Bags big on multi-tasking

bags big on multi-tasking

Rock Neelly

Byline: Rock Neelly

This “Educational Focus” feature was almost incredibly short this month. See, Wearables Business asked Bill McIver, director of sales for Sidney, Ohio-based Holloway and 60-year veteran of the industry about the keys to success in the promotional bag market and he replied, “The feature most important to any bag is durability.”

Yep.

As the Fantastic Four’s “Thing” will say in theaters a million times this summer, “Nuff said.”

Glad we settled that… but if you’re still reading, then let’s take a look at what’s hot and what’s hotter in the bag market.

Jeff Lederer, vice president of sales and business development of Bridgeport, Conn.-based Primeline, manufacturer of the well-known Logotec line, is also a veteran.

Lederer, with “25 years in innovation” – his words – says, “Multi-functionality is hot: a bag is not just a bag. It is a part-time office, it is a fold-up blanket, it is a picnic basket, it has built-in spots for cell phones, radios, drinks, accessories, and towels.”

Maybe we should call James Bond.

And that’s not completely silly. Because today’s bag, if viewed from the perspective of a buyer even 10 years ago, would look like it came right out of the movies.

The bag industry has grown up. And as an adult, the bag industry is pretty cool – with lots of bells, whistles, and secret compartments. What passed for a briefcase 10 years ago wouldn’t cut it today. Technology has both enabled bags to have more features AND demanded those very features for laptops, MP3s, iPods and the like.

Today’s bags have to multi-task like the rest of us. Besides expecting a bag to be durable, when we get a new briefcase, tote, or backpack today, we have high expectations.

Our new bags must be ergonomic, protective, comfortable, lightweight, strong and they have to look good – on us. That’s right. Bags are also fashion.

So let’s start at the head of the list: ergonomics.

If you don’t know the expression, ergonomics, according to dictionary.com, is defined as design factors for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by minimizing operator fatigue and discomfort.

In other words, a product with ergonomic design maximizes work and keeps employees using the equipment healthy.

Healthy is good.

The Big Screen

Primeline’s Lederer says healthy bags are selling: “Bags that don’t stress the body are hot.”

Healthy bags? Yes. See, lots of people carry laptops in their briefcases. Laptop screens have become big. And heavy.

Screens of 14 inches or less might have been the standard even three years ago. Now 15 inches is the minimum advertised in the Sunday newspaper flyers and 17 inches is the most requested. Size does matter.

Lederer comments, “Bigger screens mean more weight… and to take the weight off the shoulders, Logotec has shifted it to roller bags like the LT-3292 for ease of use.”

Leeds, one of the industry’s overall top-five suppliers, has taken a different track with its licensed brands, Cutter & Buck and High Sierra.

Traci Tarquinio, merchandising manager for New Kensington, Pa.-based Leed’s, explains. “Leed’s new computer cases, introduced for Holiday 2005, are well thought-out and heavily researched. The Leeds bags are engineered to give superior laptop protection that expands for different size laptops.”

Most of the Cutter & Buck and High Sierra compu-bags, including backpacks, as well as Leed’s other products, offer quick access and some have the more desirable, side pocket for easy access needed for airline security regulations.

Lederer concurs, “Features that are important on a computer bag: No. 1 – protection!”

Leaving on a Jet Plane

And where do people go with these nifty new computer bags?

To the airport.

Then the TSA Security person tells them to take the laptops out of the bag.

“Oh yeah,” says Jared Allred, key account manager for promotional products at Ogio International in Bluffdale, Utah. “Ogio’s Metro backpack solves that problem. The bag has a padded laptop sleeve on the side of the bag – yes, I said the side – for easy access at security checkpoints.”

The Metro is indeed cool. The bag is fleece-lined, has a MP3/CD player pocket (with a headphone exit port), a large main compartment, an organization pocket area, and waterproof zippers.

Allred loves this bag. “This bag is taking the place of the everyday boring messenger bag.”

Primeline’s Logotec LT-3216, says Lederer, fills the bill for the traveler on the go. “Easy to open is important for airports – computers have to be removed quickly for inspection. A flap-over briefcase is perfect. Our LT-3216 allows quick release and snug protection. Several of Prime’s Logotec Bag collection briefcases have outside pockets for laptops – with padded liners.”

In this category, Leed’s offers the Cutter & Buck Classic Compu-Brief and also the well-known High Sierra Compu-Brief, among others. All the Leed’s products offer quick access storage, deluxe organizers, superior laptop protection, and durability.

This One’s a Cinch

The buzzwords so far are easy to remember: durable, ergonomic, protective, and good-looking. What’s next?

Holloway’s McIver offers, “Nylon drawstring cinch sacks are hot right now.”

Holloway added the Day-Pak Cinch Sack this year. It was added to give customers a competitively priced bag, which can be personalized with their logo in their corporate colors. The bag is very durable and meets the high standards of all of Holloway’s bags.

The concept is the ultimate in simplicity. The cinch sack is literally a seamed bag with a drawstring closure. Sizes vary, but in an age of increasing price points and more and more features, this little number is racking up some sizable sales figures.

The cinch sack is the price point item in this category to carry in your bag of tricks this summer (pun intended).

Minneapolis-based PremiumWear has also added a cinch sack.

Doree Wendling, director of marketing for the firm, says, “This year the Page & Tuttle Cinch Top Tote was also one of our best sellers. It is a sporty look to the everyday tote bag – cute and stylish, yet affordable. The tote is made from high quality materials, offers two bellows side pockets, a large exterior pocket and comes in three colors.”

At The Bag Factory, a supplier out of Abbeville, S.C., totes for conventions, the beach, or other uses remain a hot item.

“Because we specialize in great quality and lower-priced industry staples, the traditional beach totes, coolers and slings are our best sellers,” says Director of Marketing Candy W. Champoux. “Accompanied with beach and golf towels from our towel line, Professional Towel Mills, these items create a complete package for our distributors.”

Get Off of My Back!

Backpacks and duffel bags are available now in so many varieties that it is difficult to reach any consensus on where the market is going. Leather is selling well (see related story on page 14), and many of the more expensive, larger backpacks with laptop storage have grown wheels and now are perhaps in the roller bag, or overnighter category.

Mesh is popular in backpacks now as well as in duffels. PremiumWear has even added mesh in a tote. Carrying a mesh bag in your selection to see clients is a good idea this year.

For duffels, Ogio’s Allred gives good advice. “Duffel bags and gym bags will always be a need. I say this because, as a society, we always need to take stuff with us… to be prepared, I guess. Plus, going to the gym wouldn’t be the same without a bag.

“My stance on it is if you are going to take it with you, at least have a nice looking, multi-function bag to take it in. Ogio is always pushing the proverbial envelope to have the hottest looking bag with the most function you can have and then some. It’s the bag of choice.”

The Bag Factory’s Champoux tells distributors to stay tuned when it comes to duffles. “We are working on an exciting new line in 2006 to replace the duffle, as it is known today,” Champoux says.

And finally, in backpacks the move is away from those monstrous packs.

“The trend,” says Holloway’s McIver, “is moving away from bigger is better toward a bag that utilizes the space better.”

Amen to that. We’ve all seen those kids tipped precariously forward, balancing the foot-thick bag of books on their back (that they then don’t read and carry back to school with them, but that’s another story).

Holloway’s new style, the Explorer Backpack, incorporates mesh in the water bottle pocket but is made of durable oxford canvas.

Leed’s has entered the market with a new lightweight line of waxed cotton, ripstop and dobby nylons. Tarquinio explains, “The ergonomics of the duffel and the backpack are important, but there is still a need for large duffels. The large duffels have many more features that help with size, weight, and carry ease, including wheels and handles.”

Cincinnati-based writer and promotional apparel industry veteran Rock Neelly is a contributing editor to Wearables Business.

Leather has gone Vegas!

By Rock Neelly

Check out the cover of this magazine and you’ll see a model carrying a flashy, pastel-colored leather bag. Hot look, right? That’s the new look of leather. Retail leather sales, with the promotional market in tow, have gone Vegas, baby. Colors like hot pink, sky blue, and neon green are all the rage in handbags, totes, briefcases and even overnighters. New colors for styles like Clava’s Nantucket Backpack are creating quite a stir in the marketplace.

Kirsten Logan, sales and marketing director for New Jersey-based Clava, says the company decided to go for fun when they designed their 2005 line. All indications are they hit a home run with their new product.

“What we did was take some of our best selling styles like our leather duffel, our cabin bag, and our flight bag and add a new color array. We also added a racing stripe throughout our line and that also has been incredibly well received.”

Indeed, the racing stripe collection is too cool for the track. The stripes are pictured in the catalog in the more traditional black/white/red variety, but numerous bags are offered in a gamut of hues – blues, aquas, purples, greens and more.

The Clava Leather Collection is for the client that wants to be seen. And what promotional item isn’t designed to be seen?

Clava even offers a retro-looking racing bowler. This leather bag inspired by 1950s bowling bags has a clamshell shape and opening for full access. The racing stripe is only on the front, but the bag has a great look all over. From a front slash pocket to being fully lined with a zip pocket, this retro bag is one to show clients to get the “Wow” factor going in presentations.

But Clava isn’t all flash. Logan explains, “We have two distinct sets of best sellers right now. The first are our line of best sellers that have been selling steadily for years. The demand for these products is still strong. The second set consists of our new products – and, no surprise, they are mostly bright colors. People have been really receptive and want to show them because they are different from the norm and are new and fun.”

Another leather bag supplier, Sandbar Corporation, has added black to the firm’s well-received Montana Collection in 2005. Last year, the Montana Collection put Sandbar in the midst of the competition in upscale bag categories, but the luscious leather bag line was only available in brown. Sandbar heard from their clients – and the Delray Beach, Fla.-based supplier listened.

Black is the new black, you know. Today, black is outselling brown in the line.

If you haven’t seen the Montana Collection from Sandbar, then it’s time to smell the leather. This line is some top-notch stuff.

Sandbar Corporation President Bill Monroy notes, “Besides offering a great value for our products, we take pride in making sure our orders are shipped on time. In the time we’ve been in business, we have yet to miss a deadline for an in-hands date. This record, in our opinion, is of tremendous importance because what good is the product if it doesn’t get to the end user at the time they need it?”

For men, the No. 1 seller is the MT-4040 briefcase, a heavily compartmented leather case with plenty of storage for personal items and lots of document management divisions again made from pebble-grained leather trimmed with a smooth vegetable tanned leather.

But sales to women make the MT-1050 the hands-down, No. 1 best seller for Sandbar.

Monroy explains the appeal: “Again, pockets galore make the MT-1050 bag a must have for business women. Key features include pocket for an umbrella, a newspaper, zippered and open pockets, and of course, that mixture of leathers that can dress you up while still giving you that corporate casual look.”

Lightweight carry bags hottest trend in golf bag market

Light is right when it comes to golf bags this year. While there are those who always ride in golf carts and those who are privileged enough to have caddies, the tide is rising for walking a golf course again.

And for your golf-oriented customers, top-of-the-line stand/carry bags are available right here in the promotional products market.

“The golf bag market is being driven by lightweight functional carry bags,” says Scotland Thede, corporate sales director for Nike Golf. “We have definitely seen the market for carry bags pick up over the last couple of years. With the trend toward walking increasing while playing golf, the need for lightweight golf bags has also increased,” Thede concludes.

And what’s new for Nike? The Custom Air Slingshot Carry Bag. The 4.5-pound bag’s design includes several desirable features. It has exclusive Nike Air technology in the Izzo dual strap system to disperse weight and add comfort. Nike has also incorporated a great club management system and a solid and stable stand system. But the most important feature in this market is how the bag can be decorated. Many bags only offer decoration potential on the ball storage bag. The Slingshot can be easily decorated on the apparel pocket, enabling end users two great locations for more promotional visibility.

“Nike, Inc. is a tremendous resource for all of our product teams. Nike Golf puts our company research to good use. For our current bag offering, we went one step further and looked ‘outside the box’ for our latest design inspiration,” Thede says.

Two new Nike Golf designs were inspired by the tent industry. “In fact, the handgrip on the Xtreme Lite (4.2 lbs.) bag is a tubular bar that is used in tents and it forms the lightweight structure along with adding strength to the bag,” Thede says.

Other hot styles this year from Nike Golf are the Xtreme Sport – the slightly heavier (5 lbs.) cousin of the Xtreme Lite – and the Pro Combo Cart Bag with roomy pockets to allow easy access to your gear.

Bluffdale, Utah-based Ogio International has in recent years been a leading innovator in golf bag design, and currently has seven different stand/carry models in its golf bag line. Among them is Edge style 512506, which is not among the lightest carry bags at 6.95 pounds, but is loaded with interesting features.

Jared Allred, Ogio’s key account manager for promotional products, concurs that carry bags are the “in” thing.

“Each year, our Ogio designers upgrade each and every bag. This year I can’t stop drooling over the new Edge golf bag. It is the dream of every golfer… a zipper-less ball pocket, a new TORQ strap – this is a strap that locks the bag on the cart, not using the cheesy strap on the cart. It is a must-have.”

Allred is an enthusiastic salesman. “Golf bags are like cars… you might be a horrible driver, but you always look good in a Ferrari. The Ogio golf bags may not make you a better putter, but you will look a lot better (carrying it).” – Rock Neelly

Going green with EcoBags

By Rock Neelly

As I write this, according to the plastic bag counter at the website, www.reusablebags.com, 218,367,054,913 plastic bags have been dispensed to consumers so far this year.

Are you sick of all those plastic bags cluttering up your closet, lining the ditches along your way to work, stuck in trees, polluting the lakes where you live?

Sharon Rowe, President of EcoBags, got sick of plastic bags more than 15 years ago. She had traveled to Europe and seen how the citizens of those countries carry a bag to the market, returning home with produce and groceries and save the reusable bag for the next trip.

“1989 was not the perfect time for me to start a company – I had just had a child – but I did and the first thing we did was set up a stand for an Earth Day celebration. We had a thousand bags to sell that day and they sold in about two hours. We knew then we had something.”

Then the next week, the local health food grocer ordered 3,000 of the ecologically minded bags and EcoBags was off and running. Fifteen years later, Rowe is still at it.

“We were so ahead of the curve back then that we didn’t add canvas bags at first because we were sure they were readily available, but strangely they weren’t. We have them now, that’s for sure,” says Rowe.

The firm offers a wide variety of environmentally friendly product, including organic cotton totes and even T-shirts in certified organic cotton. The trend now is for both certified organic cotton and recycled cotton fiber goods. EcoBags now even offers lunch bags in the natural, certified organic fabrics.

Did you know the average American uses almost 400 plastic bags each year? Four out of every five bags used is now plastic, and most are discarded, taking decades to break down in the environment. But reduced usage can occur. Ireland began a 20-cent bag tax recently, and consumption dropped 95 percent. In parts of Germany, Sweden, South Africa, Australia, and Bangladesh, the bags are banned. Scotland is poised for a bag tax, as is Hong Kong. A debate is occurring throughout Britain as the rest of the United Kingdom hails the Irish bag tax as a huge success. And after all, on the continent, in France and elsewhere, Europeans have used mesh bags to go to market for a generation.

And the movement is coming to the States. Thirty communities in Alaska have now banned plastic deposable bags, and San Francisco has proposed a 17-cent bag tax to cut use.

Ecobags is poised for huge growth. Will you be ready when your clients ask for an environmentally sound choice the next time they want bags?

Suppliers mentioned in this feature:

The Bag Factory: 800-547-8783; www.thebagfactory.com

Clava: 888-452-5282; www.clava.com

EcoBags: 800-720-2247; www.ecobags.com

Holloway: 800-331-5156; www.hollowayusa.com

Leed’s: 800-860-1555; www.leedsworld.com

Nike Golf: www.nikecorporatesales.com

Ogio International: 800-922-1944; www.ogio.com

PremiumWear: 800-347-6098; www.premiumwear.com

Primeline/Logotec: 800-873-7746; www.primeworld.com

Sandbar Corp.: 866-885-1211; www.sandbarcorp.com

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