One most often associates think tanks with groups of analysts pondering such heady issues as energy policy and global peace. But a think tank dedicated solely to camera bags? This didn’t stop designer Doug Murdoch from doing just that five years ago when he launched Think Tank Photo.
Think Tank Photo’s roots are those of a classic American start-up. Like Hewlett-Packard and Apple, Think Tank Photo literally began in Murdoch’s poorly lit garage in Northern California. There, surrounded by bolts of fabric, sewing machines, and a cutting table, he created a revolutionary vision for the camera bag business.
Like a classic think tank, Murdoch founded his company on the principle that its output—the camera bags –should be the result of soliciting input from hundreds of professional photographers and having his team of world-class designers mull, sift, argue, prototype, and refine different designs.
“As someone who had made a good living designing bags for numerous brands, I could have comfortably continued doing that work,” said Murdoch. “But I knew there was a very big opportunity—a new business model—that had the potential to revolutionize our industry.“
For years, Murdoch and his former colleague, Mike Sturm, had the opportunity to design products for the photo industry and observe how other camera bag companies determined what to create. They concluded that camera bag requirements specific to professional photographers were not really being met.
“This was wrong,” said Murdoch, “and an opportunity.”
As lower prices were becoming such a dominant force in camera bags, he realized that there was a niche available at the high end for tailored, well constructed bags. What the company might lose in volume, it could make up in superior design and quality that justified higher prices. Thus, the underlying business model for Think Tank Photo was born.
While Murdoch and Sturm teased apart the industry and probed for the hidden opportunity, their thoughts kept going back to two photojournalists from their past who had wanted to provide input into their designs: Pulitzer-prize winner Deanne Fitzmaurice and Kurt Rogers. With over 50 years of combined front-line photojournalism experience—from wars to weddings, from sports to politics—Fitzmaurice and Rogers had seen and photographed it all.
They all wanted Think Tank to be an actual think tank, a place where the very best photojournalists and other professional photographers would have a powerful voice in designs, policies, and how the company grew.
Their newly released Sling-O-Matic™ shoulder bag is a classic example of how the company’s “think tank” solved a basic problem that had been plaguing the industry. Sling bags, which are shoulder bags that until now could be worn over only one shoulder, cause fatigue.
“That is exactly the problem we solved with our new Sling-O-Matic™ sling bag,” said Murdoch. “Professional lenses and bodies are really, really heavy. A full day in the field with a traditional sling bag slung over one shoulder invites exhaustion and muscle and ligament damage.”
Think Tank Photo’s Sling-O-Matic™ is the photo industry’s first sling bag that can be easily switched back and forth to be worn on either shoulder. With one smooth motion, the Sling-O-Matic™ can be quickly switched to the opposite shoulder without losing the characteristics that have made sling bags popular among photographers.
In only five years Murdoch and his colleagues have been able to grow Think Tank Photo into a major force in the global photography accessories industry.
“Our goal now is make our gear available to every serious photographer in the world,” said Murdoch. “We work with retailers and distributors in all corners of the world and invite others to represent us in their countries.
“Starting Think Tank was a tremendous personal risk. But, based on my relationship with photographers I knew that if we truly listened to their needs and created products that reflected those needs, that they would support us in kind. By staying true to our vision and mission, our dream of being an innovation-driven and customer-focused company has come true.”