Barkeeper Bag: Lessons in Sourcing, Manufacturing and Supply Chain

ABOUT BARKEEPER CO.

We created the Barkeeper Bag. A one-of-a-kind craft bartender’s utility bag. We’ve tried carpenters bags, cheap bartenders’ kits, nothing really worked the way we needed it to, so we decided to make our own. We needed to create a bag that was durable, water-resistant, and able to be hand washed. It had to be functional, versatile, affordable, all while being fashionable. The bag is an investment, so making the bag with high quality materials was really important to us. We work in a craft industry and wanted to be just as specialized when making this bag. We chose waxed canvas, high-quality vegetable tanned leather, 420 denier and durable hardware. Unlike most things, these materials age beautifully with use and wear. Barkeeper Bag is 100% made in the US. We wanted to be able to see it being made in our backyard. That connection to the product was a priority for us and something we take pride in.

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DESIGNER MEETS MANUFACTURER

Barkeeper Co: We met our bag consultant and prototype master on Maker’s Row, John Canfield founder High Above Designs. Finding a manufacturer, dealing with a minimum order quantity, and cost of labor per bag, I believe are the three most challenging things entrepreneurs will run into at that beginning of a project as a startup. Not knowing exactly how quickly your project will catch on, is also a challenge you have to be willing to accept at the beginning of your process.  My advice, is to never give up. We knew approximately how much our bag should cost to make by talking to other professionals in the industry, so we didn’t settle for the high numbers that were being thrown at us, I mean, we didn’t even have a manufacturer locked down until the Thursday before our Kickstarter started. Scary, huh?

High Above Design: For Barkeeper and Co. we examined the needs of a working bartender with the aesthetics a professional in the field demands. This piece is simple but highly functional, every stitch is highly considered. Competition in domestic manufacturing is fierce. Some of the best factories do not advertise, and many of those have no internet presence at all. Discovering a new sewing facility can be a revelation. Negotiating a price per piece is exactly that. A negotiation. Unfortunately, many new startups don’t typically have a 10,000 unit order they can flex to the factory they are attempting to work with, so they are often given the highest prices and slowest service. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say. Get to know your manufacturer, this is a RELATIONSHIP, not a basic business transaction. Watch Mad Men for the way they treat clients (some of the time), and get into the spirit of the thing, it might take you a long way.

LESSONS WE’VE LEARNED FROM OUR SUPPLIERS

Barkeeper Co:  If you think you are going to have a one stop shop for everything, you are wrong. Be prepared to source everything on your own, and from multiple sources. With that being said, during prototyping, be sure to try all of the materials that you think you may use, to see what you like and do not like. Many supplies are happy to send you samples. If you don’t try you won’t know and its only a prototype.

Last but not least, don’t go to any manufacturer without your exact prototype, and patterns you want to go into production with. You may have to make a bunch of prototypes of the same bag with different materials. Yes, this can get expensive, but until it is tested, and you are 110% happy, this is what manufacturers want to see, because they don’t like changes.

High Above Design: Treat suppliers like you will be working with them for the rest of your life. Plenty, if not all of the manufacturers/suppliers in the States have lost business to people who scaled to the point where they “needed” to go overseas for production. This has a HUGE impact of the facilities you help to create. Consider the jobs you are making with your product. Consider the lives you are impacting. Don’t forget that this is a symbiotic relationship, and your suppliers won’t either.

EXECUTING OUR PRODUCT VISION

Barkeeper Co:  Maker’s Row is a great platform for people like us who weren’t experts of the industry, and didn’t fully know what to expect. We were very fortunate in finding John from High Above Design and Development on Maker’s Row. He has made the process of getting our bag production ready much easier than we expected.

High Above Design: Maker’s Row has connected me to people looking to fulfill their dreams, and create a new and/or better life for themselves. I mostly work with self-employed people, or folks who are dipping their toes into that water for the first time. I see people who are not ready for the intense experience that bringing a brand to life is, and then I see some who are. I’ve always subscribed to the “if you’re going to get wet, you might as well go swimming” philosophy; meaning: Take the leap, get scared, plan for success, embrace failure, get scared again, don’t look back. This is your life, and every hour you spend making money for someone else is an hour someone else is making money off your talents.

OUR SUPPLY CHAIN

Our supply chain is all over, as stated above. As you start to source materials and items, start making a resource list of your contacts. You never know who you will find that will meet your needs along that way.

SOURCING & CHANGES TO OUR ORIGINAL DESIGN

Barkeeper Co: Initially as you start to source your textiles, you find out the price of things, and begin to understand how much it will cost to build your product. We started out wanting to make an all leather Barkeeper Bag, but after our sourcing efforts, have made a waxed canvas and leather with 420 denier interior to cut down on costs, but still make a very quality bag. We were told during the process from one supplier, “Never put a price on your item until you are done creating it. If it is a one of a kind idea, and no one has done what you are doing before, it does not matter the price is.” – Fred Gold (Traditional Textiles)

High Above Design: Lots of changes are made to a product as the idea comes to life. This can have implications all over the board. The most common one you see is the seeking out of materials that help control product prices. This is why many of the products you see at a department store are complete garbage. I’m proud to say that with Barkeeper Bag, we improved the overall quality in this department by choosing higher quality, U.S. milled canvas over a cheaper alternative. Other changes will be the small tweaks that a product needs in order to be fully considered. Does it balance well? How does it feel in your hands when full? Do the pockets need reshaping or resizing?

THE MOST EXCITING PART OF BEING A MAKER

Barkeeper Co: Being able bring Barkeeper Bag to fruition in such as short period of time.  We have truly been blessed by meeting  those who have gone before us to give insight into our project and the use of a tool like MR.  Being able to keep things in the USA was very important to us!

High Above Design: Working toward creating products in the United States is something I am proud of, and hope to make my life’s work.

TIPS FOR ENTREPRENEURS

As an entrepreneur, we are always learning. If you don’t ask you don’t get. Reach out to other brands, suppliers, manufacturers, etc., to get your questions answered. Most individuals are willing to help you or suggest where to go.


Start simply. I know your jetpack idea will take off, but even designing, and making a basic tote bag has a level of complexity that can blow your mind.

Have a story of your own? We would love to hear more. Let us know in the comments, or email us your story at info@makersrow.com!

  • Alfonso Arámburo

    Product validation is one of the prototyping stages that should no be skipped. This is why a prototype must be iterated as many times as neccesary until having a great final product.
    You can check out this process with Brecher Prototyping at their website:
    http://www.brechermfg.com

  • Holly Sanders

    great insight!