December 2, 2022

Q&A with Mike

Mike at the TOM BIHN headquarters
Photo: Mike at the TOM BIHN headquarters.
Read previous TOM BIHN Crew Q&As ~ Ben, TianYingMattIrmaDiTamMatthew , Kat, Cindy, and Jose



What is your position here at TOM BIHN? What does that entail?

I do a lot around here and I love it all! I started as Customer Service and Shipping Manager in 2016 and I still do that but my position has changed some over the years. I became the Operations Manager in 2018 and my job grew to include working closely with nearly every part of the day-to-day business. More recently, my position has evolved further and I work closely with Cindy on the product line management and Jose on design.

My job is structured under four categories that all overlap as you’d expect in a company our size. For my role in Fulfillment, in addition to managing that team, I answer a handful of customer service emails each week, depending on the needs of the department, or the nature of the messages. I don’t ship a lot of packages, but a few times a year I’ll still pick up a pile of order pick sheets and fill some boxes and print some labels, and I step in for our final kitting and box sealing process when needed.

A big part of my job is forecasting and placing all finished goods orders. I have some background in this but the last couple years have been tough in regards to juggling materials timelines and other factors. I work closely with Ben on materials and all the stories you hear in the news about supply chain woes are absolutely true. I do think we’ve done a good job of navigating it and keeping things fresh and interesting.

I work alongside Kim and the production managers to keep production timing on-track and orderly. One of the advantages of having our own production is we can shift priorities quickly when necessary and we meet and talk a lot about that. I work directly with production to monitor quality as bags move through- both the materials aspect and the actual production work. And I work closely with Aravelia and Lulu in QA to ensure the quality is correct as bags are finished and make their way into the warehouse.

Cindy and I work together on planning the product debuts and restock calendar and along with Matthew, the three of us manage the website content, layout, and photography. I didn't have a lot of experience doing this type of work before TOM BIHN and it's been a great experience learning this part of the job!


How exciting! How do you handle all those tasks?

It can be tough! I rely on the project management software we use, and I am a notebook and pen kind of person. I’m also wired with a strong sense of routine. I tend to walk the same path in the morning to get the lay of the land, so to speak, and that helps me establish daily, and weekly priorities. 


What has been the most challenging part of the job?

The challenges have changed over time, and will continue to, I’m sure. A few years ago we tended to run out of stock more frequently, and that was hard on the customer service end. The pivot to masks, and then back to bags was especially hard because by the time we were ready to go full on bags again, the shelves were pretty empty and we spent most of 2021 playing catch up. That was really hard! Interestingly, the challenging parts now are also a lot of fun- balancing making some older designs and newer designs, choosing colors and fabrics for next year that have really long lead times, things like that can feel stressful to work through it all, but when I take a step back, I realize how cool it is to be able to do those things.


What is a part of the job you really love doing?

Honestly, all of it. I love the interaction with customers and folks in the community. I love being involved in making things. I love working on new designs and ideas. I love working with the amazing group of folks at the factory. I really enjoy all of it. 

Working with Jose and Cindy on design and development is a really fun part of the job. My role in this has shifted from coordinating and documenting when Tom and Nik were designing, to more actively involved now. My entire career has been in the outdoor industry so I know the products and industry really well. I think that has set me up to be able to offer good insight into these discussions and with the years I’ve been at TOM BIHN, I have a really good handle on what we’re capable of and good at. I enjoy every aspect of my job but considering this part is still the newest and developing, it’s probably the most rewarding for me.


What are some of your favorite memories working here in the factory? 

I have a lot of great memories from the factory! I still remember the first day I walked in- hearing the hum of all the sewing machines was a thrill and I still enjoy that sound. I’ve worked with backpacks my entire career and being able to watch them being made every day is a real source of joy for me. I love interacting with everyone so much. My position requires that I work pretty closely with the folks in cutting, and production, and in QA and I love the camaraderie that comes with that.

Some of my favorite memories have been working on new product development. A part of my role in development is documenting the process and it was always so interesting to witness Tom and Nik interacting with Fong and Lisa as they worked through some of the more nuanced details on a bag like the Synik. It’s been a really great experience to work closely with Jose as he grows in his role and to watch a very similar synergy between him and Fong, Trang, and Honguyen. I feel fortunate to be able to work with so many smart, talented folks in this regard!

Some other fun memories at the factory come from my work in Fulfillment. While it was sometimes stressful, the excitement of debut days or Cyber Monday is awesome. It’s a pretty small group of folks who answer all the emails and calls, and pack and seal all the boxes and on those really busy days, I get to be a working part of that crew. It’s really satisfying to see the mountains of boxes stacked and waiting for the UPS driver at the end of one of those days, and to know everything that went into getting to that point. Just writing this all out is getting me excited for debuts in the upcoming year!


What is your EDC?

My first favorite when I started here is still my favorite- the Synapse 19. I’ve personally carried, sold, or handled hundreds of different backpack designs in my life and this bag is the best design I’ve ever known. I think Tom’s super power is his ability to design a bag where every space is independent of every other space and this bag is the pinnacle example of that. My Synapse 19 is the most organized part of my life. I’m not disorganized, but I’m not as organized as my S19 would lead you to believe either.

I also carry a Side Effect frequently- I have one that is a dedicated dog walking pouch, and one that is for out and about when I need more than my blue jeans pockets can carry, but less than my backpack. I also carry a Pocket Pouch with the clip cut off as my wallet, so I guess that is my most used TB item.


Outside of work what are your hobbies? 

To be honest, I’ve been working on getting my degree in the last year and it’s really put a damper on my hobbies! I guess my current hobby is reading online business course-work :)

When I do find the time, I love being outside. We have a nice garden at home and I enjoy that a lot. I love to cook and eat good food and I feel so fortunate to live in this region with the amazing bounty of produce at local farmers markets. My wife and I enjoy traveling, and visiting other cultures that have a similar focus on food is always the best. I love Pike Place Market in Seattle and finding other cities’ public markets is a lot of fun!

I’ve been an active hiker since I was young and even thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail what feels like a lifetime ago. Those long-distance hiking days are (probably) over but it gave me a great foundation for what makes a backpack carry well. I hope it’s not too nerdy to say but I actually still find it quite fun to research backpacks and other outdoor gear, and the materials used in the industry. It can make it hard to mentally step away sometimes but I enjoy it, nonetheless.

Do you have any pets? Tell us about them!

Yes! I have one dog, Levi, and two cats, Carter Stanley and Ollie. Levi used to come to work but phased out of doing that when Covid hit. Maybe we’ll try again and he can end the long hiatus from his role as Branch Manager at the factory.


 Mike headed on a walk with Levi

Both of our cats are nice but they don’t like each other. That leads to a sometimes chaotic household. Anyone who has ever met Carter Stanley acknowledges he's a legend, but it's complicated, as cats can be. 

Mike with his cat Carter Stanley



G42 - December 5, 2022

Always great to peek behind the curtain and see more of how things work and what everyone does to get the bags designed, made, and out the door. That’s a lot of things to juggle but sounds like a lot of fun too!
(And yay for bonus pet photos 🙂)

Kali - December 4, 2022

Loved reading Mike’s story! He’s always been helpful answering my questions about bags. And yes, Carter Stanley is legend!

John - December 3, 2022

It’s nice to hear more about Mike’s story, he’s been really helpful to me and I’m sure many other TB customers. I’m glad that he’s stayed on and it really gives a sense of reassurance that the best of TB will continue into the future. Great job Mike and best of luck with all your new duties, school and new challenges!

Leave a Comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.