San Francisco, California
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Travel and messenger bags
Two guys bicycled from Boston to the Mission District in San Francisco. One of them, Rob Honeycutt, stayed and started bike messaging and in the process, made his own messenger bag. "He saved his money, bought a sewing machine, and started making more messenger bags from his garage," says RJ Atengco, custom operations manager at Timbuk2. "He started the company in 1989 and today it is the second-largest manufacturer in San Francisco."
Atengco says the company is rooted in the city's urban lifestyle and is the basis of its creativity. It also led to its pioneering use of digital customization. "There's always a need for custom aesthetics," says Atengco. "We allow customers to personalize their bags with different colors and fabrics. Other companies have mimicked this model and have created a niche market from it."
Timbuk2 is best known for its messenger bags, but the company has expanded into creating backpacks, travel bags, and duffel bags over the years. "People will always need bags," says Atengco. "There will always be a need for this type of product and we believe in our brand."
While maintaining high quality, the company has implemented efficient processes. "Lean manufacturing is very important to the company," says Atengco. "The leaner you can operate, the more you reduce the cost of making the bag. We try to operate as lean as possible and utilize techniques developed by Toyota."
Atengco says this helps Timbuk2 balance creativity and profitability. "We try to make a great quality product, keep the costs as reasonable as possible, and be a profitable company at the same time," he explains.
This also meant taking a hard look at implementing cutting machines and other machinery to increase output, but Atengco believes there are good and bad points to going that route. "Our manufacturing is definitely a hands-on, craftsmanship style of production," he says. "Laser cutting versus cutting fabric by hand can be a double-edged sword. The machine can boost productivity, but if it breaks down, production stops. If a worker is sick and doesn't show up, those hands can be replaced."
He adds, "Another advantage of a hands-on approach is that our design team is in-house. With the factory right there in front of them, the tools and people are readily available to try something new and make changes immediately."
Fortunately for Timbuk2, the company doesn't have a problem finding workers who want to be a part of the company. "We have a very low turnover ratio," says Atengco. "Most of our workers have been here more than 10 years, some 15 plus, and a couple have been here since the company started."
Growth led the company to manufacture in Indonesia and Vietnam. "It's all part of the methods necessary for global competition," says Atengco. "It costs more to produce more items, and, while we'll never leave San Francisco, we can't compete in the global market without this option."
Challenges: "Our biggest challenge is the cost of being here in San Francisco," says Atengco. "Furthermore, the textile industry, in general, is not very alluring. Sewing and cutting is very old school. I believe some of the craftsmanship is going to be a lost art, as it is not very appealing to younger generations."
Opportunities: "We have a great opportunity for continued expansion," says Atengco. "Currently, we run one shift here in San Francisco and have room for expansion to add more shifts if necessary."
Needs: "Spending more time figuring out how to operate even more efficiently," says Atengco. "It's important for me to investigate what new technologies we can implement and how to marry those processes and tools for our use."