Sidgl has a simple support policy. We will repair or replace any bag if a structural failure occurs. I kind of wanted to dig into that statement a little bit because I think the reasoning behind this policy is important.
From 2013 to 2016 I worked for Adobe Typekit. I had worked with Typographic and layout tools for the bulk of my career in software development, and joining Typekit was kind of a professional crowning achievement for me. At the time I joined, Adobe Type was also becoming a part of Typekit, so I was surrounded by people I found really inspiring.
One person, Ben Welch, was inspiring less for his love of type than for the kind of enthusiasm he brought to the team. Ben was the first head of Customer Support, and helped figure out the system the team still uses.
Typekit customer support was exceptional for a number of reasons — first in that it took no phone calls — everything was through email. Second — every customer who contacted support got attention — there was no 1st tier, second tier nonsense. Everyone’s issues were and are important. Third — everyone who worked for Typekit took a turn answering customer support issues. This not only spread the wealth of time, but the wealth of experience. While I was on the team, I answered a lot of emails about type and InDesign, because I knew InDesign better than anyone else on the team. Ben’s mantra was simple: “We will help anyone — within reason.” Within Reason meaning — if someone emailed Typekit support about unicorns invading their Squarespace page, we might offer condolences, but we would politely tell that person that we were sorry, but we could not, at this time, rid their website of unicorns.
Aside from the above, I learned another important lesson from Ben and Typekit. When a user invests in your product, they are supporting you — they become your patron — and as such, everyone who contacts you with a problem should be taken seriously. Think about that for a second — if you spend your money on a product, the first expectation should be “this product will perform as expected.” The second expectation should be — “If this product does not perform as expected, the company will listen to my problem and fix it, if they can.” I think that is awesome.
Software-as-a-service companies are really making great inroads into this mindset. Typekit, and the aforementioned Squarespace pride themselves on customer support. I can name a dozen other software companies that have the same responsive nature.
But — what about durable goods?
Nordstrom has always had a robust return policy (so much so, it was problematic for the company in the early nineties when I worked for them. Shoplifters would steal merchandise and then return it for cash or credit.
Patagonia has always had an aggressive repair and Quality Control program Offering, when they can, free and subsidized repairs on their products in order to extend their life and to reduce the accompanying waste associated with trashing a used product. Repair and replace are not seen as ‘profit centers’ for the company, rather, they are an extension of their corporate philosophy.
These are all experiences that go into my own return policy.
When someone buys a Sidgl product, I want them to know that it is fully supported by our integrity as a company. That we will back up our claims of product longevity by fixing the bejeezus out of anything. And if we can’t fix it, we will replace it.
We don’t get a lot of returns, so it did take a while to actually put this philosophy into practice. In December, We had a bag returned for a dropped stitch. Totally our fault for missing. I repaired it and through analyzing the failure, changed our production to avoid this problem in the future.
Earlier this year, I was contacted by Nate, an early adopter of Sidgl.
Nate loved his bag, and had carried it everywhere. He carried it to work and to the atelier where he was studying — hauling his art supplies to class. He carried it while traveling everywhere. This bag had seen a lot of miles.
When he contacted me, he worriedly asked if the bag could be repaired. Attached to the message was a picture of the failure.
A worn and frayed seam — kind of like the knees in a pair of jeans. I asked him to send me the bag so I could analyze the problem and decide the course of action.
My diagnosis was this: While the failure was due to his enthusiastic use of the bag, it was also due to our patterning — we had effectively built this wear point into the bag and it was destined to blow out from the kind of miles Nate was putting on the bag.
We had fixed this problem in later iterations of the bag, so I knew how to address the issue. I also knew that the repair would not “fix” the issue — it was a fundamental weakness owing to both our patterning and to how Nate used the bag. Because of this, we wholly replaced the bag — The current design and fabrication was simply better and I wanted to pass that experience on to him. That seemed like the right choice.
When I make these decisions, I always think about the True Cost of Goods — how much something really costs. I always use a t-shirt as an example. If you buy a t-shirt for 10 dollars and it lasts 10 washes — how many times does that t-shirt need to be re-purchased? Versus a t-shirt that you buy that lasts for 100 washes but costs 5 times as much? Which is the better purchase?
When I design a bag, I choose the most durable materials I can find — waxed canvas, and aniline leather. Metal hardware instead of plastic and heavy thread that is UV resistant. The material cost alone is more than many commuter bags on the market.
I design for longevity — rather than focusing on current fashion trends, I focus on classic design — what are the design elements that will allow this product to look good in 10 years? And — I sew for longevity. I want the product to last.
If the product doesn’t last to my expectations, I want to know and I want to fix it — every failure is an opportunity to learn and to refine. If I can make the product better, I will — and I will pass that experience on to my customers, either as a new product, or in Nate’s case, as a replacement.
The true cost of goods for me is this: I want my customers to only ever need to buy once from me. As a consumer myself, I would want to purchase something that is durable and that works with my lifestyle, and that becomes well-seasoned rather than falls apart.
Finally. Another lesson I learned from my days in software development. While it is less expensive to support a mature product in a country like India — moving development to India or China in order to keep down costs on continued development — that move removes the product geographically from the customer in some critical ways. Product development is now happening in a country that does not use the product the same way the majority of its users do. This makes it much harder to user-test new features. Support is also removed by 24 hours. If, for instance, a critical issue is found in a new release in the US, it will have to wait until the country developing the product is “awake.”
From a financial and dev perspective I can understand this. From a consumer perspective this has always bothered me.
When I started my company, I wanted to be accessible to my customers. And I wanted my suppliers to be accessible to me. I like going to my leather supplier and choosing the hides that I think are right for the job. I like being able to drive down the road and buy a new part for my sewing machine — and to get anecdotal data from my supplier on other users who are having the same problem with the same parts. These links are important to building quality, stability and longevity into a product.
- Improvements to the Art Bag - September 19, 2017
- Fit Matters: Design As An Extension of The Self - June 30, 2017
- A Tale of Two Bags - June 25, 2017
- Designing for the MVP – Backpack Edition - March 19, 2017
- The Consumers Role in a Sustainable Marketplace - February 28, 2017
- When an Opportunity Is Masked As a Problem - February 21, 2017
- The Big Book of Sustainable (What Does Sustainable Mean) - February 11, 2017
- Painting In The Wild With My Plein Air Portable Art Studio (30 Days In Italy) - August 30, 2016
- Towards a More Sustainable Company. - June 13, 2016
- The Economy of Craftsmanship. - April 29, 2016