CEO Sketches: A Belief in Craftsmanship
When I was in middle school, I was allowed full access to the power tools in my parent’s basement, which in hindsight is a bit absurd. Nevertheless, I was teaching myself to work a table saw, circular saw, and nail gun for fun. My friends joined in, and we were soon churning out our own concepts of swords and shields for mock battles in the woods behind our house. In high school, I made my own home gym using weights and pulleys that I attached to pipes and wood framing (this was before YouTube existed so I was really winging it). Now many years later, my most recent project was a chandelier I made from scratch using a rusty old metal thing we found at a garage sale.
As a lifelong DIY-er and someone who appreciates hand-made things, it was easy to fall in love with ROAM. Seeing the luggage put together piece by piece, one at a time in the Georgia factory is pretty incredible (if you haven’t seen it, there’s a neat video showing the factory on this page). The thing about the internet is that it’s pretty easy for anybody to launch a website, and find a supplier from somewhere overseas to make the products they want to sell. There are now so many online brands that simply order their products and have never really built anything. It’s not that all these are bad (well, not all of them), it’s that in our drive for efficient commerce a lot of our products have lost their distinct quality and character.
My fellow consumers also may have noticed that most things you buy simply don’t last as long as they used to. Companies have found that they can make bigger profits by using cheaper components and simply replacing the whole thing if it breaks. My mother still has kitchen utensils like can openers that have survived since the 50s, but anything we bought in the last 10 years has had to be replaced already.
At one time, much of the luggage purchased by American consumers was made right here. In fact, ROAM was founded by Charlie Clifford, Tumi’s co-founder and longtime CEO and Larry Lein, former Executive VP at Tumi. After Tumi was sold to a private equity firm and moved their production to China in the early 2000s, there was no longer any major luggage production state-side. That all changed when ROAM came on the scene, and setup shop in the same town where Tumi's production once reigned: Vidalia, Georgia. Today, there is a resurgence of interest in Made in the USA / American-made products as more people vote with their dollars to support domestic production.
For me, this isn’t about over-the-top patriotism and anti-globalism. We still source some parts from places like China, and wouldn’t be in business for long if we didn’t. This is about offering an alternative to the sameness of mass production. Most of what we buy and consume isn’t special, and we’ve been moving away from the human element that comes from having skilled experts carefully produce high-end goods by hand, step by step. For most things like paper towels and shampoo, mass production is a blessing. But when it comes to personal items that you’ll use for years and years, there are not a lot of alternatives to low-cost, me-too sameness. Our vision is to bring back the art of craftsmanship here in the US, which will provide jobs and, hopefully, a sense of pride in those for whom travel is a part of their lifestyle. Just think of us as the small-batch bourbon of the travel industry.