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.

Another Reason To Love The Air Boss

So I’m in the line to board a Bombardier CRJ900 regional jet out of Atlanta on my way home from the Primir winter meeting. Every single roll-aboard in front of me had been stopped and tagged with one of those pink gate-check tags. While gate-checking is a lot more reliable than regular through-checking, I still prefer to have my stuff with me and tossed about by annoyed baggage handlers. I did a quick mental scan of what was in the bag. My computer was in my Metro briefcase. The only breakable thing in the Air Boss was the coffee mug I’d bought for my wife and it was pretty sturdy. Ok, if they ask to gate check it I won’t object.

My pulse quickened a bit as I got to the head of the line, but Mr pink tag just waved me through.

Of course, I was carrying the air boss properly loaded and not bulging at the seams, so it didn’t look much bigger than the Metro briefcase I had on my shoulder. Either that, or perhaps that both are saffron made me look just weird enough not to triffle with.

Once on the plane, one that has overhead bins substantially shorter (in the vertical dimension) than the other planes I’d been on, the Air Boss slid neatly into place without any shoving, the metro under the seat. Two people nearby had those newer wheeled briefcases that must have held several versions of the tax code plus an 90’s vintage laptop. One fit in the overhead with two people persuading it. The other didn’t.

I’ve been toying with getting a Sky Train, but I think I’m going to stick with the Air Boss.

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible aka Metro

Whew! For a company who’s other products have names like C-Ruck, Gator, Air Boss, and Chica, that’s a real mouthful. Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible. It’s also a pretty nifty briefcase.

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

I received mine a few days ago, and have even had a chance to try it out. I got it in Saffron, both to match my Air Boss, and to help thwart any theives out there. It’s hard to sneak when you’re carrying a bright yellow object.

I agonized a bit over the size. I’ve got a Travelpro laptop bag that measures 3.5″ wide, and it is too small. It’s able to hold the usual amount of paper I’d carry, but forget putting a computer, or any of the usual other junk like a small camera, iPod, notebooks, etc. I also got a Tumi 6″ expandable, which is the exact opposite. I’ve actually gone on overnight trips with just it, with a spare shirt, underwear and toiletries without even expanding it. Of course, when it’s less than full it’s a floppy mess, and not very easy to zip open or closed.

I wanted something in between. I wanted something big enough to hold my computer, some legal pads, a folder or two, along with a host of small items. Maybe also a birding guide, and a small binocular. I kept wondering if the regular briefcase or the slim was what I wanted. I decided to err on the small side, and I’m not disappointed.

I had considered Tom Bihn’s Empire Builder and Zephyr, which appear to be a better value, but both have things I didn’t like.

  • First, they have flaps covering a large open pocket on the front, with zippered pockets on the flap. Those kinds of pockets are great for really small stuff, but they tend to make the flap heavy, which makes it a pain to get into the large pocket under the flap.
  • That flap has a buckle, the mating half of which will dangle because I will mostly not buckle it, which will annoy me.
  • Second, they have the shoulder strap connections on opposite sides of the bag, which tends to hold the bag shut while it’s on my shoulder. The Red Oxx design tends to hold the bag open, and I prefer that because I can always zip the bag shut.
  • They’re an inch taller than the Red Oxx, which is wasted space for the things I carry.
  • They do sell colors, but it’s really a black bag with a colored flap.
  • The Empire Builder is 7″ wide, the Zephyr is 6.3″ wide. Both are really too wide for me.

Still, they’re only $10 or so more than the smaller Red Oxx, but have more padding, more zippable pockets, splashproof zippers and a few other features. I decided I wanted the size, color & features of the Red Oxx.
As I said, I’ve had a chance to play with it, and even use it a bit. Here are my observations:

  • It’s 3.5″ wide, same as the travel pro, but Red Oxx’s bag is 3.5″ on the inside. That extra inch is huge in a bag this size.
  • The inside dividers are covered with pockets – more than you can use. It’s also got slightly over-sized pen holders – large enough to hold screwdrivers or a tire gage.
  • The outside pockets are narrower than I thought they’d be, although the snap is on a strap (see the photo) so you can both fill them up and close them more easily. I think they’re too narrow, but I suspect they’re the same pockets you’d find on their Gator bag, which is smaller. They’re big enough for 2-3 pocket Moleskine notebooks, plus a small item like a deck of cards.
  • The padding is a great idea. It really helps give the bag shape, and it makes it much better behaved when standing. Yep, the bag will stand, you don’t have to lay it down.
  • The handles are curiously long. On my Air Boss they’re so short that if you over stuff the bag at all you cannot get the handle wrap to snap shut. I actually like that feature because I don’t like floppy handles. They catch on things and hang over the opening. I’m surprised they’re so long on this bag.
  • I haven’t used the outside zip pockets, as they’re suited mainly to flat items like air tickets or a magazine or two. But there’s one on either side, with heavy dual zips.
  • The water bottle pockets are thankfully not too baggy and have tight enough elastic to keep small items from falling out. I know that many people must have water bottle pockets, but after the DHS outlawed an entire phase of matter I decided that since water is available pretty much everywhere I go, usually for free, I would stop hauling around a bunch of extra weight. So if I must have water bottle pockets on my bag, it’s nice to be able to use them for something else.
  • The red interior helps make it easier to find things.
  • I like the fact that the zippers don’t go all the way around. I used to carry a Lands End briefcase that would zip flat. One time I hooked the zipper (that case had big metal hoops on the zippers) and dumped most of the contents all over a factory floor.
  • It has the standard “Claw” strap that hangs on like it’s glued to your shoulder.

The construction is as expected – heavy duty. I especially like large zippers, as the small ones on my Tumi, while “self healing” have to heal themselves pretty much every time I zip the bag around the upper corners. Heavier zippers are more tolerant.
Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

Red Oxx Slimline Padded Brief/Laptop Compatible

For a “Slimline” bag this case holds quite a bit – there’s room for more, although it would start to require taking things out to get to other things. If I was a student or someone who had to haul a lot of binders, I’d definitely get the regular size that’s 7+” thick, but with what I need today, it’s a great fit.