The Chainlink

Why doesn't Chicago have a nationally distributed messenger bag company?

If one sign of a great cycling city is a booming bicycle-related economy, why hasn't
Chicago's terrific bike scene led to an abundance of successful, locally-owned bike accessory businesses? Although Chicago WIG and Steadfast Bags do great work, these are mom-and-pop operations that don't distribute their products nationally. If they're interested in doing so, what would it take for them to hit the big time?

I'll be contacting WIG and Steadfast soon for their perspectives, but for starters I called Tianna Meilinger of New York's Vaya Bags to the story of how she turned her one-woman business into a global brand: http://gridchicago.com

Keep moving forward,

John Greenfield

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Although Chrome Bags (not only bags!) is not locally owned, it is nationally distributed and has been attracted by the "terrific bike scene" of Chicago and has opened a store on Milwaukee Ave last summer. But, of course, it needs some truly local competition! :)

Maybe we're just not that into messenger bags, compared with other cities? I see lots of panniers and backpacks, and Po Campo purses and tote bags, and baskets and milk crates and plastic shopping sacks, but not so many messenger bags, really.

+1

The "terrific bike scene" is diverse, not just bunch of posers who slavishly follow every fad regardless of its utility.


Jennifer said:

Maybe we're just not that into messenger bags, compared with other cities? I see lots of panniers and backpacks, and Po Campo purses and tote bags, and baskets and milk crates and plastic shopping sacks, but not so many messenger bags, really.

Thumbs up for poseurs, whatever gets them on the bike.

I've never heard of these guys. Very cool!

Bryce Walsh said:

I've been using a messenger bag from Defy Bags for better better part of a year now. Local company doing cool stuff with recycled materials. Haven't noticed any national distribution, but I would bet there is a leap for the smaller companies to increase production enough to supply nationally

I don't know if they have national distribution, but there's also Chicago Wig Bags.

This is an annoying problem.

I'd like to support local businesses, but the economy of scale thing is just too much for me. I have timbuk2 and baileyworks bags (both made in the USA, the timbuk2 is 5+ years old), but I got them both used. There's no way I'd pay full retail for either one. If that makes me a jagoff, so be it. I can't justify spending that kinda money on one bag, when I could for that price (in the case of the bailey) get two really nice bags, only diss is they aren't made in the USA. This, sadly, is the same trend that causes factory work to dry up in the US. It's simply too expensive to manufacture things here. I do a fair amount of camping, and I'd LOVE to buy a US made down sleeping bag, for example, but I'd be looking at paying $300-350 for something I could get for $125-150, as long as it's made in China. 10/20/30% more? OK. 100%+ more? Sorry dude.

The only way I could see it might make you a jagoff is if you could easily afford to toss around premium bucks on bike accessories, yet chose to scour the internet for the cheapest price.      

The Chrome store popped up in hipster/yuppie-ville because that's who can afford that stuff or, like Tony said, that's who will pay a premium to maintain the image that comes with the brand.  I'm not sure of the economic benefits a local, nationally distributed chain would have on Chicago, so I won't even try to attack that right now.  But if more bike accessory stores opening up in this area just turns out to mean I'll have to pay stupid amounts of money for things that are half as cheap (and almost always more functional) online, I'll have to pass.          

I believe you are looking for the word "yupster" (or yupsterville) :) Heard it on Check, Please! the other night.

Brendan said:

The only way I could see it might make you a jagoff is if you could easily afford to toss around premium bucks on bike accessories, yet chose to scour the internet for the cheapest price.      

The Chrome store popped up in hipster/yuppie-ville because that's who can afford that stuff or, like Tony said, that's who will pay a premium to maintain the image that comes with the brand.  I'm not sure of the economic benefits a local, nationally distributed chain would have on Chicago, so I won't even try to attack that right now.  But if more bike accessory stores opening up in this area just turns out to mean I'll have to pay stupid amounts of money for things that are half as cheap (and almost always more functional) online, I'll have to pass.          

The messenger bag industry has gotten incredibly crowded. The thing is, at this point there isn't too much that can set you apart from someone else aside from price and exterior design/graphics.

I've had a ton - Timbuk2, Chrome, Seagull...And aside from a few things, a bag is a bag. In my opinion Chrome has got a TON of market share due to their marketing and to whom they market. Actually, I feel lucky that we have one of three Chrome retail stores in the *entire country*. 

Anyways, I'm not sure what it's going to take for WIG or Defy to become a national player like Chrome or MW. Like I said, there are just too many to choose from.

Full disclosure: I own a Mission Workshop Vandal, which is the best cycling backpack ever invented ;)

Funny you should say that about Mission Workshop. I have not owned the number or variety of bags that you have, but I won a Mission Workshop messenger bag this fall and I also believe it to be the best bag ever invented. 

Jim S said:

The messenger bag industry has gotten incredibly crowded. The thing is, at this point there isn't too much that can set you apart from someone else aside from price and exterior design/graphics.

[snip]

Full disclosure: I own a Mission Workshop Vandal, which is the best cycling backpack ever invented ;)

Only $280?  

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