Tom Sega was a huge fan and customer of Duluth Pack before he went to work there 11 years ago.
“I owned a tremendous [number] of Duluth Pack’s bags, specifically that briefcase behind me, very special to me,” said the president and operating partner of the company, which has been around since 1882. “That was the first purchase I ever made [from] Duluth Pack. I was a road warrior, prior to being part of Duluth Pack. When you travel that much and something breaks early in a week and you’re on the road, boy, it’s a miserable week, if a briefcase breaks, a zipper breaks, something tears. I became a fan of Duluth Pack because it was the only bag that would last. I was just tired of replacing bags that I spent good hard-earned money on. That bag is over 20 years old. It has 1.5 million-plus air miles on it. It’s part of me. … Those are the stories we hear from our customers, specifically if a bag needs a repair. They might have patches on it from all over the world or it might be in such bad shape we say, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to replace this?’ ‘Oh, no-no-no. You don’t know the memories.’ That became the same for me.”
Duluth Pack was a small regional company when he became intrigued with it. “I was like, ‘Wow, this thing could be so great, get so much bigger and better if we … let more people know about it.’ So I approached the company. After several years, we put a deal together and I became the operating partner in April 2007. There were 21 employees.”
Today there are approximately 110 employees and it’s much better known.
Q: How many backpacks do you have at your house?
A: Oh, my goodness. [Long pause as he counts in his head.] Twentyish. There are all different types; whether it’s a backpack or my briefcase or my gun cases in the gun room. My wife has a tremendous [number] of totes, and I have my fishing gear, and then I have my other hunting pack. I should just say, too many to count.
Q: Do you have any designed specifically for you that the rest of us can’t buy?
A: I have made modifications to a few to try something different. It doesn’t always work. Many times it does work. But my favorite pack of them all is the All Day Lumbar Pack. That is one I helped design. It is an oversized fanny pack that has shoulder straps and a sternum strap and a cross drop in the back to help [keep] the weight on your shoulders instead of your lower back. It’s very nice to wear a fanny pack at times instead of a backpack or shoulder bag.
Q: I was in D.C. a few months ago at the National Portrait Gallery checking out the painting of President and Mrs. Obama and was told to take off my backpack by one museum staffer who wanted me to put it on my shoulder or side. Doing either would get your body out of alignment, possibly cause injury, not to mention make you more clumsy.
A: They were concerned that people would turn and knock over an exhibit? Wow. [He agreed that wearing a backpack as intended is more safe.]
Q: Do you sew?
A: I do not. In fact, you do not want me sewing. I came in on a Saturday once because I had a cockamamie idea I wanted to try. Sat at one of the sewers’ machines and figured out how to turn it on. The first thing you do, I’ve learned now the hard way, you have [to create tension with the threads] when you first start. I didn’t do that and it sucked everything down into the bobbin. I created a bird’s nest. And it took 45 minutes to an hour to clean up my mess. I didn’t just leave and say: I don’t know who did that. I left a nice note: ‘Tom wrecked your machine. I’m very sorry. Won’t try this again.’
Q: Can you tell me celebrities who’ve bought your bags?
A: The list is long. One customer very loyal to us is Troy Polamalu, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was such a generous man. When we launched our bison series, he bought one or two duffels and as he’s on the phone he says, ‘Give me half a dozen. My buddies would all want one, too.’ They are very expensive duffels. And he’s done that many times. The Minnesota Wild, the whole team and their spouses and significant others carry our bags. [Washington Capitals player and Stanley Cup winner] T.J. Oshie, he and his wife carry our bags. He’s a Minnesota guy. Through our affiliation with the Xcel Energy Center, Blake Shelton has become a very good customer. Ed Sheeran has become a good customer. Adele carries our bag; a lot of people in Hollywood.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.”