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Old Nov 9, 2010, 03:20 PM   #1
Webnasty
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What is the deal with Tom Bihn?

I ask this rather vague question because I do not understand how he runs his business. I am a small business owner myself, owning four different publications with a fifth one in the works.

I am the type of person who does a lot of research before buying an item. I wanted to get a bag for my iPad and the other items I carry around for work. After doing my due diligence, I settled on the Tom Bihn Medium Café bag. I found glowing reviews on their forums, as well as from some blogger sites. I went to purchase one weeks ago, only to find out that 7 out of the 10 they offer are out of stock until late November (all of the most popular colors of course). I emailed their customer service just to make sure that wasn’t a mistake on the website. She cheerily assured me that they will be out of stock until late November and possibly even later.

A couple of weeks go by, and I start getting impatient. I really need a bag for my work gear. So I start looking at some of Tom Bihn’s other bags in case I may be just as happy with another style. Heck, everyone on their forums seems as pleased as punch with their purchases. So I check on their Imago style. Oops, 5 out of the 7 they offer will be out of stock until mid January. Hmmm. Then I check on their Ristretto for Ipad, and 4 out of the 8 styles they offer are out of stock until mid January. What? Next I check on their regular Ristretto, and 3 out of the 4 they offer are out of stock until mid December. Now I’m thinking this has got to be a joke. Lastly I check on their Buzz style, and the two choices they offer are out of stock until mid December.

So out of 31 color choices from 5 different bags, only 10 are available.

So I decided to post on their board to ask if this delay is normal. I dutifully go to register, only to find out that you even have to be accepted by the company to be allowed to post on their forums. This was last week, and I have yet to be given “approval” for the privilege to post on the forums. Now I’m thinking that the reason all of the reviews on their site are so positive is because they pull the negative ones.

Please understand that I am ranting only because I would like one of their bags. But in today’s day and age it seems fairly ridiculous that it would take one to three months to produce some sewn-together nylon bags. Plus they make Apple’s stringent overlord rules look tame in comparison. I have definitely seen smaller boards that want to approve your posts before they put them on their board. But I have never seen a website that makes you wait through an approval process before you can even have the “privilege” to submit a post.

Has anyone else noticed these strange business practices? And are their bags really that good or did they go to the Steve Jobs school of stifling differing opinions? Do other companies like Timbuk2 have these insanely long delays? Does anyone have any recommendation of bags similar to the Café Bags?

Thanks!

Last edited by Webnasty; Nov 9, 2010 at 10:34 PM.
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Old Nov 9, 2010, 04:08 PM   #2
danrel
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I'm not really sure about the bags that you've posted about. I've never dealt with them personally, but I know that most of the WaterField brand iPad bags, at least used to be out of stock for quite a while. Mostly because of the size of the company and only being able to produce small batches. That and their bags are all handmade.

I can say that I've had a great experience so far with STM bags. They're very fairly priced on Amazon and are somewhat similar in looks/size to the bag that you initially wanted.

Here's the Amazon link to said bag: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...W6VT1SX249BPP8

I hope this helps!
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Old Nov 9, 2010, 04:35 PM   #3
Webnasty
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Thanks Danrel, I will look into those!
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Old Nov 9, 2010, 05:33 PM   #4
ksmith80209
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The bags from TB are that good. I've got 3 of them and recommend them to all my friends. They usually have awesome customer service, in fact, if you call you often get Tom Bihn himself.
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Old Nov 9, 2010, 08:15 PM   #5
Webnasty
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Originally Posted by ksmith80209 View Post
The bags from TB are that good. I've got 3 of them and recommend them to all my friends. They usually have awesome customer service, in fact, if you call you often get Tom Bihn himself.
Thanks for letting me know your experience. I want to try to wait, but the business owner in me is bothered that they only have approximately 30% of their products in stock. Actually, to be fair, my sampling of the products they keep in stock was limited only to the ones I wanted, so that number could be way skewed. Regardless, I find that a very strange way to conduct business this close to the holiday season.
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Old Nov 9, 2010, 09:20 PM   #6
kingalien
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Agree with other poster, Tom Bihn bags are very good and in high demand. The quality is superb. I have a couple of their bags and am very impressed using them frequently for travel. Waterfield bags are also good as is RedOxx bags though they have fewer iPad-specific bags.
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Old Nov 9, 2010, 09:23 PM   #7
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He could be having supplier issues. It happens. It's tough to keep stock on hand when your supper isn't delivering on time or if there is a major quality issue. He may have had to send stuff back, materials defective etc.

**** happens. Can you purchase the bag thru any resellers?
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Old Nov 9, 2010, 09:44 PM   #8
Sterne
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Tom Bihn bags are great and the company is very nice to work with - but the fabric backorders are quite common. I'm not sure why, but folks seem to be willing to wait, and many people backorder what they want.

I bought a medium cafe bag years ago for carrying notebooks and documents around trade shows, and have recently started using it for my iPad. It's a solid choice.
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Old Nov 9, 2010, 10:33 PM   #9
Webnasty
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It is nice to hear others back up the claim that their bags are of high quality. Unfortunately I just can't get past:
  • You can't buy them from resellers (at least none that I can find)
  • I'm still waiting on their approval so that I can post on their forum (I requested it last week)
  • An insanely high number of their bags are out of stock from up to 90 days
It is such a shame, the medium cafe bag is exactly what I want. But not so much that I will wait a month or two for it. Thanks for the suggestions everyone, I will check out STM, RedOxx and WaterField bags.
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Old Nov 9, 2010, 10:41 PM   #10
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This isn't some outfit that can fast track a production line in China.

From their FAQ:

Are all TOM BIHN bags made in Seattle?
TOM BIHN bags are manufactured in our own Seattle, Washington factory. If you visit our Seattle retail store, you'll be able to see our amazing factory crew in action. One or two of the accessories that we offer are manufactured under contract in Montana. TOM BIHN only sells products that are made by people fairly compensated for their labor. We are dedicated to creating quality products and quality jobs
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Old Nov 10, 2010, 01:47 AM   #11
emreturkeli
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I also made lots of researches in time, and finally decided on Ristretto for my ipad. Yes maybe you're right, because my first color combination choice was also out of stock... But hopefully my second option was in stock... So I went with it...

I got the bag in a week (I'm living in middle east!) and the quality is AMAZING!!
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Old Nov 10, 2010, 07:34 AM   #12
Webnasty
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Thank you for the positive feedback Emre. Waiting this long is difficult but I'll try to hang in there. Everyone sure raves about how good these bags are.

Beau10: I find your argument of, "This isn't some outfit that can fast track a production line in China" to be offensive. Insinuating that American workers are incapable of producing quality work within a reasonable time frame is ignorant, rude and just plain wrong.

I have been publishing magazines and industry trade journals for over 10 years. I also own an iPhone app design company. All of my publications and products are manufactured in the city I live and work in. If you visit my office, you'll be able to see our amazing writers, designers and salespeople in action. We don't offer anything manufactured from outside the city, let alone the state. We only sell products that are made by people fairly compensated for their labor. We are dedicated to creating quality products and quality jobs.

My point being is that Tom Bihn is hardly the only business owner to do these things. Everything my business does, from magazines to articles to ad designs to photo shoots to iPhone apps are all 100% customized for every client. We don't have a dozen of the same products that we can repeatedly turn out. And we turn around large advertising campaigns accompanied by individualized iPhone apps within a week.

I also have background knowledge in the stitching/manufacturing process. My mom owned a very successful fashion design business when I was young. Her clothing line was featured in the front windows of Saks Fifth Avenue. Since she was a single mom, I was forced to spend many hours in her factory. I have seen her employees sew entire clothing lines. Everything was individually sewn by American seamstresses. Guess what - it does not take 30-90 days to sew nylon bags. That is a fact.

If you had read my earlier posts, you would understand that my frustration stems from the fact I think Tom Bihn makes very good products and I am bummed I have to wait so long. What adds to my confusion is when I go to other bag manufacturing sites they don't seem to have the same long delays (up to 90 days?). As a businesses owner I also find stocking only 30% of your product to be a questionable practice (again this number was based off the 5 different lines of bags I was interested, so the number could be higher or lower). I have not found a bag similar enough for me to purchase elsewhere. But given another 30-60 days I just may and Tom would lose my sale. And probably some other ones as well.

I am not trying to start a flame war here. I am just pointing out the facts of the situation, and my own disappointment that it is so difficult to purchase one of these bags that appear to be exceptionally made and designed.
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Old Nov 10, 2010, 09:10 AM   #13
Webnasty
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Also, what is their weirdness about "approving" people for the privilege to post on their forum? I submitted my request last week, and I am still getting the following message:

"Your account has been activated but you are currently in the moderation queue to be added to the forum."

Really?
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Old Nov 10, 2010, 11:42 AM   #14
ksmith80209
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Webnasty View Post
Also, what is their weirdness about "approving" people for the privilege to post on their forum? I submitted my request last week, and I am still getting the following message:

"Your account has been activated but you are currently in the moderation queue to be added to the forum."

Really?
I'm under the impression that they run pretty lean over there. I'd try calling them about the account or sending an email. I'd be willing to bet that the marketing/sales/biz dev/web moderator person just hasn't updated the queue.

Also, I know that they use very high quality fabrics, zippers, straps, etc. The reason for the out-of-stock situation is probably a combination high demand and low raw material availability.

Being a small business owner myself, I agree that a wait like you've experienced is very frustrating, but they really are worth it. For example, when I had an issue with a strap on one of my bags (the design wasn't ideal for my use case), I called them up and spoke to Tom directly. He spent a couple of weeks researching different strap types and then retrofitted the strap to my bag at no charge. To me, that kind of personal attention helps me overlook some of the small shop woes.
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Old Nov 10, 2010, 03:16 PM   #15
pdawg
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Originally Posted by emreturkeli View Post
I also made lots of researches in time, and finally decided on Ristretto for my ipad. Yes maybe you're right, because my first color combination choice was also out of stock... But hopefully my second option was in stock... So I went with it...

I got the bag in a week (I'm living in middle east!) and the quality is AMAZING!!
That is the bag I got as well, and I use it all the time. My particular color/combo was also backordered. I had to wait about 1 month for it to come in. Worth the wait b/c I love the bag.
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Old Nov 11, 2010, 12:09 AM   #16
Webnasty
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As much as it pains me to wait a month, I bit the bullet on a Tom Bihn medium cafe bag. I searched and searched and really couldn't find anything out there enough like it for me to purchase. From everyone's comments I'm sure I will love it. But it is going to be a long month...
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Old Nov 11, 2010, 01:23 PM   #17
Beau10
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Originally Posted by Webnasty View Post
]

Beau10: I find your argument of, "This isn't some outfit that can fast track a production line in China" to be offensive. Insinuating that American workers are incapable of producing quality work within a reasonable time frame is ignorant, rude and just plain wrong.
That's not what I insinuated at all. They own their own factory. They can't scale up or down to the market's whims nearly as well as they could by working with Chinese suppliers - they have a certain sqft of space, a certain number of workers, etc. Not a comment on skill.
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Old Nov 11, 2010, 03:11 PM   #18
Webnasty
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That's not what I insinuated at all. They own their own factory. They can't scale up or down to the market's whims nearly as well as they could by working with Chinese suppliers - they have a certain sqft of space, a certain number of workers, etc. Not a comment on skill.
Again, what does "working with Chinese suppliers" have anything to do with speed or in quickly responding to market whims?

Looking at the photos of Tom Bihn's factory, it appears to be similar in size to my Mom's old factory. The way my Mom would "scale up or down to the market's whims" kinda went like this:

"Attention everyone, we just got a big order from Lord & Taylor for the 'X' line of casual wear, so today I want everyone working on that."

Or...

"I just went through our inventory and see that we are low in stock of our 'Y' line of evening dresses, so today I want everyone working on those."

I'm not really sure how you can adjust to the needs of the market much quicker than that. I'm pretty confident that workers in any country, large factory or small, are capable of handling such 'on the fly' directions.

Now if you're just tip-toeing around the topic of outsourcing American jobs to China to reduce costs, but apprehensive of actually saying that, then I think you would finally be being honest with us and yourself.
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Old Nov 11, 2010, 03:48 PM   #19
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Again, what does "working with Chinese suppliers" have anything to do with speed or in quickly responding to market whims?
I think what Beau10 was suggesting is that "Chinese suppliers" don't have qualms about hiring more personel to meet a temporary market demand, the firing them en masse when the demand passes. Your Mom's method doesn't work if all of a sudden you get double or triple or maybe even 10 times your regular amount of orders.
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Old Nov 11, 2010, 04:11 PM   #20
Beau10
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I think what Beau10 was suggesting is that "Chinese suppliers" don't have qualms about hiring more personel to meet a temporary market demand, the firing them en masse when the demand passes. Your Mom's method doesn't work if all of a sudden you get double or triple or maybe even 10 times your regular amount of orders.
For the most part but

- An outsourced factory is not necessarily hiring or firing... they're just handling multiple contracts at the same time. If you need to double the output for the next batch, then they can double the number of production lines if there is spare capacity as other contracts are fulfilled, or if that is not possible extend production to an additional facility. The key is being able to quickly scale resources.
- An owned factory has a set # of resources. Even though you can divert resources to particularly popular products temporarily to reduce the backlog, you're starving those other product lines. Who's to say Mr. Bihn isn't doing this to some degree? I agree that 3 mos seems pretty extraordinary, but Tom Bihn has a rabid following.

The fact of the matter is the iPad has way surpassed even the most aggressive analyst's projections, and the Tom Bihn factory is likely sized to meet demand during normal market conditions.
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Old Nov 11, 2010, 04:51 PM   #21
Webnasty
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My apologies Beau10. I jumped on you unnecessarily and you handled the whole situation with class.

I am stressed to the max these days. I have a new magazine launching, another one close to launching, December is my busiest time of the year anyway, and I have increasing pressures at home. I used your innocent remark as a target to vent my frustrations.

Please forgive my asinine behavior, it was completely uncalled for.

-Web
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Old Nov 11, 2010, 07:31 PM   #22
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Agree that having that many out of stock might not be great for business but I wonder if they are struggling to meet demand? Just a thought.

After considerable research about the Ristretto for iPad, I decided to purchase the Olive / Cayenne color. It had a ship date of 3 weeks later which was not convenient but I was willing to wait to get a good product.

Within 10 days, I received my shipping confirmation and the bag arrived in South Korea, 4 days after it left the US.

The bag is excellent, I am using it every day and so far it still looks brand new. Excellent quality.

I would definitely buy another Tom Bihn bag and if I had to wait 4 weeks I would sit tight and be patient as it is definitely worth it IMHO.
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Old Nov 12, 2010, 08:48 AM   #23
Webnasty
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I had my first Tom Bihn bag "sighting" last night. I was leaving from getting my hair cut when I saw an Imago bag sitting on the floor. I turned around and yelled, "Who's Tom Bihn bag is this?" A woman spun around in her chair with a huge smile on her face and proudly proclaimed it was hers. I explained how I had just ordered a medium cafe bag, and was hugely bummed that I had to wait a while for it. She assured me it was totally worth the wait, and invited me to open her bag up and check it out. So I did. Very cool, and my wait just got even longer...

On an unrelated note, judging from the buttons on her bag and the photos I have seen of people proudly wearing their Tom Bihn bags, I am probably one of the few Republicans who will be/is a Tom Bihn bag owner. Just sayin'. And yes, I am aware of the infamous tag.
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Old Nov 15, 2010, 03:28 AM   #24
Capt T
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It is well worth the wait. Ordered my Ristretto for iPad 2 weeks before the release. Was to wait a month and a half backorder. It came a week after I got my iPad. Has been a great bag, good quality. As someone else said they remind me of SF bags (waterfield).
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Old Dec 7, 2010, 09:07 AM   #25
Webnasty
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I gotta report back on this. After an excruciatingly long wait (because I am insanely impatient) I finally received my medium cafe bag.

It is exactly what I wanted.

It is very well made, and I begrudgingly admit it was worth the wait. I would have been disappointed had I pulled the trigger on something else in my impatience.

Side note, I saw a woman last week with a Tom Bihn laptop bag. It looked brand new so I asked her how long she had it. She told me she got it over 3 years ago and uses it every day. I was impressed. She had to turn the shoulder strap upside down to shown the tiniest bit of wear under the strap pad. Other than that it looked like she just took it out of the box.
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