Campbell-Randall Hones its Competitive Edge in a Global Market
By Lynn Ascrizzi
Campbell-Randall Machinery, a business with roots going back to 1858 and the era when machines were built with American iron, is the manufacturer and distributor of a broad and distinctive selection of leather machinery, tools, supplies and parts.
Today, the company is based in an industrial section of Conroe, Texas, a fairly large city located about 40 miles north of Houston. Just one year ago, the family-owned and operated business relocated to this fast-growing urban center from the small town of Yoakum, Texas.
“Yoakum was a great place to build our business — a nice town with a leather goods manufacturing tradition. But, we outgrew the town,” company sales manager, Daniel “Dan” Naegle said. “Only a small percentage of our business was based locally. And, in a small town, you can’t find skilled labor. We knew we wanted to stay in Texas, so we settled on the Houston area with its strong manufacturing base.”
It turns out, Conroe was an uncanny choice. Once dubbed a sleepy backwater, this past May the U.S. Census Bureau named it the fastest growing city in the country. It’s seen a growth rate more than 11 times that of the nation, a leap attributed to a surge in business growth and job creation.
The strategic move reflects the dynamic that is bringing Campbell-Randall new growth opportunities, bigger challenges and wider recognition for its unique position as the most diversified leather machine supplier in North America.
“We’re still growing, still training employees and still recovering from our move,” Naegle, 36, said this past spring. “Last year was a tough year, but we’ve rebounded. We’ve also seen major projects and an expansion of the customer base that we support. We’re improving every year. In the past five years, we’ve had double-digit growth, on average. This is going to be the strongest sales year we’ve ever had.”
In their full-service machine shop, they manufacture their own equipment and do custom tooling and product modifications. Half of their leather-related business is selling parts to keep the machines going and the supplies to keep them running; the other half is the machinery. “We’re a leather-working machine company first, and we sell the tools and supplies that complement the machinery,” he explained.
Although he modestly describes Campbell-Randall as a small family company with 12 employees, the business deals with a boggling array of diverse merchandise — 700 different models of machinery and more than 25,000 unique parts. They are literally, a one-stop shop for all kinds of leather equipment and accessories, both American-made and European. “Not all parts are in stock, but a majority of items are on hand,” he noted.
The upshot is, whatever you’re looking for in the realm of quality leather machines — bevellers, cutters, clickers, punchers, skivers, splitters, combiners, trimmers, embossers, fasteners, folders, glue cementers, perforators, sharpeners, power hammers and beaters, hot stampers, dryers, edge painters, work handlers or sewing machines — you’re more than likely to find them all at Campbell-Randall.
“Nobody else in our industry is doing what we’re doing. People may sell various machines, but nobody is selling the variety . . . . When it comes to leather goods manufacturing, we have the complete catalog,” he said.
To keep up to date with rapid inventory changes, the company is moving its print catalog online. “Print catalogs are difficult; an online catalog is more fluid,” he said. “It’s easier to list new models as soon as they come out.”
CHANGE AND EVOLUTION
These days, Campbell-Randall does more importing and distributing than they used to, Naegle noted. “We’re selling more complicated automated machines, already developed in the past decade, in Europe. We have a very strong connection with European manufacturers.”
Some of those European brands include Durkopp Adler, widely recognized for its garment and industrial sewing machine technology, and Fortuna, a German company located in Stuttgart that makes skiving, splitting, hemming, gluing and liquid packaging machinery. “They’re good, strong brands, but not necessarily our best sellers,” he said.
Besides leather, their line of machinery has expanded to serve manufacturers of rubber, belting, gaskets, specialty textiles, foam, felt, chalk boards, flags, furniture, automotive interiors, aviation, composites, packaging, shoes, orthopedics, biomedical and more,” according to company data.
One example is Camoga of Milan, Italy, a company that manufactures splitting machines for both leather and non-leather materials such as fiber, foam and rubber. Camoga has also developed a relationship with Nanjing, China. “A lot of people get confused by that,” Naegle said. “Camoga is assembling an exclusive machine for the Chinese market. They are making 100 percent, Italian-made machines.”
On the other side of the machinery spectrum is their vintage Campbell Lockstitch Sewing Machine, made in the USA since 1882; it was the first needle and awl machine successfully produced.
“It’s probably the oldest in our line, still in production at Conroe. We’re not casting the frames. We still have a good stockpile of the machines and we offer a factory rebuilt. We make all the new internal components of that model and offer a warranty when we sell it. It’s a legacy machine, still sought after. It occupies a niche,” he said, especially for high-end leather goods and special applications.
Sales-wise, cutting, splitting and skiving equipment make up the strongest segment of their business. One of Campbell-Randall’s most popular brands is Galli, an Italian company that produces a line of leather working machines especially suited for belts, watchstraps and handbags. Camoga is also a good mover, as is Omac, a company based in northern Italy.
“We sell only name brand sewing machines,” he added. “I don’t sell Chinese machines. They don’t meet our quality recommendations. My focus is for my customer. Generally, I’m not focusing on the cheapest possible price, but on good value; the product that can do the best job. There are a lot of inferior products that make a machine look bad. If you use cheap thread in a good sewing machine, it sews badly.”
Overall, he believes that a domestic supplier offers a more agile business model. “If you deal with a factory in the U.S., you get a clear communication about delivery time. China doesn’t do next day deliveries. There’s a long lead time waiting for the goods to come in, and there’s the cost of shipping inventory. By the time those goods come to market, styles can change.”
Manufacturing makes up about 25 percent of Campbell-Randall’s business volume, work done in the 15,000-square-foot building in Conroe that is the company’s combined warehouse, manufacturing and office space. Altogether they build about 36 models at the facility, such as the Randall Model R-32 Rotary Embossing Machine and the Union Lock-Stitch High Speed Leather Stitcher, used for belting, strap and harness work, footballs, basketballs, flat sole work, luggage and the like.
“We’re rebuilding our manufacturing base. Those numbers will pick up when we get our production in order. We’re crawling out of a substantial backlog in production. We’ve had more orders than we could process — a matter of having a shortage of skilled hands. We’re currently hiring people and equipment. Across the industry, we’re seeing an increased demand for manufacturing equipment, which is causing long delays in delivery,” he said.
A COMPLEX BUSINESS
“This is a complicated business we’re in. It has multiple facets,” Naegle said. He pointed out the growth over the past decade of American-made goods — wallets, holsters, bags and belts. “The demands of the consumer have changed. They’re willing to pay for quality,” he noted.
Offering a plethora of leather goods machinery and supplies is a positive business model, but that abundance brings with it a need to find more solutions and to reorganize and restructure, he said. “We’re still struggling to improve upon that today. We have to modernize in order to be competitive. That’s the challenge we face.”
For instance, when Naegle’s dad, Conrad Naegle, purchased Randall Leather Machinery in 2006, the old company was still manually machining, versus CNC machines. “We’ve had to change some of the ways their parts were made. Some older machines were made with cast iron, which is difficult because it has a lot of variables and rough edges. With some parts, we’re working with new steel alloys. Instead of doing cast frames, we’re doing plate steel construction,” Dan Naegle explained.
Besides sales, he also troubleshoots machinery repairs. “I have a lot of experience with repairs; we have other repair people on staff and those we partner with,” he said.
This past spring, he traveled to a plant in Alabama. “They had a desperate need. They called on Monday, and I was there on Wednesday. They had a splitting machine in their automotive line. It was costing them thousands of dollars every day they couldn’t use it. I had to calibrate, readjust the machinery and train the people how operate it — an old model —one we supported.”
Repairs play an important role in the company’s operations, but make up a small part of their revenue. “Repair and service keep us connected with our customers and help us improve our machines,” he said.
THE RIGHT MACHINE FOR THE RIGHT JOB
A big part of Naegle’s job is educating the customer. “We try to find the best solution to build a customer’s product. It starts with learning what the customer is doing, what their expectations and production demands are. Do they want a simple belt or one that is top of the line? What are their quality demands? We find the process that accomplishes those expectations.”
“A customer might want to use the cheapest leather they can find, instead of a better product. Sometimes, I have to adapt the machine to the quality of the materials they’re working with,” he said.
Ironically, difficulties can emerge even when a company is trying to do the right thing. “Customer service is the strength of our business — and our weakness,” he said. “People want things now, ‘give me the price and I’ll send you the money.’ But I don’t want people to buy the wrong machines! We’re not Wal-Mart. You don’t get things off the shelf in pretty packages.”
Naegle first consults with clients to figure out how to increase their productivity. “It’s one of the areas that people have a hard time understanding. One problem is that some customers think I’m Amazon. They’ll send me their order and think it will arrive the next day with free shipping. They’ll get angry when I can’t ship their product on the same day I put in their order. It’s the stressful side of the business.”
“Generally, when it comes to the delivery of products, we’ve become faster and more nimble. I can ship some machines the same day. The bottom line is – I have to keep a minimum quantity on the shelf, in case we get caught with backorders. But, I can’t predict everything,” he said.
Customer relationships can start with a phone call, an email or pictures. In some cases, a manufacturer sends a sample product. He can talk customers through a problem via phone, videos or Skype. The way he sees it, “It all goes back to a long-term relationship with the customer.”
Then there’s dealing with customer sticker shock. Prices for leather machinery can range from $500 for a small unit, to $180,000 for special-purpose, larger models, like the more advanced splitting machines.His job is to show how the right machine can cut costs. “If you look at what your labor costs are, you’re spending the money, whether you think you are or not,” he said.
The other challenge, and perhaps the biggest, is wrestling with the horns of a global market. “We’re competing internationally with China, South America and Italy. Even a small shop can get on eBay and Amazon. People want things fast. Distribution has flattened out; it’s a flat world. We used to have an old hierarchy of manufacturer, distributor and retailers. Now, regarding leather goods, somebody can design a product (to sell) on eBay or at another website and before long, have a direct product-to-public connection. The world has become more competitive. A large company has to compete with the smaller companies. . . .”
“Our challenge now is efficiency, not price. It’s building customer service, public relations and product quality. The U.S. manufacturer has to develop a relationship with their customers, so the customer will trust and prefer them. It’s more than just the price. It’s no longer just belts or bags. A lot of companies are creating a brand image. It’s not a simple generic world anymore,” he said.
Sales & Operations
405 FM 3083 Road
Conroe, TX 77301 USA
Toll free (US only) 1-800-327-9420 / 1-800-223-6018
A truly family-run enterprise, Campbell-Randall is owned and operated by Conrad “Connie” Naegle, who oversees service and manufacturing, and by his wife, Lise Naegle, who manages shipping and inventory. Dan Naegle is sales manager; his younger brother, Miles, 29, is service manager and oversees the assembly and repair side of the business.
The company was born from the merger of two American heritage, leather machine companies — Campbell Bosworth Machinery (est. 1882) and Randall Leather Machine Co. (est. 1858).
Today, Campbell-Randall is under the aegis of Naegle’s Industrial Leather Machinery Corp. (ILM), founded by Conrad Naegle in 1996. That same year, the family moved the enterprise to Yoakum, Texas.
“I worked in my dad’s shop as a kid,” Dan Naegle recalled. “When I was a toddler, he would put me in a corner to hammer nails. As I got older, I remember tearing machines apart and putting them back together again. Later, I got into CAD (Computer Aided Design) and basic CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining.”
Then in 2006, ILM bought out Randall Leather Machinery, formerly of Long Island City, New York; a business that had started out making harness and machinery in the horse-and-buggy era.
A giant step came in 2016, when ILM relocated to Conroe, Texas, and during that same year, acquired Campbell Bosworth Machine Co., formerly of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“When we bought Campbell, we became a national company; when we purchased Randall, we became more international. Randall was an importer and exporter in leather machinery. They had a strong presence in manufacturing volume. I’m not talking about mom-and-pop saddle shops, I’m talking about assembly line production for belts and bags, or other leather goods,” Naegle said.
The two acquisitions endowed Campbell-Randall with a leather legacy that, today, stretches back more than 150 years. “They were established brands and had a strong tradition in the industry. We inherited a lot of good connections and a distributorship, including a European manufacturing connection and the capability to repair old machines,” he said.