I've heard of Tom Bihn for a while and only purchased my first bag one year ago. A Brain Bag with a braincell for my laptop. It's by far the best backpack I've ever owned and I love it. I recently started traveling on a weekly basis for work and have investigated my options for expanding my Tom Bihn collection. Three weeks of constant research, deliberating, and planning have left me more frustrated than ever and I'm considering going with a different brand for my current and future needs.
My problems first lie in what appears to be stealth redesigns of existing bags. I found out that a few weeks after I bought my Brain Bag, a redesign went into effect that added the Cache pouch functionality. While I understand and expect product designs to change over time, it left a sour taste in my mouth and it's adding a high level of caution in any new purchase from Tom Bihn. For example, I really like the Western Flyer from the pictures of it. More than that, I LOVE it. It seems absolutely perfect for my needs. But, it also looks outdated compared to the rest of the product lineup.
I'm afraid to purchase a Western Flyer and then a week later the model that adds the Cache functionality gets released. I'm also afraid that I might hold off for a cache-compatible Western Flyer and wind up waiting indefinitely and having my current needs go unmet. It's a lot like a problem many of us experience with Apple products, except there's much more predictability with Apple. You can be reasonably assured a new model "X" will come out at a certain point within a few months time frame. With Tom Bihn, it seems like I can't make that cost-benefit analysis to buy versus wait.
My second problem comes in the form of colors and designs. With RedOxx, my current carryon bag company, you can literally have any of their products in any of their color combinations. With Tom Bihn, it appears as though someone arbitrarily rolled a dice and decided which to allow for which products. With RedOxx the downside is that they can't possibly stock everything so there's a 3 week waiting period. And in theory, by consolidating product lines down to a few options for each model, you could actually stock them. But the reality is half of the Tom Bihn bags I'm considering are backordered for 2 months.
So not only am I limited in options of colors, but I'm waiting even longer than RedOxx (who can make me anything in any color) to make them. That seems like I'm getting shafted twice.
My third problem is a combination of problems one and two. It appears that Tom Bihn arbitrarily decides to make special runs of certain products in certain colors/patterns and then they run out and they change their minds again. So it leaves me wondering "if Tom Bihn Product X isn't available in Color Y, should I buy another color, enjoy it a little less, but get it because I need to use it, or should I wait for my preferred color to be made? And if I have to wait, will I be waiting forever and suffering the whole time?"
I'm a management consultant (which is why I travel weekly for work), so I can't help but wonder if the root cause of these issues isn't one of the two:
1) Tom Bihn intentionally does this to increase demand and make products more exclusive. So when a certain color comes out, people immediately buy it, even if they don't quite need/want it, because they are afraid it won't be available anymore and thus this loss-aversion effect increases sales.
2) Tom Bihn has a horribly inefficient supply chain and can't figure out how to increase capacity and maintain acceptable profit margins.
Or maybe I'm just an a-hole that's spoiled by RedOxx's ability to make me anything in any color at any time, given an exact waiting period, and RedOxx's failure to innovate (because their product line hasn't changed at all in a few years since I've been watching) is a benefit to me because I know my product won't become obsolete immediately.
I'm not price sensitive and it's no big deal for me to drop $1,000 on various bags and pouches and accessories, especially because I'll use them weekly. The problem is I can't seem to get that from Tom Bihn at this time.