June 7, 2023

Restock vs. Pre-Order: How We Think Through Our Order Strategies

Restock vs. Pre-Order: How We Think Through Our Order Strategies

We've received one question more than any other during the Side Hustle debut and restock process: "Why didn't you offer the Side Hustle as a pre-order?"

It's a valid question, and we want to address it.

The demand for the Side Hustle has been incredible. We've sold out of three batches within hours of each launch, despite increasing the batch size each time. In fact, our last batch was the largest in our company's history. We see a massive bump of sign-ups for “Back in Stock” alerts after each sell-out, so clearly our restocks have not been enough to meet demand. Naturally, you guys are wondering why we didn’t just start with a pre-order so we can allow everyone to purchase exactly what they want. 


We hear you, and further down in this blog we'll also list why we appreciate pre-orders as well. But first, we will start with why we chose #TeamRestock for the Side Hustle:


  1. Shorter Delivery Timeline: The Side Hustle is a less complex bag compared to some of the bigger bags in our collections (looking at you: Synik, Aeronaut, Techonaut, Tri-Star, etc.). We know that if we keep it at the top of the priority list for our Production crew, then the whole process of completing a large batch can take as little as two weeks. In fact, we debuted the Side Hustle on April 28th and have since restocked on May 11th and May 24th, so we’ve successfully met our 2-week timeline twice now! In a scenario where we instead choose to launch via pre-order, the timeline would be much longer than two weeks.
    • Here’s a rough breakdown of what we expect a Side Hustle pre-order timeline to look like: launch the pre-order window for 1-2 weeks to let everyone put in their orders, allocate 2-3 weeks minimum for priority production = 1 full month at the minimum to completion.
    • And if you missed the first pre-order, due to the setup of our systems, we won’t be able to start the second pre-order until the first pre-order is fully closed (i.e. every bag from the first pre-order is shipped out), so that means you’re likely going to have to wait a minimum of 2+ months for the earliest chance at getting a bag.
  2. We anticipated the Side Hustle would be popular (but not this popular) so wanted it to be a stock product immediately: Historically, we’ve used pre-orders to test the market (usually new designs and occasionally retired designs that folks ask to bring back) before committing to making it to stock or retiring it back into the vault. Given the ever growing popularity of our Side Kick and Side Effect and the fact that you guys have been asking us for a very long time now for another variation of a Side-bag with more capacity, we felt fairly confident that the Side Hustle would be popular right out the door and didn’t need to go through the pre-order testing phase. We’re humbled that the demand has surpassed what we originally expected, hence we’ve increased the batch quantity each restock and will plan to continue to make batch sizes above our normal quantities until you all are able to get your Side Hustle!
  3. Consistent Production Flow: Maintaining a balanced stock of finished bags has been a challenge for us since we transitioned out of making face masks in 2021. While pre-orders helped satisfy customer demand for specific bags, they caused spikes in production that made it difficult to plan a consistent flow. This resulted in long periods of certain collections being completely out of stock. This past year, we’ve worked hard to keep everything that is core to our collections stocked by maintaining a steady flow in Production, even during new bag debuts.

Restocking has its obvious shortcomings. Here’s a list that comes to mind:

  1. Risk of selling out quickly: Rapid sell outs result in a poor customer experience. With a pre-order, we can determine a set window for customers to put in their order, so there is a lower risk* of selling out in a few minutes or hours.
  2. Launch Times: We know setting an exact date and time for a launch of a bag can be a stressful shopping experience for some folks. Whether it’s work, school, family obligations, sometimes you are just not available at 10am or 2pm on a weekday to do online shopping. We also like that pre-orders remove this layer of added stress.
  3. Fewer Colorway Options: We risk stocking colorways that end up being unpopular with our customers. Whereas, with a pre-order, we can generally offer a broader assortment of colorway options** and let you guys tell us what resonates with you.
  4. Uncertainty in Planning and Resource Allocation: Restocks inevitably include a lot of guesswork for our team when it comes to planning. It’s much easier to allocate resources when we know exactly how many bags have been pre-ordered.

*We’ve seen some confusion from customers who believe that with pre-orders, the order limit does not exist. This is not true, just like restocks, the limit does exist. In the past, we have closed pre-orders early due to selling out the maximum amount we can make before our expected delivery time. We are limited by the materials we have on hand, whether it’s the fabric color or type, a custom part with long lead times to procure, or something else. Additionally, we choose to make every bag in our own factory in Seattle. Our Production crew of very talented seamstresses, seamsters, joiners, and floor staff can only make so many bags during any given window of time.

**Some customers have wondered why we don’t offer the option to fully customize the colorways according to their preference during a pre-order. With our current available supply of exterior and interior fabrics, we’ve calculated that there are over 160(!!) unique colorway combinations that we can put together. It’s simply not realistic for a business our size to be able to offer everything all at once while managing reasonable timelines for delivery. You can always drop us a comment on Instagram or emailus@tombihn.com if we haven’t yet made your dream colorway. We cycle through different colorways regularly and always take customer feedback into consideration. It’s worth noting that at the time of writing this blog, the Side Hustle has already been offered in 17 colorways!

As always, thank you all for the support! We appreciate your feedback and are always striving to improve to serve you better. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to drop a comment below or shoot us an email. - The TB team


Mattias - June 8, 2023

For someone who lives overseas, the inability to preorder or at least keep a reservation on the things in my cart makes it difficult to place a full order. Shipping is expensive and on top of that I have to pay a sizable fee ($10) to the post office for each package to administer customs fees, so I really don’t want to have to place more than one order to get all my stuff. I’m currently waiting to buy a Techonaut with a bunch of accessories to go along with it, but when one thing is restocked another thing has run out, so I’m perpetually waiting to be able to place the order.

I can’t really say that this article helped me understand why you can’t just manufacture things on demand, at whatever rate you are able to without working overtime. This is a bag I intend to keep for decades so I don’t mind waiting a while to get it precisely like I want it. I order my shirts and pants from a place that sows everything according to my measurements on-demand and it works very well.

I realize not everyone has my patience but there should at least be the option of “order all of these things, in stock or not, and ship as soon as all of the items are in the box” with the caveat that it might take a while. I’d probably have to wait less than I have to now anyway, because right now I’m not certain whether I will ever be able to place a complete order.

Lani Teshima - June 7, 2023

Why don’t you just offer both methods? Those who can jump at the chance are rewarded with getting one quickly. Others can wait. I’ve purchased preorders that took 2 months to get. If it’s something we want, we can wait.

Shep Bostin - June 7, 2023

The glimpse into the complexities of restocks and pre-orders is very much appreciated. While it has been frustrating not to have scored a Side Hustle yet (maybe tomorrow is my lucky day?), it is helpful to recall that this is a small, US-based business that makes these products “by hand” (or at least with hands on sewing machines). It is important to share this info so that those who think the rapid sell-outs are deliberately designed to create FOMO may be relieved of those suspicions! That said, it would be great to find a way to address the needs of those who cannot shop online during the work day, or who are willing to pre-order to get their preferred colorway. At the moment, there are many of us who simply may be prevented from owning a Side Hustle until demand declines, or until some of them show up for resale on the TB fan forums online.

Stina - June 7, 2023

My only suggestion would be a limit of 1-2 bags per household. I’ve heard of people buying three plus bags so they can decide which colour they like best.
TOM BIHN replied:
Hi Stina! We appreciate your concern here. From the order data we see, we find that most folks only order 1 bag each and occasionally 2, so we haven’t felt the need to implement an order limit. That being said, when we see any “suspicious” large orders, we certainly reserve the right to cancel the order to make sure everyone has a fair chance of getting a bag.

Traci - June 7, 2023

I keep missing the restocks because I don’t have access to smartphone and internet shopping is blocked at work. Everything is usually gone when I get home. That’s the main reason I prefer pre-orders.

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.