Bad Market Research

I just got done signing up for Tumi’s “Advisory Panel”. Yes, I was hoodwinked into thinking that they’d actually selected me because of my extreme insight into luggage. In actuality, they probably culled my name from their bag registry when I registered a bag with them many moons ago.

Anyway, I took their survey, and the first signs this whole effort was underdone came when they asked what brands of bags I own & buy, and had only ONE place to add new brands. They didn’t list Red Oxx, Tom Bihn, Timbuk2, Chrome or anything else unusual. I haven’t bought a “popular” brand of luggage in years, mostly because they’ve all lost their way and have begun making luggage as a fashion accessory first and a functional item second.

So I took their survey and it was mostly incoherent because first they ask how many bags have been purchased, then they ask for the brands to be listed & ranked, but since they don’t have the brands I’ve bought the two sections don’t agree.

The rest of the survey was tired old buyer behavior questions on whether I prefer to buy brands I know and whether I’ll pay more for better quality. Sheesh! Can’t you buy that data from here?

Once I finished the survey I was directed to a site quickly cobbled together and asked to enter a profile, and then I was dumped into a set of polls (read: another survey). The link for the polls was actually “Forums”, but given that I can’t start a new thread, enter my own poll, or do anything else but respond to their questions I think they should rename the link to “Survey”.

Did I plan to continue checking bags with increased baggage fees? Do I think it’s important for my luggage supplier to be green? I entered my response along with the other 5 suckers respondents. Wow. I’ve known that Tumi has slipped further and further down the slope of fashion over function, as all gear suppliers eventually do once they get big (TNF, Eddie Bauer, countless others) but I thought their marketing was more together than this.

Not one question about why I wouldn’t buy from Tumi, or why I like other brands, or even what I want in luggage.

Jim & Tom seem to have this insight, and without asking me to join some bogus panel.

I guess it’s because Tumi’s really not in the luggage business anymore, but in the “pretty thing for sale at the mall I’ve got to convince people they need” business. Great.

Air Boss still the boss

I just got back from the Primir meeting in Portland, Oregon. Portland is a great city, with a nice transportation, reasonable prices, and the weather was even nice. The Primir meeting was enlightening as always, and it was nice to see everyone again. The travel to and from the meeting was less enjoyable, but I’m alive and these days that’s about the limit of what we expect. It was also a nice chance to play with luggage. ;-)

The trip got me thinking about bags again.

A long time ago I stopped carrying a briefcase at all. I had realized that I was mostly hauling a bunch of stuff to work that didn’t need to be there, and stuff back home that didn’t need to be their either. So I just stopped. Then after a while I missed having a few things with me, more than would fit in my pockets. So I started carrying a man-purse. I’ve owned many of these, and the last was a small messenger bag called the Timbuk2 Mini Metro. Then my job changed again, I started missing some paperwork at home, and I bought a Chrome small messenger bag as my Timbuk2 Mini Metro was too small for files. I like the Chrome, but it is really best suited to its intended purpose rather than an impromptu brief case. The metal seatbelt buckle in the front is probably very handy for messengers, but I just keep banging it into things. The size and shape are good, but I miss the small pockets in the Timbuk2.

So I’ve been thinking about getting a briefcase. Yes, I have a few but nothing mid-sized. I used to have a Land’s End canvas briefcase, but tossed it after it got ratty looking. I was not stiff enough anyway.

Then I went to Portland and took my Red Oxx Air Boss & Tom Bihn Brain Cell combination which worked as well as last time. Both did what I expected, and everything went fine. I’m finding that the more I use the Air Boss, the more I like it. Things fit well and the more I use the bag the more I realize the thought that went into not only the design but the precision of the dimensions. For example, if you find the cinch straps in the outer compartments aren’t long enough, you’ve got too much stuff in that compartment and it will bulge when you zip it. When the bag is over stuffed it’s hard to snap the handles together – another signal that the bag is too full, and you may have trouble sticking it in the overhead. You can stuff the bag past these warnings, and I’ve yet to be unable to get it to go where it needed to, but it’s an easier carry when it’s properly loaded. Also, if you’re going carry-on, it’s always good to be asking if you really need to be carrying this or that extra item.

But the fun of luggage is in the pursuit of the perfect solution, and so every time I travel I always thinking about how things could be done better. On this trip I identified the following:

  • I missed having various things with me while in flight, because everything was in the Air Boss, in the overhead. When I have my preferred aisle seat, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get space near my seat it’s no big deal to get up and get something, but I was in the middle on this trip. Note to self – book earlier!
  • I missed having some workout clothes which I couldn’t fit into
    the Air Boss because of the space taken by the computer.
  • The Air Boss gets heavy when my computer is in it. Add some paper, and it gets to be pretty uncomfortable. The Claw strap keeps it on the shoulder, but it’s not a happy shoulder.

So three more votes for a briefcase. I’ve looked at the Tumi Essential Brief, but at $300+ it’s pretty expensive. I’ve looked at Tom Bihn, but they don’t make a slim briefcase, only 6″ or wider. The shoulder straps attach on either side of the body, which tends to make a bag hard to open when it’s on my shoulder as it does with my Travel Pro case. I’ve checked out a few other bags at the local luggage store, but they’re all very fixated on things I just don’t want. Dedicated computer pockets, expandability, special snap-in accessory pouches all add cost without adding real usefulness or flexibility.

So I’m looking at Red Oxx’s “Slim-Line Padded Brief” – with other bags named “Air Boss”, “Gator” or “Benos”, it’s an oddly functional name – and I’ve all but decided to order it pending a few questions from Red Oxx. It looks like the right size, although it may be a bit full when my computer’s in it. Without the computer, how I’d carry it to work, it should be the right size. Not crazy about water bottle pockets, but I can live with them.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Yet more on the Red Oxx Air Boss

Yes, I know it’s a bit odd that I’ve written more about the bag I used to travel to a conference than the conference itself, but there are lots of folks writing about the conference, and digital printing isn’t an area where I have any expertise. In fact I don’t really have any opinion.

About bags I have a lot of opinions ;-)

I’ve used the Red Oxx Air Boss for two flights now, and I’ve got to say it works pretty well. When you combine it with the Tom Bihn Brain cell it’s a great combination. You can take just the Brain Cell and have your computer along with a few other items, and then dump the BC back into the Air Boss when you head back to the airport. If god forbid you’re asked to gate check your bag, you can yank out the Brain Cell and not have to worry about sending your computer into the hold.

The strap from the Air Boss fit the Brain Cell with just a little persuasion, and worked pretty well. More on that later. The Brain Cell is a very good size – enough to carry a computer and a few extras, but not enough to get it so heavy you can’t carry it all day. It held the computer and power adapter just fine, with enough room left over for business cards, pens, a modest show guide, and a small digital camera clipped to the strap. I’d even suggest it could use a thin flap pocket on the side opposite the mesh pocket. The Brain Cell is stiff and padded enough I didn’t worry about my computer at all, I even walked with it in light rain although I’m not sure I’d recommend relying on the Brain Cell to be weather proof.

The Air Boss has held everything with the addition of some souvenier t-shirts, bags of peanuts and Cracker jacks, and the give-away bag from Xerox. The weight is a bit much for lengthy slogs though, and I’d suggest that anyone looking at long walks should be eyeing a bag with backpack straps. The strap is part of the problem, though. I have a love/hate relationship with the strap, mostly hate.

I love it because it’s very sticky, and will not slip off a shoulder. Your outer garment will be missing a sleeve before your bag hits the ground. For lighter bags you carry off one shoulder this is great.

I hate it because it’s very sticky and you cannot shift the bag at all until you remove all the weight from the strap. Even then it’s tough. This is really irritating when I’m carrying a bag messenger style, and shift it to the back while walking to minimize bounce, but need to pull it up front to get something out of it. It doesn’t pull. I basically have to take the bag off to get into it.

The strap is also a bit narrow, and even though the rubber pad is wider, it’s not stiff enough to distribute the load very well. Hanging the bag off a shoulder rather than across the chest was pretty uncomfortable for any substantial length of time. The strap seems identical to Tom Bihn’s TerraGrip strap and I’m guessing neither company makes it themselves. I have a pretty cushy strap from Eagle Creek I’ll try on the next trip.

I’ve thought of a few more potential improvements for the Air Boss:

  1. I was going to suggest a key clip, but then I got a better idea – how about a few rings in each section, to which one could clip small pouches? Failing that, a key clip in the center compartment (where the keys won’t create a hip-irritating lump) would be appreciated. It doesn’t need to be a long leash, just a short but secure clip.
  2. How about a short unsewn section on the handle straps, for carrying an umbrella?
  3. I’m tempted to ask for external compression straps…but I’m not sure it’s a good idea.
  4. A flap on the inside of the slip pocket would help keep items in the pocket. A carry on bag eventually has to be lifted overhead and that’s when things start falling out.
  5. When I bought a Tilley hat a long time ago it came with a few “Brag Tags” – small printed cards with info about how to order the hat. The idea was that when people commented to the wearer, he could just pull out a brag tag and hand it to the person making the comment. I’ve been asked by one person about the Air Boss already…

More on the Red Oxx Air Boss

I’m sitting in Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport, and next to me is my Red Oxx Air Boss, with Tom Bihn Brain Cell. It’s proven so far to be a pretty awesome combination.

The bag isn’t full – I’ve only got two shirts, underwear, socks, undershirts and a pair of pants on one side and a jacket in the other side, with my laptop, toiletries and a few gadgets in the middle. It’s a bit heavy, and the strap padding could be a bit thicker. But it didn’t even come close to sliding off my shoulder.

The outside pocket did fine to hold the things I need handy, and the slip pocket held my very threatening zip baggy of toothpaste to satisfy TSA regulations. The bag is not small, but it doesn’t feel big either. Like an oversized briefcase. I’ve actually carried briefcases heavier than this, back when I used to think I had to carry 5 books on a flight ;-)

I’d originally thought the shoulder strap was a bit narrow, but I discovered an advantage to it – it fits the clip on my blackberry holster better. It’s the width of a men’s dress belt, so that makes sense.img_0674.jpg

There it is sitting happily in an airport chair.img_0675.jpg

I pulled the Brain Cell out a bit so you can get a look at it – the two bags make an awesome combination.

So far the only suggestions I would have are:

  1. Add a pencil/pen slot or two at one end of the large slip pocket. You could just run a line of stitching about 2″ long about 1″ in from an end to form a short sleeve that would hold a pen perfectly.
  2. If you put a bit of padding at the bottom, carrying a laptop directly in the bag would be a lot safer.

So far, it’s been a good bag!