Bogotá, Day 4

IMG_3908Day 4, March 10

Nathalie relates to MBA students, and she also enjoys sharing her vision of the future of a family business.  Today we visited Totto, with a factory tour in the morning and a visit to the flagship store in the afternoon.

What did the visit to Totto teach you about business in Colombia?  What did you learn about Totto in general?

Our day also ended with a trip to the airport, and there may be some other details that we are leaving out.  However, if you want to add any comments about time spent at the airport, go for it!




27 Responses to “Bogotá, Day 4”

  1. Brittany Rogers Says:

    Totto was a great company visit and Nathalie was a perfect example of how warm and friendly Colombians can be. During class, Orlando and Lucero both mentioned how it was common for businesses to employ family members and this was a very successful demonstration of this dynamic functioning well. So many business in the US segment their operations and it was really need to travel floor to floor to experience a different function of the company – from design, to inventory, manufacturing, and more. My favorite part about the company was their quality standards – the test machines demonstrating the strength and colorfastness of the materials and their warranty that takes apart and rebuilds your item (not just to replace the one broken part). Really cool!

  2. Karen Madera Says:

    The tour through Totto was fun. I had no idea that companies found efficiency in hand-making their products. I was under the impression everything was machine run in factories. I also learned that more women who work in factories are required to wear smocks, whereas men can just wear their normal clothes. Or tour guide said that it had just carried on throughout the generations like this and it was a norm. What I liked during our in-store tour was that there was a big emphasis on the consumer. When we went upstairs, there were childrens’ artwork displayed. Whether is was good or bad, they wanted to showcase all creativity and be inclusive of all talent levels. It made it seem more family-focused — which is all in the details.

  3. Tyler Hjalmquist Says:

    Totto is my new favorite backpack brand. We spent a morning with the head of marketing for Totto. Nathalie is a former MBA student and also the daughter of the founder of Totto. I learned that Totto was indeed named after the 80’s band, Toto (something that was joking suggested at one of our group meetings prior to the visit). This also showed us that in Colombia, family is extremely important in business. This reminded me of a conversation that I had at the Bogota Beer company with an alumni who had also moved back to Bogota to work for his family business (after working at TI for a few years). I also gained a new appreciation for how backpacks are made when I saw how many people it takes to make a backpack, and that the process is much more dependent on humans than it is on machines.
    That night was a different story. Although it may not entirely be Avianca’s fault, we had 2 flights to Armenia cancelled and ended up spending the night in Bogota after finally getting to a hotel at 3:30 in the morning. The one positive thing about this is that despite these setbacks, we didn’t have to spend the night in the airport; I was fully expecting to have to sleep on some benches in the terminal.
    We learned that if you see a lady having a panic attack on an airplane, try to comfort her or she will delay the flight and get it cancelled.

  4. Destin Whitehurst Says:

    Totto provides a perfect example of how dominant a business can be in its market with quality products, reasonable prices, and clever marketing. Throughout town we’ve been seeing the brand, and this was brought to life further as we discussed the business with Nathalie, VP of Marketing. The flagship store was truly impressive, multiple floors with colorful displays and even a common area for customers to sit and enjoy the space. I hope to see the brand extend into the US soon!

  5. hannahsierra2016 Says:

    Nathalie inspired me with her ability to quickly take the helm of such a major business. I know first hand what it is like to work in the family business and it can be so hard to break barriers and she was very committed to proving through her work. I also found her dad’s passion inspiring. I left thinking, wow, I want to do this too. I loved the flagship store and felt myself stray from the group tour distracted by so many items that caught my attention. They looked so much better as final product! I ended up buying a pair of sunglasses and later bought 7 more items in their Medellin location for friends and family.

    What a great photo of you all in the Totto factory. The factory admittedly took me by surprise. After talking with Nathalie, I built up an automated factory in my head. When we elevated throughout the manufacturing facility, walking through rows and rows of women quilting and gluing, my heart sank. People racing to repeat only to earn stamps for bonuses that they rightfully earned in their sheer hours in labor. I was disappointed to see this. I had always known these factories existed and cheap labor existed but it didn’t drive home until I saw these women. I try to change my lense, and see this as opportunity feed their families but my mind just cannot justify it.

  6. Laura Szymanski Says:

    I love this picture Orlando! What a great brand ambassador for Totto!

    When the presentation started with a very young face dialed in video conference, I was really concerned this was going to go south soon. Of all of the company presentations, I was really looking forward to Totto and learning about their market and product line expansions. I could tell they had a model different from what I had studied in the US and I was curious how the business model came about. Having grown up in fabric shops, I also just enjoy walking around bright color pieces and patterns, watching them turn into recognizable shapes. Maybe there might be a mini-mercado somewhere in there? One can only hope!

    Nathalie really reached across video conference and connected with us. An MBA from NYU, she was able to find a quick fluency, connecting over our shared academic experience without being pretentious. The stories and family+company history we received from Nathalie brought Totto to life in a way that I do not believe we would have experienced with a non-family executive.

  7. Ashley C Tisdale Says:

    I had no idea Totto was named after the 80’s band so that was my interesting fact of the day. I appreciated that Nathalie took time to work in the company as a regular employee because she became the VP of Marketing as it helped build her credibility and she was some experience at viewing things from a different perspective. I thought it was intriguing that the flagship store was built more for brand awareness than for profitability but after visiting the store, it showed me that the store was also built for the customer experience. At the store, there is a rooftop terrace and an area to build your own backpack. Based on the products I saw at the store, I cannot wait until they enter the market within the US. I also enjoyed the factory tour because it is amazing how successful the company is with people making products by hand. It was good to hear that the company cares about the morale of their employees by allowing the employees’ children to visit the facilities occasionally.

  8. Curtis Davis Says:

    I really enjoyed the presentation we received at Totto from the company’s VP of marketing. Totto’s story is very interesting and their business challenges working in Latin America are quite unique. It was awesome to tour the Totto factory because we got to see how their products are made and gain further exposure to working conditions for working class Colombians. Although the working conditions did not seem dangerous, it was obvious that the employees were completing somewhat arduous work.

    The flagship store we visited in the afternoon was very impressive. The layout and aesthetics were on par with any major retail store you would see in the US. However, the product design and patterns were not like backpacks you would see in the US. Totto bags feature very colorful and engaging designs. I was not able to leave the store without spending a few pesos.

  9. Jessica Jozwiak Says:

    I enjoyed hearing about how Nathalie’s father built the business. Being one of 5 children that didn’t want to work for any of his brothers, he set out to start his own company by purchasing a leather goods manufacturing plant. It was awesome hearing that the company’s namesake comes from the band Toto, who one of my favorite throwback songs, Africa, so that a customer in any country would be able to pronounce it.

  10. David H Chung Says:

    Having Natalie through video communication was a great lesson for me, and it was great to learn from her how she experienced the succession of the family business. Also, we had unique opportunities to look around the manufacturing process, and the very specific part of cutting and stitching and repairing processes. At the flagship store in the downtown we could look around Totto’s product line, and enjoy the shopping.

    At the domestic airlines, we had to face airline delays twice, which was kind of uncomfortable experiences. When we moved hotel to wait one more night, the accommodation facilities were not the best, but the breakfast was the best among entire breakfasts during the trip.

    There are a lot of differences that people from different countries reacts at the delay of the airlines. Korean people get very angry whenever their trip is hampered by airlines delay, so airlines in Korea deal with customers very delicately. Although it certainly isn’t a happy experiences, I think people from the United States or Colombia generally are not very sensitive at airline delay, or mistake during the operations. It is definitely not acceptable for Koreans or Americans to let passengers waiting more than 5 hours, and let them get into hotel at almost 4 a.m.

    Personally for me, having delay was not very uncomfortable, and I was good at taking time in the airport. But thinking of the general passengers, it might be disaster. I discussed with Mike about the issue, and his thought was that overnight flight is culturally unnatural to South American people. I still thought that there could be a lot of points that they can improve the quality of the services.

  11. carlisland Says:

    None of us comprehended how pervasive Totto is in Latin America before this trip. While visiting the factory in Bogota was interesting, I think that the real impression of the visit came afterwards.

    After visiting the factory I began to look for the Totto logo while traveling. Totto is everywhere. While on the bus to the Bogota airport the next day, I decided to play a game. I would count how many Totto bags I saw in other buses.

    I stopped counting at 82. Everyone in Colombia has a Totto bag. After the bus ride it became apparent that Totto was more that another brand in Colombia but was a point of national pride.

  12. Kyle Gabb Says:

    I very much enjoyed our trip to the Totto factory. I found Nathalie welcoming and very open to talk about her experiences at the company and as a recent MBA graduate. Before visiting Colombia, I had no idea what Totto was, but after this visit I began to notice what a dominant brand it has become (especially noticeable while people watching in the airports). Our tour guides in the factory did a great job walking us through the process – from giant spools of fabric, through the design, trimming, stitching, and embroidering. I haven’t spent much time in factories or studying manufacturing, so this was an eye opening experience on how products are made. I felt a special connection with the brand – I bought a backpack and messenger bag at the store visit afterwards!

    All I’ll say about our airport experience is “Que Pena” and “Jose for Presidente!”

  13. Kent Kronenberg Says:

    I was definitely not expecting to see so many people hand-making the bags at Totto. I expected a large global apparel company would be fully automated, but it was far from that. Our guide, who was really receptive to questions and did a good job, also happened to share a resemblance with actor Steve Buscemi.

    Natalie speaking with us for an hour and being very frank about the company, her experience as an MBA, and the issues moving forward, was great. She went in-depth about the challenges of doing business in different countries in the region and how Totto managed to be successful. I was impressed with the quality control in their manufacturing process that she described, too. It was neat to visit the flagship store, which she designed, at the end of the day.

    The airport experience just reinforced the importance of expecting the unexpected when traveling in Latin America. We survived. We came out with a story to tell at a cocktail party. That’s what you want out of travel (amongst other things).

  14. Bryan Benson Says:

    One thing that really surprised me about visiting the Totto factory was how much manual labor is in play to manufacture the bags. There were hundreds of assembly line employees working to produce approximately 40,000 bags a month in that factory alone. For a company that is the main supplier of backpacks to Colombia, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic, I couldn’t believe there was not more automation in place for their supply chain.

    Another thing Nathalie shared that shocked me was that the flagship store was created with no intention of ever making money. It’s purely meant to increase brand equity. This, coupled with our tour of the factory, led me to ponder what values are most important to the company. My impression is that quality and reputation are more important to Totto than efficiency or profit margin.

  15. Yeony Bae Says:

    Visit to Toto factory and flagship store was very interesting. I could see a lot of innovative factors in their product and service offering – such as wheeled bags, Toto labs, and after service offering. That was obvious that how Toto is trying to be innovative and how they could expand their business so successfully. One thing that captured my eyes was the fact that Toto factory was well hidden. There would be no way I could find the factory by myself unless I was told it is there. It just looked like any other building on the street, without any single sign. Was it because of possible guerrilla attack back in history?

  16. Ivo Fink Says:

    Our company visit at Totto was very interesting for me in a sense that Nathalie, the VP of Marketing and daughter of the firm’s founder, shared first hand insights regarding the firm’s marketing strategy and patiently answered all our questions. During the subsequent tour along the shop floor I was baffled by the high degree of manual labor involved in the production of backpacks.
    Besides those strategic and operational aspects of the firms day-to-day business it was also impressive to see how Colombia’s overall environment has shaped the firm in many ways. Given the high risk of kidnappings and other forms of violence in the country, for instance, Totto’s founder made the decision to relocate headquarters to Miami/USA early on in order to ensure personal safety for him and his family. Although the country’s precarious security situation has dramatically improved over the last decade, the factory we visited in Bogotá was not identifiable as such from the outside (no Totto logo, etc.) and security checks for persons entering the building were quite strict.
    After lunch break we were given a guided tour across the Totto flagship store located in Zona T, Bogotá’s most upscale shopping district. Again, we listened to lots of interesting stories and afterwards had time to explore the store by ourselves.
    After a heavy thunderstorm we embarked on our trip to the airport with the intention of going to Armenia, yet unfortunately our flight got cancelled twice and it seemed that we were going to spend the night at the airport in Bogotá. Thanks to the negotiation skills of our local guide José, however, the airline finally provided us with a hotel and thus we ended up sleeping in the same building that had served as a home for the family of Pablo Escobar decades ago – what an adventurous day!!!

  17. Ibk Ol Says:

    The Corona visit was really amazing, we were later surprised to find out that the CEO himself would be handling the visit. The Bank side of fallabella was also a very interesting concept relative to how most Americans would think about their privacy in such a situation. They get a great service because they do not care as much as we do about such a hang up. Of course, the traffic in Bogota is quite terrible and it did put a massive wrench in our plans. I did get to try Ajaico and it is a lot more filling than I thought it would be.

  18. Kavita Rangaswamy Says:

    I appreciated having Nathalie speak with us, versus another employee at the company. Because she is an MBA, it’s easy to relate to her and learn from her similar experiences. I also found it interesting to hear about how it was to work in a family business. We learned about the history of Totto, including where the company got its name (from the band) and how the company has expanded over the years. Most of the work in the factory was very manual, which is not what I expected for such a huge brand. It was also interesting to hear about the flagship store’s humble beginnings, and how the store was built to increase awareness of Totto, and not to make a profit.

  19. Adriana Penalba Says:

    Totto! It was interesting to hear a company presentation from someone that was more of a peer, than a seasoned executive. I also, thought it was interesting to learn about a company whose main offices were located so far away from where it sells its products. My favorite part of the day was the factory tour. I loved seeing all the cool machines that they used to test the bags and make sure that they were making the best product possible. Everyone we talked to had also worked at the company for many years, and the employees seemed generally pretty happy. Also, the facilities were really nice for the location of the factory and just a factory in general. I also really enjoy hearing about family owned business, especially since in my previous career I worked mostly with family owned businesses in the United States, and I liked to seeing the similarities and differences. We ended the day in the Bogota airport after multiple cancellations and delays… The one positive was that it was a great opportunity for me to get to know people in the class that I didn’t know as well before.

  20. Victor Okocha Says:

    The visit to the Totto factory is really what sticks out to me when thinking back to this day. Witnessing the amount of effort it takes to produce a single backpack is something that I will never forget. I was able to see the machines used to stitch specific patterns and letters onto each bag and the machines used to stress test fabric. It was also cool to see the final product hanging up in the Totto store later that day.

  21. Elizabeth Sickler Says:

    Comparing Totto to Corona as a family business, it was interesting to see how the two companies incorporated the family into the business. Where the family behind Corona prided themselves in staying an arms length away from the business, Natalie from Totto is an example of how the company is run much closer to the family. I enjoyed walking through the factory. It seemed like such a clean working environment. It was clear that the factory was a great working environment because many of the workers we spoke to had been working there for many years. There was a clear sense of community throughout the building with birthday walls and signs of encouragement.

  22. Krista Fischer Says:

    Today was Totto day! I have to say I was rather surprised to learn the Founder and CEO, as well as the VP of Marketing telecommute from Miami. The CEO moved his family to the U.S. in the 90’s due to security concerns and has remained there despite the headquarters and concentration of business in Central and South America. They do travel to Bogota for a week per month, and the technology employed during the presentation to our group gave an idea of how business is done at Totto. This was the third family business we visited. It is still in its first generation, but the second generation, Nathalie and her brother, work in the business in leadership roles. I was able to find an incredible robot backpack and shirts for my nephews’ upcoming birthdays. They will be rocking Totto in small town Indiana.

    I learned long ago the craziest, stressful at-the-time things that happen to you while traveling usually make for the most humorous stories when you get home. I can now say I stayed in the same hotel Pablo Escobar resided in during his reign…complete with the yellow water. Thank you, thank you to Orlando and Jose for getting in that crazy airport crowd to fight for a place to lay our heads that night, as well as the quickest route out of Bogota for 30 people the following day.

  23. David F. Says:

    Our day with Totto was fantastic! I was really happy to hear Natalie talk about her father’s company and the journey their family took while the company was still growing. Additionally, it was very interesting to see how the family dynamics also played a direct part in her professional involvement with the company. The flagship store was very impressive and in a great location. There was much attention to detail given to it’s construction and you could see how much Natalie cared for the project. I hope that at least one of my classmates emails her to talk about the opportunity for Totto’s expansion. I think it would be an excellent thought exercise and potential great project for member’s of next year’s Global Connection trip class to do a project for.

  24. stephanielmoten Says:

    Our visit with Totto today was very interesting for several reasons. First was that it continued the theme of being a family owned business and Natalie shared her experience working for her father and getting her MBA in the US and living in Miami. The factory visit allowed us to see the technology they used and observe their workers who were paid hourly and not by output which was different from La Gaitana, which paid their workers for the number of units produced. In the store we got to experience their products which were very imaginative and functional.

  25. Anna Knyazhitskaya Says:

    I really appreciate Nathalie calling-in from Florida to talk to us, she has a strong personal connection to the Totto brand, but I, personally, appreciate someone with more experience talking to me about running a business. I do not respond well to nepotism and now understand how fortunate I have been to work for non-family-owned firms in the United States. However, I really enjoyed touring the Totto factory and store and I am now a proud owner of a rain-coat-in-a-bag that came very useful for the duration of this trip.

  26. mikeramirezblog Says:

    Totto is a really recognized brand in South America. I learned that the cost associated with creating a typical bag is around $3.00 after speaking with the employees and management there. I was shocked to hear that from beginning to end and including overhead the cost was so small. At the factory there were over 1,000 employees working on creating a product. My favorite part of the tour was being able to hear directly from Nathalie and her journey from B-school to becoming a part of the family business. She was professional and really went out of her way to be in that meeting. I also learned that Totto gives out a pretty amazing warranty that basically people can send in their damaged or flawed bags and Totto would fix them and send them back – talk about amazing service! This reminded me of the type of business that is conducted in Colombia and more specifically in South America.

  27. Paolo Boero Says:

    Totto day was definitely the most epic day of the trip. We began early in the morning at Totto’s headquarters and learned about the family business from Nathalie a former stern MBA who provided insight not only on working in a family business, but also some advice for us all as MBA’s. After this we went to the factory, where I was amazed at how manual a lot of the bag making process was as well as the focus on all of the workers. There was literally no conversation between the workers. Totto reinforced the theme of family owned businesses that we saw throughout Colombia as well as as sense of loyalty to one’s company not present in the United States.

    After the visiting the Totto flagship store, we found a bar to watch some soccer and got caught in a torrential downpour. The entire street flooded and we had to wait nearly 20 min to be able to cross the street. The night time was filled with cancelled flights, airport conversations, an unexpected hotel stay, and extra day in Bogota.

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