete.
There is no way to request or reserve a PPB bag. Once the pre-order window is over, we will randomly select orders from the first pre-order batch and fulfill those orders with PPB bags. If your order is selected, we will email you with a heads-up a few days before we plan to ship your order. So, no need to rush to place your pre-order, as this is not first come, first serve.
Will all new designs be introduced for pre-order?
Some, but not all. Whether we choose to offer a design for pre-order or make it a stock bag depends on a variety of factors — most importantly, production efficiency. We probably won’t offer new designs released close to the holiday season for pre-order.
What’s the best way to be notified once a new design is available for pre-order?
Subscribers to our general email newsletter will get the first heads-up on new designs. We send out about one email newsletter per month, but may send two newsletters out when there’s an active pre-order.
Can you accept pre-orders (backorders) for stock items?
Not at this time. It’s just too logistically complex at this point for our small company.
Hey, didn’t you used to offer backorders and pre-orders up until three or four years ago?
We did, so we have a lot of experience doing so. As with anything, there’s pros (for us and for you) and cons (mostly for us in the added complexity). Read our post Pre-Orders: Past, Present, and Future to learn more about that.
Is it possible for a pre-order to “sell out”?
It is possible for a pre-order to “sell out”. If that happens, the product page for the pre-ordered item will be updated to indicate that the first pre-order batch has sold out and that the next pre-order batch will be available for order on a specific date. You will also be able to sign up via email to our newsletter to be notified when the next pre-order batch is available for order.
Our production department is at its most efficient when we produce a batch of bags that’s not too big and not too small — the “just right” quantity in a batch depends on the design (and, occasionally, other factors, such as the production capacity available at that point in time).
When we offer a bag for pre-order on our website, we will set what is basically a total inventory number that equals the maximum production batch quantity. When that number of pre-orders sells, the first pre-order batch will be “sold out”.
Additionally, we promise a specific shipping time frame for each pre-order batch. If we accepted an unlimited number of pre-orders as opposed to constraining the quantity in batches, it is unlikely we could meet the shipping time frame originally promised. We don’t want that to happen.
How long will a pre-order be open?
We will take pre-orders for a new design for one week or until the first pre-order batch sells out.
If a pre-order sells out, when will you offer the next pre-order?
It is likely that we will offer the next pre-order batch *after* the first pre-order batch has shipped — that could be two weeks or eight weeks. This gives all of us a chance to catch our breath and make sure we’ve delivered what we’ve already promised. It also allows us some time to make In Stock bags, which is the majority of what we offer.
Rest assured you can sign up to be notified / reminded via email when the next pre-order batch is available for order.
Why can’t you make enough bags to satisfy all pre-orders?
We’re a small company of 47 people. Our entire company — production, shipping, website, design, IT/programming, production engineering, accounting, HR, customer service — all works together under the same roof in the same 16,000 square feet in Seattle. We can’t possibly make, or be, everything for everyone. We’re not trying to be the next big company. We are doing what we love — and we make sure that, besides the very rare exception, no one other than Tom, Nik, and Darcy work more than 40 hours a week.
The options that would allow us to radically increase our production capacity aren’t appealing to us. For example, if we moved production offshore, we’d lose the connection that’s created by all of us working together under the same roof. Not only does that connection make our work more enjoyable, but we think it results in a better bag and overall experience for you.
That said, we know our business model won’t work for everyone. While the majority of our bags are In Stock and ready to ship same day if ordered by 12:30pm PT, it’s possible that the bag that you want in particular is Pre-Order or In Production. And if you need the bag right away, that’s going to be a bummer. Sorry about that: we know how it can feel to find the perfect item and not be able to get it right away. That said, it’s one of those “it is what it is” type situations.
How, and when, does a pre-order design become a stock design?
That depends on a variety of factors, including but not limited to: the complexity involved in manufacturing the design, its popularity, our production capacity, what other new designs we have waiting in the wings, and, well, whether we want to make it a stock design or not.
When a bag is offered for pre-order, will there be any distinction made between limited run and stock items? That is, will it be clear which items will only be offered for a limited time, vs. those you expect to have on hand for the foreseeable future?
Sometimes we’ll know the answer to this from the outset and we’ll make that clear. For example, we may have a limited quantity of a particular fabric or color, or may want to try offering a current design in a new configuration (see: The Guide’s Edition Synapse 25) without committing ourselves to offering yet another bag on a continual basis — in those two cases, we will do our best to communicate that we won’t be able to make the bag in question on an ongoing basis without hyping the “limited edition” part.
Or, to give another example, Tom or Nik may put a considerable amount of time and effort into a new design and be absolutely in love with it themselves — so much so that our plan is to offer it as a stock bag after pre-orders are over. It may be a design you love too from the outset or it may take a few years of being out in the world to catch on.
Will the color options for pre-orders be the same as a regular run? For example, say I really want Bag X in Steel/Iberian, but the pre-order colors don’t include that combo. Can I find out if the regular run will have it?
We usually offer more color combinations in the first production runs or pre-orders of a design than we do when it becomes a stock design. That said, we offer a lot of different fabrics and color combinations, and it’s possible that down the road we may offer a new color in said bag that we didn’t offer at the time of pre-order. When we choose new color combinations, we let our inspiration guide us, your feedback influences us, and we always make room for new colors or fabrics that we’ve since added to our line up. That means we don’t produce a list years in advance of decided-upon color combinations. You’re always welcome to ask us about specific color combinations but more often than not, our answer will be: maybe, maybe not.
What’s all this about some retired designs possibly being offered for pre-order at a later time?
We don’t like retiring existing designs, but as demand for our bags continues to grow and we continue to release quite a few new designs every year, retiring existing designs is a reality we must face.
Thanks to the new pre-order system, in some cases* we can offer a glimmer of hope to ourselves and, perhaps, to you when we choose to retire an existing design: when the design retires, we will update its product page so you can sign up to be notified via email when or if we decide to offer a pre-order batch and make a very last, or rare (think once a year at the most) production run of the design.
*Sometimes we will retire a design that requires a special component or material that we can’t obtain a small quantity of. In those cases, we will offer it for potential pre-order.
In this post, we share some of our thoughts on and the history of how we’ve offered pre-orders over the years. If you want to get straight to the nuts and bolts of how pre-orders work now, see our Pre-Orders: Frequently Asked Questions post.
For the longest time (something like 2001-2015) we accepted backorders for existing designs and pre-orders for new designs on our website. Our choice to accept backorders and pre-orders was important to our growth over those years and there were other benefits as well: notably, we could plan our production schedule around the bags that we already had orders for (as opposed to forecasting what bags we might get orders for).
Around 2015, we stepped back from our daily operations to reflect on our past, present, and future. We tore down some walls, turned our focus towards some key procedural improvements, and evaluated the impact of various small — but important — efficiency improvements we had implemented in our production department over the past couple of years.
One of the major changes we decided to make was to no longer offer pre-orders of new designs or backorders of existing designs. Three of the main reasons behind this decision were: the combination of greater efficiency and the hiring of a few new talented personnel in our production department meant that our production capacity had significantly increased; we were outgrowing our current website and the options that looked the best to us didn’t allow us to accept pre-orders and backorders as we previously had; we were finally outgrowing what had been a pretty darn good system for managing backorders. Eliminating pre-orders and backorders was an easy way we could reduce complexity — without, at that point in time, reducing a significant benefit to our customers.
Flash forward to 2018. Our production department is still hecka efficient. We’ve continued to occasionally add a new crew member to our factory — but only when we were certain we could devote the full attention and significant amount of time it takes to train a new crew member to Lisa and Fong’s exacting standards. Over the past few years, we designed and programmed our own inventory and production management software and inventory scanning/tracking system, rebuilt nearly our entire website on a new platform, and reviewed, improved and documented all fulfillment related procedures. That’s all in addition to new designs and new fabrics.
We’re in a good place. So good that we think we might’ve just found our happy place. Our company is now comprised of 47 people: not too big and not too small. We don’t have any plans to aggressively pursue or promote growth at the rate we experienced in previous years, but demand for our bags continues (something we never take for granted).
This year, we retired more designs than ever before, as had been the plan for a while: a smart decision, perhaps, but one that often didn’t feel that great (sometimes, as an artiste is prone to do, we disparage our own work and wish it would disappear — but more often, designs that have been a part of our line for years just become part of the family).
We also found ourselves a bit restless and wanting to experiment more with new offerings. Amongst Tom and Nik’s various designs are those that we look at and wonder — “Would anyone find this useful?” Or, we might find ourselves with the opportunity to purchase a smaller quantity of a very cool fabric or color — not enough to offer a significant number of bags in, but perhaps just a production run.
As Nik trained Mike to manage finished goods ordering, we reminisced about the days when we placed some finished goods orders based on what had already been purchased. It was more of a sure thing to order what we knew was already wanted — and the entire crew enjoyed knowing they were making bags for specific people who already couldn’t wait to get them.
Those three considerations and subsequent conversations — the sadness related to retiring designs, the excitement of offering small or limited edition runs, and the efficiency and connection to customers inherent in ordering already-purchased bags — led us back to pre-orders.
In 2018, pre-orders are much different than they used to be. Most payment gateways nowadays don’t allow authorizations that last longer than a few days. That means we must immediately charge the full amount for any pre-ordered item. That this makes us hesitate in the day and age of crowdfunding is probably a little laughable and points to our Pa Ingalls sensibilities when it comes to money and debt. (To be clear: our pre-order system is not about crowdfunding.) But hesitate we did, until we were convinced that it’s normal. Plus, we would, of course, gladly refund someone’s money and cancel their pre-order at any point in the process.
Read our Pre-Orders: Frequently Asked Questions to learn more about the specifics of how our new pre-order system will work — at least for our next debut…
“Change is the only constant in life.”
“The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny – it is the light that guides your way.”
(Okay, that last quote has nothing to do with this post — we just thought it was pretty cool.)
While we have planned, documented, and tested down to the most minute, most boring detail the internal logistics of our first pre-order debut, we are leaving open the possibility that there is much we will learn once the rubber hits the road.
Perhaps pre-orders won’t be all they were cracked up to be — for you guys, or for us internally. Or maybe we’ll be really glad we did all of this. We’ll have to see. In any event, your feedback throughout the process of the pre-order debut is essential: firstname.lastname@example.org
We even dare to say your feedback is required. What isn’t a requirement, but something we generously receive nonetheless, is your support. Whether that support is demonstrated through constructive criticism, appreciation, or recognition of individual efforts, it’s always seen and absorbed (though not always acted upon).
The next design debut after this one may or may not be a pre-order debut. If it is a pre-order debut, certain aspects may be changed. You’ve been warned by us — and Heraclitus.
In my garage, Santa Cruz, circa 1983.
The other day, someone stopped by the factory just as I was leaving – they are learning to design and make bags, and were hoping to look around. I was glad to give them a brief tour and answer some questions. Surprisingly, this request is not that uncommon: we’ve recently had more and more inquiries from people who’d like to start their own bag businesses or become bag designers, and are hoping I might give them some advice or wisdom to help them down their path. Of course, the thing about any map is that, while it can show you where someone else has been, it cannot show you where you’re going to go.
I’ve been very fortunate myself to have had some great mentors along the way, folks who were willing to share their time and their opinions – not so much about the specifics of design or running a bag business, but about business in general, and even more broadly, this bigger thing we call life. Dave Meeks was a big influence, as were many friends, family members and early customers (such as my math teachers Gary Rominger and Randy Smith!)
The business card from my days as a student at Aptos Junior High, circa 1972.
Doing my best to be helpful, I first try to dissuade those who want to “follow in my footsteps”: there’s nothing easy about what we do here, and there’s got to be about ten million easier ways to earn a living than by making bags. All that said, if you’re still interested, what follows are a few words of advice, such as they are . . .
Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” Similarly, the best way to find out how to make bags is to make bags.
I’ve been making outdoor equipment since about 1972. I was 11 or 12 years old and I just wanted to spend more time outdoors. I thought all that fancy gear coming out of Berkeley, Boulder, and Seattle was pretty neat, but I was just a kid and all that stuff was a bit expensive. Somewhere in there my parents suggested I try making my own gear. My mom taught me the basics of using a sewing machine, and after that I was just winging it. I started off more or less just copying traditional styles, over time adding my own touches until ultimately I was truly “designing” my own products. I never went to design school; engineering was a bit inherited from my dad and otherwise self-taught, and the aesthetics were largely my own.
Read this book: Light Weight Camping Equipment and How to Make It by Gerry Cunningham
It now seems quaint and somewhat out of date, but it’s a great way to get some basic information about, as the title suggests, how to make your own gear. Gerry Cunningham was the “Gerry” behind the company of that same name, and he had figured out a bunch of stuff already.
Solo backpacking trip in the back country of Yosemite, 1977. I built the pack hiding behind me; it’s mounted on a classic Kelty external frame.
Learn to sew
Take a class or just get a machine and start tinkering around. Nik (COO/Designer here at TOM BIHN) more or less taught himself to sew over the course of a few months, mentored a bit by Lisa, Fong and myself. It’ll make a world of difference in your designs if you can actually sew them yourself: the cycle of sketch/prototype/test, sketch/prototype/test is so much faster and easier than if you need someone else to make your ideas real. Plus, you might invent a whole new way of making a bag if you do it yourself.
What type of machine, you may ask? I made everything on a walking foot Consew 206RB for years. If you can get one with a servo motor instead of the old clutch drive, you’ll be ahead of the curve as you learn (it’s sort of the difference between an automatic and a stick shift in a car: especially in the learning phase, you’ve got enough other things to distract you).
My Consew 206RB is still in use in our Seattle factory.
Start small. Don’t quit your day job. Not yet, anyway.
Times have changed and this advice may not be as relevant, but here goes: I attribute part of the success of this business to the fact that I had modest expectations and never planned to make a lot of money making bags. For years I held down other jobs and made bags on the side, renting a loft above my friend’s garage for almost a decade while I developed my designs and learned to run my own business.
A letter of recommendation from the Frick winery. I had over 30 jobs before I officially started my own business.
Listen to everyone’s advice, but take little of it.
Everyone will give you their opinion about what you make. It’s important to pay attention to this feedback: after all, the idea is not to just make bags for yourself. But it’s also good to develop a filter that helps you sort through all the opinions before they confuse and sidetrack your own vision.
Remember as well that your designs and skills will evolve: there’s always more to learn from yourself, your critics, your supporters, and often by just watching people use their bags.
I (most of the time) welcomed the feedback of friends and family who used my packs on their hikes and travels. Here, Brooke wears the Sack of Spuds backpack.
And perhaps most importantly…
Though it might just remain an avocation rather than a full-time career, if you love making things, don’t give up. Had Etsy been around when I was starting off, you can bet I would have had an Etsy store. What cooler way to to see what people like and don’t like than to offer your ideas for sale to the whole world?
While living in a loft above a friend’s garage is perhaps a bit glamorous at age 20 or 30 (as opposed to age 50), there were plenty of times I thought about getting a “real job”. I’m glad I didn’t. And frankly, I’d rather still be living in that loft than doing something for work I didn’t really enjoy.
Look at us now: we’re a company of 47 people all working together under one roof here in Seattle. We made it. And you might, too.
Hello Tom Bihn Crew:
I want to recognize those on the production team that create these wonderful bags. I ordered and received a Tri-Star last week.
It is one thing to read and review a product online, but it is another to have it in hand. The materials that compose the bag are enough to differentiate it from competitors; yet, it’s the quality craftsmanship that truly sets it apart. Time and effort are exemplified in its build quality, and I am honored to carry this product with me everyday (and for years to come). You all should be very proud of your work!
In short, thank you!
Consider me a customer for life. (^.^)
The above was sent to email@example.com
As one might expect, we include a receipt with each bag that we ship from our Seattle factory. On the back of the receipt is the usual useful info plus the following invitation:
Appreciating the fine workmanship of your new bag? Feeling inspired to recognize the talented folks responsible? Here’s your direct line to our production team: firstname.lastname@example.org
We read emails sent to email@example.com to everyone at our monthly company meetings. It means a lot to us to be recognized for our efforts: thank you. Know too that it’s something we pay forward in our own day-to-day lives.
Back in 2015 we made the decision to retire a number of designs including the Field Journal Notebook. And then, in 2016, we announced its return. Now, in 2018, we are once again retiring the Field Journal Notebook. This decision was made partly because of two materials supply related reasons: first, the Field Journal Notebook’s three-ring binder mechanism is no longer available, and second, the cost of the specially-produced-just-for-us FJN paper inserts/refills have gone up by a substantial amount that we’d rather not pass on to you.
And so here we find ourselves once again: the Field Journal Notebook is retiring and this time it’s for good. The currently available Field Journal Notebooks, accessories, and paper refills are the last of their kind. No more final batches will be made. (Go here to see the Field Journal Notebook and its accoutrements all in one place.)
Those of you who already own or plan to purchase a Field Journal Notebook may be wondering where you can find paper refills from here on out. The Field Journal Notebook accepts paper that is 5.5 x 8.5” which isn’t a terribly common size but not too rare. Here’s some paper refill options that can be obtained through Amazon:
In addition, unpunched Half Letter or A5 (different but fairly similar sizes) paper can be acquired and an industrious person could make their own custom pages (or find one that works for them on sites like Etsy) and use a Mini 3-hole punch such as this one by Staples or an adjustable punch such as this one by Swingline to print and punch their own replacement pages.
Finally, there have been some helpful discussions about this on the forums, such as the Where to Buy FJN Insides, Field Journal Notebook Hole Spacing, and Field Journal Notebook threads, all of which are worth a look if you’re interested in more information about planners and hole punching for the Field Journal Notebook.
Many thanks goes out to our volunteer Forum Moderators moriond and Ilkyway for the links / information / tips referenced in this blog post.
And, as always… if you have questions about any of this, firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 1-800-729-9607 or 1+206-652-4123.
Every year, the TOM BIHN Ravelry group knits wearable gifts for our crew. Some years the wearables have been scarves or gloves, and this year it was hats. We know a thing or two about materials and quality craftsmanship, and we’re in awe of what the group makes for us. See for yourself below; we’ve photographed each and every hat that was sent to us.
From all of us here at TOM BIHN to the TB Ravelry Group: thank you! The wearables you make for us are a big part of our annual holiday party, and everyone looks forward to choosing an item. Special thanks goes to Annie, a knitter and Ravelry member local to Seattle who coordinates the whole effort and delivers the knitted items. (Annie is also the person who knitted G.I. Joe’s hat — see below.)
Even the replica of Tom’s first G.I. Joe got his very own hat.
Want to see previous years knitted wearables?
From all of us at TOM BIHN: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Here’s a few photos from last week’s holiday party at the factory. You may be asking: what’s up with all of the beautiful knitted hats? Each year the TOM BIHN Ravelry group knits hats for our entire crew. We’ll post more hat photos next week — stay tuned!
Happy Holidays to all of you from all of us!
The guest of honor: June Johnson, Production Emeritus. June was our Production Manager and retired a several years ago. Everyone misses her and tries to convince her to come back to work!
We posted a very early heads-up on our March 1st, 2019 (roughly 6%) price increase in the Forums along with news of Shop Bags in 210d ballistic nylon.
Ben Brooks has published a review of Nik’s Minimalist Wallets and @everydaycommentary posted about his every day carry step up (hint: it includes a Minimalist Wallet!)
Our 2018 Holiday Schedule is up. Check it out for important shipping deadlines and our holiday hours. P.S. Our Seattle Factory Showroom will be open the rare Saturday on December 8th from 10:00am until 2:00pm Pacific Time.
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