Michael: Our guest today on The Dogwatch is Chris Elfering, the founder of LOCHBY, a company that produces premium notebooks and accessories out of waxed canvas. He’s also a confirmed notebook and fountain pen enthusiast, and a six-year US Army veteran. Chris, thanks for joining us today on The Dogwatch.
Chris: Thanks for having me Mike.
Michael: Well, are you in Florida right now?
Chris: I am, yes.
Michael: How is it down there? It’s getting cold here in Minneapolis.
Chris: I bet, yeah. Yeah, I’m originally from Minneapolis and moved here several years ago. Now it’s really nice. It’s starting to get cold for Florida, but obviously nothing compared to Minnesota.
Michael: Yeah, well it’s nice to have both of those extremes in your background. You can appreciate the warmth at this time of the year. But it’s pretty you know, the fall’s pretty anyway, as you know.
But wonder if we can start by talking a bit about the history of your business and kind of how it developed. How would you start describing the genesis of LOCHBY?
Field Journal Refill
Field Journal Refill
Field Journal Refill
Field Journal Refill
Field Journal Refill
Chris: Sure. So I guess it goes back to really before I started LOCHBY. I had a company called BOND Travel Gear, and we made travel bags, and that was back in 2016 is when I started that. I was just coming out of corporate America and wanting to venture off and start my own thing.
And I ended up moving to Asia, specifically Vietnam, where I could partner with a factory. I wanted to meet some of these factories in person and just kind of… I think that helps with the prototyping and also just building trust. I thought that was an important thing. I moved to Asia to start making these small bags and pouches for travel, which eventually turned into LOCHBY. And part of that process is me discovering fountain pens and just really getting back into journaling and sketching. I used to draw a lot when I was a kid, and kind of rediscovering that passion that I had. And that forced me to do a bit of a shift in the business, do a bit of a pivot, and so that’s where LOCHBY was born out of.
LOCHBY was started in 2019 so pretty recently.
Chris: And it’s been up and running ever since.
Michael: Yeah, it seems like it’s gotten quite a good start.
Chris: Yeah, thank you.
Michael: So I want to ask a couple questions about both, those, sort of pieces. First of all: what led you to the, you know, bag and travel bag company the BOND company, originally? Like how did that happen?
Chris: Yeah, I would say, to back up, after college I was in the military for six years as you mentioned, and I think that background really influenced my decision to go into bags. I was always kind of a gear head. I like backpacks and I had a bunch of them. But it also goes back to my time in the military. I just like carrying stuff that lasted a long time. It was really durable. I could, you know, take it all over the world, and so, that’s kind of where it came from. I knew against, you know, wanting to do my own thing, I always liked creating things, being creative, doing things with my hand, and so I just kind of interested in travel, obviously going to Vietnam and then wanting to create bags that would support that type of lifestyle.
Michael: Yeah. So maybe a little question about Vietnam. I’m curious kind of what that looked like. What was it like to be in Vietnam partnering with a company, a factory, there? Can you paint the scene at all? I’m just curious. I read about that part of your background. I’m just wondering if you can describe it a little bit.
Chris: Sure, yeah. It was a fun adventure. I talked to a lot of companies, a lot of different factories, some big and some small. And because I didn’t really know anything about this industry, it was challenging at times. There was some language barrier of course but I had interpreters and we were able to communicate effectively.
But it was a challenge in that because I was so small, some of the larger factories didn’t really want to talk to me because they have MOQs, or minimum order quantities, and so you know some factories said, “Hey, you have to purchase at least a thousand, five thousand pieces, for us to take you seriously”, and I just didn’t have the funds to do that because I didn’t try to raise funding or anything. I was just, you know, bootstrapping this whole time so I’m just going off of my savings.
It was just really fun and finally I did partner with a company that didn’t work out, but then I found another one, and you know, you can never really get it right or perfect the first go around I’d say. But after a while I do have some trusted partners that I work with now.
Michael: So some of the similar companies are factories?
Chris: Yes, exactly.
Michael: So that’s an interesting thing. So you kind of had this idea, you had some plans for some travel bags, and you went over to Vietnam and started interviewing companies or factories that might make those for you.
Chris: I guess. It actually wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. So again, since I have no background in this stuff. I thought it would be difficult but then, you know, a lot of it is just kind of communicating. So I designed all the products myself and the first drawings that I made are actually in Microsoft PowerPoint because it’s the only software that I knew how to use. So it was completely amateur-ish, but I think it was enough to communicate what I was looking for.
So eventually, you know, again with the prototype, it wasn’t right the first time so there was back and forth. Being face-to-face in Vietnam was really helpful for that process, but yeah, communicating and building trust, I think it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.
Michael: And I guess you said at one point, some of the literature I read, that the soft goods factories or whatever, I don’t really know what that means, I’m pretty sure you use that word or somebody used that word to describe some of the factories in that area of Asia that do a lot of that work. What does that mean?
Chris: Yeah. So soft goods typically would be backpacks, cut and sew products. I mean you have apparel like something you’d wear, like a shirt or pants, which actually there are a lot of those in Vietnam as well. But then if you look at things like backpacks, bags, our accessories and then our Field Journal for example, it’s this waxed canvas cover. So it’s the same process where you cut and sew. That’s where a lot of the top factories in the world are actually: they’re in Vietnam.
Michael: Ok. A couple other quick things: did you get to travel and see Vietnam and part of Asia?
Chris: Absolutely, yeah. That was a big part of the fun and why I wanted to move out in the first place. I spent a lot of time in Thailand, and then Saigon or Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam, but I did travel around the region as well. So yeah, that was a lot of fun for sure.
Michael: Wow. Yeah, it’s super cool. And then you know it sounds like you, out of that initiative, got some factories right, and those persist. Are there other things that you learned from that first process of making the travel bags that really helped you once you made this transition, and we can talk—I want to talk to you about the fountain pen and all, how that shifted. But are there things you can look back to and say like, I really learned X, Y or Z that helped me in my founding of LOCHBY?
Chris: Yeah, I think it was just having the experience to choose the right partners. For example, the first factory that I worked with in the beginning, it was good because there were quick turnaround times with the prototyping and so I love that and that’s why I committed to them and life was good for a while. But then they started to get slow, and then there were certain issues that I ran into. And I would say I just learned from that negative experience, and so I was able to carry that forward in choosing the right partners going forward from there.
Michael: Ok, yeah. It seems like that’s one of the most important pieces of something like this, finding someone who can help you enact the vision.
Chris: Absolutely. I think that trust is the most important part.
Michael: Right. How much back and forth is there? Do they make a large number, like is it, “Here’s my drawings”. They make a bag or a notebook and then they send it to you and say, “No, here are the three tweaks” and there might be one or two, or there are there many iterations of something like that?
Chris: Yeah, I think as a designer, it’s kind of up to you to communicate as effectively as possible. Usually if there’s a lot of back and forth, it’s the designer’s fault, I found. I’ve always taken responsibility for that. So in the beginning there was more than there was later on. But part of that too is, again, going back to communication. It’s that they don’t really know what you’re looking for until you work together for a long time.
Chris: So I would say it depends on the factory you work with too. Kind of what I was saying before, none of the big factories wanted to talk to me at all so I partnered with a smaller factory. And I was actually in the factory, in the offices like with the sewing machines and sitting down with them, going back and forth. They would sew something one way and, “I want this double-stitched, I want this bar tact right here”, and I could point to it on the product and then they could just take it right back to the sewing machine and fix it on the spot, so that was really helpful.
You know, if you were to start this safe from the US and partner with someone overseas, I think you miss out on that kind of stuff.
Michael: Oh yeah. Just efficiency-wise it would have to be an iteration right? Like they send you something and then you make some markups rather than a sort of live process, which I could see being much more effective.
Michael: So you talked about how then you were kind of in Vietnam, etc. Can you say more about the pen thing? Like the genesis, like you’d done fountain pens and journaling, when you’re a kid, then you found it again. Can you describe, like, did you just happen on a fountain pen? Did you have some notebooks you started working on when you’re in Vietnam? What was that, not just moment, but just that process look like? I’d love to hear more about that.
Chris: Yeah, I don’t know honestly how I discovered it. I’m in my 30’s and so most people my age or younger haven’t really used fountain pens or grew up with fountain pens. And so I was obviously in that boat as well. And then, for some reason when I was over there, I think I just walked into—I’ve always been a fan of art materials and stationery and that kind of stuff, so I think I just walked into a shop and happened upon it. I use, normally, just regular ballpoint pens and the fountain pen experience is totally different. It was just so smooth and it would glide effortlessly across a page. And so I was definitely spitting from the start.
And then I tried to figure out—well first, I used fountain pens on regular paper and I noticed right away that there was a problem. Usually with lower quality paper, it would bleed through and feather. So I tried to figure out, “Ok, what kind of paper can I use with this new pen?” And that kind of sent me down a rabbit hole. And because I couldn’t exactly find what I was looking for, I ended up just making what I wanted for myself so I was really my first customer. And then, once I was able to, again, partner with a factory on that, we were kind of up and running.
I actually created the notebook, the Field Journal, with BOND Travel Gear. Once I knew that that would become more of a focus, that’s when I decided to rebrand to LOCHBY and make that pivot.
Michael: Did it look similar when it was the BOND journal or have you made a lot of changes in it?
Chris: Well with the Field Journal it was quite different. I mean it’s about the same size: it’s an A5 notebook, but the BOND had—it was a zip up case and it was nylon. That’s the other thing with BOND Travel Gear: it was mostly kind of a tactical nylon look because that’s what I was used to from the military. But with LOCHBY I wanted to change the look and have more of a heritage feel to it so that’s why I went with the waxed canvas. So I guess the look and feel of it is a bit different.
I also wanted to use these elastic bands where you could put different refills in. And that was one thing that was important to me because I like that modularity because I like to draw, but I don’t want to use the same notebook to keep my planner in, or you know, make design sketches in. I like to have a different refill for each function.
I’ve had people describe the current iteration of the Field Journal as kind of like a trapper keeper for adults. I don’t know if you ever remember that, but—
Michael: I do!
Chris: Yeah, but when I was a kid, we would kind of separate our subjects in school using these trapper keepers so that’s kind of the same concept which is we’d make a Dot Grid refill, and a Ruled, and a Planner, and so you could have these different formats but all in one notebook. So you don’t have to just buy one notebook and be stuck with it.
Michael: Yeah. I mean it works really well, and I would say, if listeners have not experienced the Field Journal that this is not like—the concept is like a trapper keeper for adults, but the quality and execution and experience is different in kind.
Michael: So you know, it’s just you know, I think that’s an awesome thing. And I’ve used a lot: the elastic right, so you can just pull things out easily. Pull one notebook out, put the other one in, or have two or three or four in there, but then sometimes just one which is a nice flexibility.
And that came in that transition to LOCHBY you mean, or had you experimented with that when it was still in the previous iteration?
Chris: That’s right, that came with the pivot to LOCHBY.
Michael: That’s awesome. So you know, you mentioned a few other aspects of the journal itself: that you talked about… I think one of the things I wanted to ask about is the waxed canvas. We’ve interviewed this pair, Alan (?) and Nancy (?) at this place called New England Reproofers where they reproof wax: cotton jackets, etc. I’m a big fan of waxed cotton, it’s kind of my favorite fabric. Aside from sort of moving from the tactical nylon look to a more heritage look, why the waxed canvas? And I say that with all love for the fabric. I see that as a huge, I don’t know, selling point. It’s beautiful and it patinas like you mentioned on your website. What other options did you explore, and then why did you ultimately choose this one? Or maybe you just said, “Oh I think we’ll do waxed canvas” and that was that. How did that come about?
Chris: Yes so actually my first journal that I ever made, it was by hand and I made it out of leather. That was back when I was in business school. It’s just something—again, I like to be creative. I like to make things with my hands. I thought it would be kind of a cool thing to do for myself just to learn leather crafting. It was great in a lot of ways but there were some issues and one of it was, you know, it was kind of heavy to schlep around everywhere. But it was the same format. It was basically like the Field Journal is now. It had the elastic bands where I could put different refills and so already had that modularity concept but it was made of leather.
That’s obviously one choice. I could’ve gone with leather, but because it does have that heritage feel also and it does patina, it looks nicer with age, but I think there’s some reasons why I didn’t want it.
One, it’s too heavy. Two, it’s not very good out in the field. Leather doesn’t do good under rain for example. When I had BOND Travel Gear, I did nylon because some of its strengths were the opposite in that it’s lightweight and it does great. It’s abrasion resistant, it’s water resistant. But then I wanted something kind of in between where it’s got that old school charm and patina, that it looks better with age but then it still is lightweight, and is practical and functional. And so I thought waxed cotton or waxed canvas would be kind of that nice between.
Michael: So you kind of went directly to it. You didn’t try out like fifty different fabrics or whatever. You kinda knew what might be an option.
Chris: Right. No, I went basically straight to waxed canvas.
Michael: I think it’s a great selling point in the sense that it’s not super common for these kinds of things, but it certainly is a heritage thing out of sort of an outdoor—as an outdoor fabric, right?
Michael: So one other quick question: you mentioned that the previous notebooks from BOND, etc zip shut, and when I first started using my Field Journal—you know, I opened it up, I was looking at it and I was like, “Oh, it doesn’t zip shut.” I kind of thought, “Oh maybe this would zip shut” and I wondered how that would work. And since like, it makes perfect sense that it doesn’t zip shut, I never thought, you know what I mean, I’d never have come back to that and said, “Oh, why doesn’t this zip shut? It seems to be an important feature that it doesn’t.”
So I’m curious how you made that decision whether it was just a practical one or whether you sort of intentionally said, “Look, we don’t want this zip shut for these reasons.”
Chris: Yeah it was more of a practical design element. One of the issues with putting the elastic bands along the spine is that it takes up space that a zipper would normally take. So that’s part of it. But then also I discovered these metal hooks to use as closures? I really liked using that because I created the Tool Roll, which we do have with LOCHBY but it was also with BOND Travel Gear, and I used that metal hook for the Tool Roll and I really liked that. It’s secure and you could tighten it with the nylon strap, so in that sense, it keeps everything secure without having to use a zipper.
Also, a zipper is more likely to break down. We do have zippered products, like I think they’re useful some cases. For example, we have what’s called a Pocket Journal, which is a smaller notebook used to house three and a half inch by five and a half inch small refills—and I think it works perfectly in that situation. But I thought for the Field Journal that the metal hook closure would have been a better choice.
Michael: Yeah. Yeah, I agree. And I’m curious about one of the other questions that I had is about the metal hook. You mentioned that you came across this metal hook. Is it something that existed? Is it a general design that you tweaked? How did that—because it’s a distinctive part of the Field Journal especially. How did that come about?
Chris:Yeah it’s definitely existed before. I came across it… I'm not exactly sure how to be honest with you. I know it’s been used in backpacks before and that’s probably where I saw it first. I’ve never seen it used on a notebook or anything like that so I figured because you know, it doesn’t break down like a zipper. I think it could have been useful for something that you carry out in the field all day. And it’s not that you necessarily have to be hiking with your notebook all the time. You know, you just throw it in your bag. You kind of throw your bag in your car and these things get jostled around so it is nice to have something that’s rugged. And if it’s overbuilt and overengineered more than it needs to be, so I figured that would be a good use of that hook.
Michael: Yeah. Also, aesthetically it’s just distinctive and it looks cool you know?
Chris:Well thank you, I appreciate that.
Michael: It’s nice because on a journal like this that there’s some other feature that I think calls attention to its uniqueness. For me at least, that’s something I really like. I think it looks really nice.
Couple other design questions: when you were looking, especially at the Field Journal itself, you had obviously under the front cover and under the back cover, you probably have pretty much unlimited possibilities for types of pockets, numbers of pockets, the way you sort of organize that space. You’ve settled on a fairly simple, streamlined design right? Where under the front pocket there’s a Velcro pocket with mesh, and then several other small pockets, a sleeve pocket, and then the back, a sleeve pocket. So I’m curious: how much did you play around with that? How did you settle on that design?
Chris:Yeah I definitely played around with it a lot. I like things to be very functional and when it comes to the Field Journal especially, I wanted it to hold a lot of my stuff. Just something that I might carry with a notebook. As I mentioned before, I was travelling quite a bit at the time. I love to read books and I like physical books but that’s not really practical when you’re living out of a backpack so I had a Kindle. I knew I wanted to fit my Kindle in there because I take notes in my notebook as I’m reading my Kindle.
So for example, that first lefthand pocket will fit a Kindle or eReader, and then the smaller pockets, it’ll fit business cards or credit cards so that’s just kind of a practical thing. But then there’s a taller pocket in the back which perfectly fits a passport. Again, that goes back to just travel right? But that size is also good for our smaller Pocket Journal refills also. So the way I typically design any of stuff is I try to figure out what it is I wanted to, what I want to carry, and I’ll lay all of those items out on the table by themselves, and I’ll try to rearrange them in a way that makes sense in a product. I think you’ll see that in the Tool Roll. For example, a lot of the things—the pockets were sized for a very specific reason.
We’ll be coming out with some pouches next year actually. Early next year. As well as a watch case. So these things are… I just try to consider, ok what is it I want it to hold and then let’s figure it out from there.
Michael: Ok I’m gonna get to those—the questions about what’s coming—because I’m pretty excited to hear about what’s next. But I still wanted to ask a couple more questions like, you have a couple colors right? Different colors. How did you decide which colors to offer and how—what are the favorite colors of your customers? Which ones do you sell the most of?
Chris:Sure. Yeah, so we went with the Brown as kind of our flagship color and that is the most popular. I think the thing with the Brown is that it’s almost like a notebook that Indiana Jones would have carried. It’s very classic when it comes to waxed canvas. One of the nice things about waxed canvas is that on certain colors you can see the scratches easier than you can on all the other colors. We came out with Black because black goes with everything, but it doesn’t necessarily have that waxed canvas look you get with the Brown where you can see the scratches really easily.
We do have Black, but actually we’re shifting Black to Charcoal now—which is basically the same thing but it’s a little bit lighter so you can see those scratches and it patinas a little bit better. And the Navy just kind of made sense too because that’s more of a classic waxed canvas color.
People will give us ideas all the time and I love listening to those ideas, and because we’re a small company we can’t do all of them, but I do want to come up with more colors as well.
Michael:Yeah. I mean I think also the nice thing about the Brown, it really contrasts with the sort of, I don’t know what you’d call it: the orange, the internal fabric that has the hexagonal sort of honeycomb on it.
Michael: Some of the other ones, there’s I guess there’s a much more significant contrast between those.
Chris:Definitely. You know, that’s one of the things in terms of interior color. That’s what I learned from doing bags, which was you want to have the interior really bright because if ever— let’s say you have a black backpack and you kind of dig into it and the interior is black, you can’t really see the contents very easily. So that’s one thing that I try to do from just a functional standpoint is to try to have a really bright interior so that you can see. It’s not as important on, say, a journal, but when we start coming out with some more of our pouches, you’ll see that in play.
Michael: Yeah, yeah, awesome. Quick question: how would you describe back stitching and bar tacking? Because you talk about those in your descriptions and like I don’t even know what that means.
Chris: Well the double stitching would just be on the, say the edge of the binding. Most companies all do one row of stitching—we do two because it’s just more durable that way. Because nobody’s perfect right? We make all of our products, they’re all handmade in the sense that humans are making this and if a stitch comes out, you have a backup stitch. That’s just kind of a practical thing to do.
Chris: The bar tacking is actually—you’ll see it on your loops on your blue jeans. So bar tacking is used typically for high stress points. And so again, a journal, you probably don’t need it necessarily but I like to add it because it’s just more likely that it’s going to stay together for your life.
Michael: Ok. Yeah that’s—and where would I see that? Is that on, kind of, the loop for example?
Michael: The pen loop? It seems that’s tacked on there pretty tight.
Chris:Well the pen loop—the elastic loop is actually not, but if you look at the loop for the hook—hooks into—that’s all bartacked.
Michael: Ah I see, right, right. I see.
Chris:So yeah, you see that’s the exact pattern there? It’s the same thing on your loops on your blue jeans.
Michael: Right, cool. I hear—is that a dog you have?
Chris: Yeah I have a German Shepherd.
Michael: Awesome. What’s his or her name?
Chris:Her name is Belle and she’s two—she just turned two.
Michael:Belle, all right. Great. That’s perfectly on cue for The Dogwatch, we love dogs.
Michael: So one more thing about the paper. You talked about the importance of it, and I don’t even know how to say the name, but the Tomoe River 68gsm right that’s what you settled on.
Michael:And I’m curious, for someone who is not yet a fountain pen person, in the sense of like, really in the weeds on it, what does that mean as far as the gsm piece but also, how important is—you alluded to it some—but I’m curious what you can say about that particular paper and how important it is and how different it is from other things. Because it sounds like it’s super specific.
Chris: It is. Tomoe River paper is legendary in the fountain pen community. That’s how I discovered it and the reason is because it’s got a kind of a coating on top on the surface and so when you write with something that has a liquid ink like fountain pen, it’s going to be less viscous. Like I mentioned before, on normal paper it’ll bleed through to the other side of it’ll start to feather out, and you don’t want that if you’re a fountain pen user. Tomoe River paper is really good for that.
There are other companies that make good fountain pen paper, but in my experience, this paper was the best in making sure that it didn’t bleed but also showing attributes of the fountain pen ink. So one of the benefits of using a fountain pen is you could have an infinite number of colors. You’ve got shimmer and sheen, all these different attributes that, if you’re into fountain pens, you really appreciate. And so you want that to show by having the best paper and that’s what Tomoe River paper is.
In terms of gsm, that’s gram per square meter so that’s just the weight of the paper. Some papers are thicker than others. The paper that we use is relatively thin, but you know, sometimes people think, “Oh if it’s thin, it’s not good.” Well that’s not really the case. It’s how you engineer the paper. But it’s still thin so you could fit a lot of pages into a small space.
Michael: Right. And it’s not so heavy for no bulk.
Michael: So you said Tomoe or whatever, that is a brand of paper right? Is that right?
Chris: Yeah, it’s a company in Japan. And actually they’re not going to make that paper any longer unfortunately.
Michael:Oh no! So what are you going to do?
Chris:Well the funny thing is in the fountain pen community, people are stocking up and it’s a big deal. We’re looking for other sources of paper and I’ve been doing a lot of testing, but I believe we have a suitable replacement. It’s another Japanese company that’s great with fountain pens so we’re going to be releasing that next year as well.
Michael:Ok. All right, well that’s good to know.
Chris: Yeah, we’ll be ok.
Michael:So about the bee connection right—I’m sort of trained as an insect biologist and entomologist so I have a natural affinity for that piece of it. I’m curious kind of, did that come out of the hexagonal shape or of the material? Or was the material to echo that? And also, for people who haven’t ordered yet, the packaging and presentation really is pretty fun right? Because that shows up in what you get when you open your package. So I’m curious if we can talk a little bit about that piece.
Chris:Sure, yeah. Absolutely. So initially, the bee came from people mispronouncing the name LOCHBY. LOCHBY is spelled L-O-C-H-B-Y and it loosely translates to Lake Town and it comes from Minneapolis where I’m from. But because it’s spelled L-O-C-H-B-Y, people weren’t sure how to pronounce it I said, “It’s like LOCHBY like a lock, with a combination lock, and then B like the animal bee.” So that what was first when it came from and where the idea came from for the logo.
But also, industriousness and community, I think that’s some of the things that the bee represents, which I appreciate, and that’s why we wanted to use it as a logo. The actual hexagonal pattern, I do use it a lot as a kind of a design queue. So we use it on our refill just to indicate what kind of refills you have. If it’s blank, you know it’s a Plain refill. If it’s got the dots, you know it’s a Dot Grid and so forth.
But with the actual liner fabric, we do have a hex ripstop nylon and I knew about ripstop from before, from the military, but also with BOND Travel Gear. We used ripstop nylon. The patter that comes from ripstop, usually it’s just in a grid and again, it’s very practical. The idea is that if you do get a tear, that grid will stop it from continuing so you can’t just pull the whole thing apart. So I wanted to continue using ripstop nylon again. You don’t need it for a journal necessarily but it will last longer in case you do get a tear. I discovered this hex pattern and I thought, ok this would be perfect. So yeah, that’s where it came from.
Michael: And that’s not a super common pattern for ripstop I don’t think, is that right?
Chris:Not super common but it’s not too rare either.
Chris: But I think just having that honeycomb look on the interior kind of tied it all together.
Michael:Yeah especially with the sort of gold-ish color on the brown notebooks is just, it’s honey. So I really like that. And you’ve got the stamp—the bee stamp that comes with when you package things, etc. So it’s a nice touch.
Michael:Another totally random question: do you ever have, fountain pens, do you ever have them leak into the Tool Roll, etc? Or you know, I don’t use them that much or is that not a big issue?
Chris:That’s not a big issue. I think it could happen of course, but I think it happens more when you’re trying to put ink into your fountain pen. But if you have a high quality fountain pen, it’s not going to leak on you—but if it does, you can kind of wash it off. The nice thing about fountain pen ink is that it’s water-based and typically it’s not permanent, so you can wash it up fairly easily.
Michael: Yeah. While we’re on that subject, one thing I thought for listeners who might want to get into fountain pens be like, “Oh this is cool. Get one of these journals that has paper that would accept it and do really well with it.” Is there an on-ramp for fountain pens that you might suggest like, if I wanted to get into it? I’ve had a few cheap ones from like, I don’t know, the drug store or something when I was a kid of whatever. But if I wanted to get into it, is there a place that you’d recommend starting?
Chris:Yeah, I always recommend basically the same three fountain pens. One would be the Pilot Metropolitan, the Lamy Safari, and the TWSBI Eco. And the reason I recommend them is because they perform really well that are high quality fountain pens, but they’re at a reasonable price. Because if you go down the rabbit hole, you’ll see that you can spend a lot of money on these things just like anything else, any other hobby, you’re gonna pay for quality. But I would say those three are definitely great starter pens.
Michael:Ok, cool. And would get used a lot of the way there so I’ll link those in the notes here as well.
So you mentioned also that you get suggestions from customers. And I’m curious kind of what those suggestions are. Are there really any good ones that you’ve incorporated or that you can share? Or any particularly oddball stuff that people say, “Oh you should do this” and you’re like, “Oh my gosh I can’t even imagine doing that.”
Chris:Yeah, definitely. I mean, we always listen to our customers because they have a lot of great ideas and one example is on the Field Journal. So you have an older one and, in fact, yours is probably different but on mine, on the newer one, what we did was we changed where we put the hook keeper. So on the Field Journal you’ve got this hook, but if you unhook it and you use it, you have this hook flopping around and it’s just kind of annoying. So what I wanted to do is put a little loop where you could kind of hook it into so that it’s not flopping everywhere. And in the old version, it’s on the back of the Field Journal and that might be the version that you have.
The problem with that is because now the hook is on the backside of your journal, it kind of creates a bump as you’re writing. It’s a small thing but it is annoying. So one of my customers suggested, “Hey, why don’t you put that loop on the inside of the back cover and then it won’t create that bump.” And that’s just one small thing we were able to incorporate based on that feedback.
Let’s see, there’s probably a few examples of that. But then there are some outlandish things. Mostly, it’s—people want a product for their specific things. A lot of things would be like iPads. And I think it’s a good idea to create some kind of a case for an iPad—the problem is that, technology is changing all the time whether it’s an iPad case, or you know, the sizes and the dimensions—we’d have to stay up to date. And again, as a small company, it’s just kind of hard to do that, to keep iterating on that type of stuff so that’s one thing I do try to stay away from. That’s sad—I probably will come up with something. I’m kind of noodling on some things and I do want to fulfill some of that so we’ll see.
Michael: Yeah that’s exciting to think and I’ll ask you about that in a second. But since I have a captive audience here, I thought I’d throw out a couple of things here. I’m curious whether you thought about either colored paper or stationery insert with bee or honeycomb header, and also—this is the oddball one—a dog collar. Yeah I’m just joking about the dog collar.
But like you know, have you thought about different papers? Or you know, stationery aspects? And that’s not to suggest you do it, I’m just curious if you’ve thought about those things.
Chris:You know, on the dog collar—just to hit that point real quick—I think it’s an interesting thing because with waxed canvas, you know you could do a lot of cool things with it. I did make a prototype for a keychain for example. It’s just a strap with one of these buckles that’s a magnetic buckle so it’s easy to get your keys in and out. So I do consider things like that including a dog collar because I do have a dog. That said, I have more ideas than I have time or money so I want to make all these things but with limited capital, obviously I can’t do everything I want to do unfortunately that’s part of it.
When it comes to stuff with paper though, yeah, I’ve certainly thought about a lot of different iterations. Colored paper not so much because again, going back to our core users of fountain pens, they like to have the ink kind of shine through so a nice white paper is perfect for that. Some notebooks have cream paper and actually that’s one of the reasons why we chose white is because it shows every color a lot better than a cream paper would. So never say never but in terms of our formats, some of those are newer and have changed.
For example, the Planner format came about because people, they wanted more structure so that they don’t have to create the calendar over and over in their notebooks but still have some flexibility. So for example, with our Planner refill, we leave the dates blank but then we do have the structure where you’ve got the week and you have the months, and the reason for that is because if you’ve ever journaled or written in a planner before, if you skip a week for example, you don’t want to just waste that space. Let’s say you buy a Planner in June and every planner starts in January, you know that’s also not great. So yeah, we wanted to have maximum flexibility but also structure as well.
Michael:Yeah, that’s awesome. So a couple things that you mentioned—and you know, I know we’re getting further into the interview, I want to be respectful and you have things to do—I wonder if you might help us sort of understand and you describe your current range of offerings?
And then you mentioned that there’s some things in the horizon and I’d love to hear a little bit more about that, so maybe just sort of what you offer now for people who don’t know and are going to explore. And then, are there some things you’re kind of looking to actually produce? You mentioned the watch roll, etc. So I’m just curious about that.
Chris:Yeah so first, I think it’s important to know who we try to serve. And really it’s for groups of people who are into journaling. People who are artists so they like to sketch paint with watercolors. We have the fountain pen enthusiasts, but then we have people who are into everyday carry as well. Really, I fit all of those. Like I said before, I was just trying to make something that I would appreciate myself.
But if you look at those four different types of groups as venn diagrams for example, there’s a lot of overlap in different areas. So people who are into fountain pens, a lot of them are also into everyday carry, meaning they’re willing to spend a considerable amount of money for a really nice pen, but they do the same thing for a pocket knife or flashlight for example. And when you look at those groups, you also have an overlap of people who are into watches: automatic, mechanical watches. Actually that’s something I’ve gotten into myself recently, so again that’s kind of me serving myself where I wanted to create a watch case that, you know it’s not a watch roll. There are a lot of designs out there; I think ours is going to be unique in that you know, you want something that protects your nice watches that organizes it but that’s not too bulky. So yeah, I think we do have something that’ll serve that niche.
Michael:And when’s that coming out?
Chris:That will be early next year. It’ll definitely be first quarter. It’s hard to put a date on it because we have so many supply chain issues right now, but yeah, first quarter for sure.
Michael:Yeah, is that hurting you some? Is that hard? It seems like it’s hard for any business right now.
Chris:Yeah, I think everyone’s feeling the effect and we certainly are, so yeah.
Michael: Well it’s fun to look forward to and I definitely can’t wait for that. Can you tell us at all about your watch sort of obsession? I mean, we go from dogs to watches to everything in between, and it’s an interest of mine. I’m curious, have you picked up any watches or have your eye on anything, particularly that you’ll put in your new watch roll?
Chris:Yeah. You know I haven’t really started collecting too much, but I would say the first mechanical watch that I got early on, several years ago now, was the Seiko 5. That’s just a classic and it’s a great entry-level watch I’d say. More recently I picked up a Rolex Datejust. That was my first expensive watch. I didn’t grow up with money so having to spend that kind of money was a big jump for me, but we hit a milestone and I wanted to celebrate that. It was just one of these watches that I kind of looked at so…
Michael: And what’s the general, like, parameters of that one? What does it look like?
Chris: So that’s the 41 millimeter, you know, the newer one. It's got the fluted bezel, the jubilee bracelet, sticks on the dial.
Michael: Yeah that’s fantastic. Did you get it engraved at all or are you—?
Chris: I didn’t. I was thinking about it but I ended up not doing that. But I love it. I wear it everyday.
Michael: It’s nice to have a beautiful watch or one you really like. I mostly wear what my boys got me. They got me a Seiko 5 last year for Christmas and I wear it all the time. It’s just fun knowing that that’s a mechanical thing and regardless, they’re beautiful objects and still have a place, I think, in the world.
Chris: Absolutely. And you know, I think that’s where a lot of that overlap comes from. From different people who can appreciate these analog things. We’re all living in this digital world obviously, and it’s a great thing, technology. But it’s also nice to take, kind of a vacation from that sometimes and put pen to paper in a journal, or have a nice watch that doesn’t require a battery. So just having that analog break in our day is a beautiful thing.
Michael: Yeah and I think we’re learning more and more how important it is neurologically and otherwise, that that’s not just a quaint artifact that we return to but actually it’s important creatively. I think you’ve emphasized some of those things through the products: that these are useful things for people to do even when they have an Apple watch or whatever—that that’s not necessarily the best course for their entire existence.
Chris: Right, right.
Michael: Well, I really appreciate—I have one last thing just to ask you about is where people can find your products, and your story. And also it sounds like you have a code for us you can help things rolling there. So what do you have?
Chris: Absolutely. So it’s lochby.com. And I did want to pass a coupon code to your listeners so it’s going to be dogwatch10. If you enter that code at checkout, you’ll get 10% off your first order.
Michael: Great, wow. Thank you so much for that. And again, this is just an intellectual podcast. I just chose you—it’s not any kind of agreement here but I do want to say like, boy it’s been fun to have those notebooks as I’ve studied for a long time. Notebooks and kept notebooks as a biologist, etc. It’s a great experience so thanks for creating that. I know you’ve created them for creators partly—for people who like to do that—and it’s just a great service to have access to that. So thanks for that.
Michael: And thanks again for the time Chris. Thanks for joining us on The Dogwatch and we’ll be looking out for the new products and checking out what you’ve got on the website.