Have you ever wondered how a relatively small family business like Billingham has built such a strong reputation around the world?
In the first of a new series of blog stories, we’ll be taking a look ‘behind the scenes’ to reveal a little bit more about the life of a Billingham bag – from concept and design, to our meticulous manufacturing processes, to our dedicated customer support service – and how our products have gained the trust of photographers throughout the last four decades.
Right across our team, we are committed to a set of shared values: quality, excellence and integrity. Our customers expect nothing less, and our entire workforce strives to fulfil these principles every day. What does this mean, in reality? Well, whether that’s operating one of our precision machines on the factory floor, improving the customer experience on our web site, or packaging a new bag for dispatch, these promises represent a common theme across our business, and we are all dedicated to meeting them, whatever our job role. This is one of the things we believe makes a Billingham product so special.
A Billingham UI label with its 10 digit serial number.
UI: keeping quality on track
Continuously seeking ways to improve our efficiency and quality, around ten years ago, a new tracking system caught our eye. This service was used to register and trace thousands of items made by major consumer brands, and to confirm their authenticity as they travelled around the world through distribution and retail outlets. Coming at a time when we saw an intrinsic value in serialising our products to hold future data, this inspired us to think about how to we could implement something similar for our own product lines.
Into the 21st century
Having logged and registered our batches using a manual system for nearly 45 years, and as our business was starting to expand, we felt it was high time to upgrade our paper-based processes into something a little more dynamic. Hence, our Billingham UI (Unique Identifier) system was born.
A woven label with barcoded serial number is stitched into each bag at the beginning of the manufacturing process. In addition, an engraved Mylar thread is woven through each label, like a bank note, by the supplier. Their systems help ensure the label integrity. Software developed in-house by family members then tracks this code at inspection points. Detailed information on the components employed, the date of production, and the team members who physically created and stitched together the bag, are recorded in different systems at the factory. The unique 10-digit numerical serial number is attached to these records, binding them together centrally.
‘UI’ Serial Number labels ready to be stitched to a bag.
Lifetime peace of mind
Since its introduction, many thousands of Billingham bags have been registered and tracked through our digital UI coding system all around the globe.
The laser engraving on the mylar thread is only visible under strong magnification. The UI code can be scanned at any time during the bag’s lifecycle and the number used to confirm its age and origin, identifying it right down to the specific production batch.
Should anything happen to your bag anywhere in the world, our advanced UI system can authenticate your registration. Batches of components, their quality testing and performance in use can also be tracked throughout the life of the bag.
The future is in the bag
Our vision for this system doesn’t stop here. Constantly aiming to improve our products and processes, we continue to add new technology, develop software ourselves or source from vendors, connecting these through our central UI system.
However, imagine if you placed an order with Billingham and you could witness it being made ‘live’ by our team right there on the production line… Or logging in and seeing photos or video footage of your bag in progress, every step of the way… Or viewing it as it goes through a meticulous repair process, while receiving updates and progress from one of our staff…
At Billingham, we’ll never be satisfied with the status quo. There are endless possibilities for us to improve our customer journey, and we’ll continue to develop and make enhancements for years to come.
How we sew the labels on the bags
UI in action
Built for travelling, Billingham bags have covered the globe. Every week, our dedicated teams help customers with registered products all over the world to verify their proof of purchase, assist in identifying the correct accessories, such as padded inserts for a particular bag, or help to re-fit products, servicing customers purchasing pre-owned bags.
A system for all
And what about Billingham accessories, which don’t have space for a UI label, such as our shoulder pads, straps or leather luggage tallies? Even these smaller items come with an individual product number, so you can rest assured that they have been subject to the same stringent processes, testing and quality checks as a Billingham bag.
The UI labels on some almost finished bags – like most of our bags these are made inside out then ‘turned’ the correct way. Bits of fluff etc will also be removed at this stage. On the final product the UI label will be on the inside.