Ohio company celebrates 45 years of growth, innovation and service
By Lynn Ascrizzi
The small Ohio community called Mount Hope seems to be a fitting metaphor for the leather goods manufacturer, distributor and retailer that is Weaver Leather, LLC, because over the years, the enterprise has extended as much optimism and promise to its employees, as its workforce has brought to the well-established business.
The company, based in a 300,000-square-foot facility beautifully situated amid scenic countryside, currently has about 320 employees. This makes it the sixth largest employer in rural Holmes County, where 80 percent of the population is Amish, a tradition-based group widely respected for its ethics of family, faith and pride in workmanship. Among the highly-skilled and dedicated folks who work at Weaver Leather, approximately 60 percent are Amish.
In turn, Weaver Leather’s high standard of excellence and positive reinforcement of character and leadership skills, serve to empower its employees, drawn largely from the local community. In fact, it is a company core value to regard all the people who work under its roof as its most valuable asset. This unusual combination of a highly motivated workforce and a business culture that emphasizes foundational values is a singular feature of the 45-year-old enterprise.
“In our leather and nylon manufacturing departments, more than 90 percent of the workers are Amish,” said company supply sales manager Jim Weaver. He is a distant relative of the firm’s president/CEO, Jason Weaver, and of former CEO and current chairman of the board, Paul Weaver, who semi-retired in October of 2017. His father, Harry A. Weaver, began the three-generation business in 1973.
Over his 30-year career with the company, Jim Weaver has gained a lot of experience from the ground up. For the first couple of years, he cut leather. He also worked in sales and drove delivery trucks, among other things. Today, he is back in supply sales.
“This is what I really enjoy. The whole world is your market,” he said. “We sell across the U.S and to about 60-plus countries.”
Among other responsibilities, Weaver is in charge of all the leather hides that move in and out of the warehouse. “We buy leather from some of the best tanneries in the world, and we’re committed to having all products, in stock and ready to ship. We’ve got 50,000 leather hides in stock and ready for immediate shipment,” he said this past spring. “We ship an average of more than 350-plus hides per day.”
According to company literature, the business has, on average, 900,000 square feet of leather in stock, at any given time — enough to cover 20.6 acres. Manufacturing supplies include all the leather and nylon strap goods used for Western equestrian products, as well as some items for their Livestock Show and Pet divisions.
“We sell and use very little exotics, but we do have deer and kangaroo hides. Primarily we use native steer hides. Most hides come from the U.S., and also Canada, which has become a growing player in the hide market,” he said.
Some of their hides are tanned in South American countries, like Brazil and Argentina. “South American hides are from free-range cattle. They tend to be large and spread, but not as thick, making them a very good option for chrome-tanned leathers. In the U.S., most hides are raised in feedlots. They’re generally not exposed to barbed wire. The hides are clean and due to the climate and breed are the heaviest hides in the world,” he said.
Leather is purchased from a variety of tanneries, such as Hermann Oak Leather Co., of St. Louis, Missouri, makers of prime-grade, heavy native steer hides and other leathers, and from Chahin Tannery of Orizaba, Mexico (Industrias Chahin de Orizaba), which specializes in veg-tan leather for the horse, saddle, belt and holster markets. Chahin also produces chrome-veg and alum-tanned leathers.
“We also deal with other tanneries from South America and a tannery in Mexico, where we buy a lot of veg-tan shoulders,” he said, of a cut of leather primarily used in the belt and holster industries.
“Obviously, since we’re a manufacturer, we use many of the supplies we are selling every day,” he noted. Also, thousands of leather and nylon products are handcrafted daily at the facility for the equine, livestock, arborist and pet industries. The finely crafted products include bridles, headstalls, cinches, dog collars and leashes, arborist tree-climbing gear, steel and aluminum livestock chutes and plenty more.
STILL MADE IN USA
Supply sales manager Weaver pointed out that the majority of Weaver Leather’s products are still made in the U.S., at the Mount Hope facility. This tradition of handcrafted quality goes back to the company’s late founder, Harry Weaver.
Product manufacturing at Weaver Leather is largely done by Amish employees. “The manufacturing work day goes from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., five days a week. No one works on Saturdays. We are fortunate to have such a dedicated workforce and people who take great pride in their work and craftsmanship,” he says.
The Amish are not only Weaver Leather’s employees. Members of this community, who reside in Ohio and neighboring states, represent between 8 and 10 percent of their leather and hardware customers, he said. As it turns out, Holmes and adjacent counties in northeastern Ohio comprise the largest concentration of Amish in the world. Next in size is the Amish population in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Following that is a group in Shipshewana, Indiana.
Jim Weaver oversees five in-house sales reps. “Allen Burkholder takes care of all machinery needs. We manufacture a lot of machinery here,” Weaver explained, citing clickers, strap cutters, hole punchers and splitters made under the company brand, Master Tools. They also manufacture items like hand edgers and hand punches, including oblong punches and the English plain round punch, typically used for making a rounded edge on belts.
Also reporting to him is sales rep Dustin Taylor, who travels to see clients and covers four trade shows per year, in Wichita Falls and Sheridan, Wyoming, Prescott, Ariz. and Denver. Colo.
And, there’s Jackie Miller, who takes care of truck route sales. “He travels to neighboring states — Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania — to make sales in harness shops located in various Amish communities. After sales are made, our truck delivers the goods. Customers get free delivery by truck, if they are geographically inside our truck routes,” Weaver said.
Weaver Leather is excited to expand a free delivery option to its entire supply customer base. Free freight is now offered on orders of $2,500 or more. And, new case pricing on hardware went into effect this past April. “We came out with more aggressive (lower) pricing on those cases,” he said.
Also in supply sales is Pat Miller, who handles custom dies. “We make clicker dies. We use hundreds of clicker dies here,” Weaver added. And, custom manufacturing sales rep, Wyman Herschberger, handles products like dog collars, personal accessories, purse handles and leather chairs that are manufactured by Weaver Leather in quantity to the specs of their customers.
GROWING TO SERVE CUSTOMERS BETTER
In 2016, Weaver Leather opened a 20,000-square-foot fabrication and die-manufacturing center at its Mount Hope campus. The facility was built to accommodate the growing demand for its steel and aluminum livestock equipment and for increased requests for custom dies, according to company data.
“It’s doing well. We’re growing. Our fastest growing line is the livestock division,” said board chairman Paul Weaver.
Moreover, last summer Weaver Leather acquired Troxel Cycling & Fitness, LLC, formerly of San Diego, California, a leading provider of ASTM/SEI certified equestrian helmets (American Society for Testing and Materials/Safety Equipment Institute). Troxel is a leader in helmet design with a commitment to the safety of equestrian riders.
This makes Troxel “a perfect fit with the Weaver Leather brand,” said executive vice president Chris Weaver, of Troxel’s wide range of smartly designed performance headgear for schooling, show, trail and Western riders.
Orders for Troxel products are received, processed and shipped by Weaver Leather in Mount Hope. The acquisition transition went smoothly, Paul Weaver said. “It was very seamless. We’re up and running and fulfilling orders. It’s the dominant equestrian helmet in the country.” Helmets can be viewed at: www.troxelhelmets.com.
Over the years, Weaver Leather has acquired about eight companies, including, Silvertip Halters in 2014 and RidersRasp® in 2013. All the companies have provided products that share quality and innovation that fit with Weaver Leather.
Weaver Leather employee, Marcus Miller, is directly in charge of Leathercraft, a retail division developed by the company about five years ago. The division is relatively new, but showing fast growth.
“Our Leathercraft division includes retail sales of all the supply items for leathercrafters and hobbyists. We can sell crafters small pieces of leather, and our goal is to make high quality leathercrafting supplies accessible to all. We’re very conscious about adding new products for crafters who use one or two items at a time,” Miller said.
“We’re excited about the leathercraft market. It offers lots of potential and opportunity to serve a new segment of customers with quality products,” he said. The company’s retail leathercraft products are available at www.weaverleathersupply.com.
About 90 percent of retail sales are made online. “Customers can also call. We do have walk-ins; people who come here to see the showroom. We have a small retail catalog. And we do social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube. We get quite a bit of traffic from those venues. We’re also educating new people with cool tutorial videos by leathercraft expert Chuck Dorsett,” he said.
OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE
Weaver Leather has been supplying hardware to the industry for over 40 years. On average, Weaver Leather has in stock at any given time over 4 million pieces of hardware, such as belt buckles, conchos and loops, company estimates state. Their hardware, also under the aegis of supply sales manager Jim Weaver, is sourced from high-quality vendors from all over the world. “No matter where an item comes from, we want to ensure it is top quality,” says Weaver. “We look for vendors who share our Quality First mindset. If we wouldn’t use a product ourselves, we won’t sell it.”
While Weaver Leather has supplied hardware for many years, they have made a big effort to update their offering to reflect current trends. “We’re getting more into antique brass, brushed nickel and black, which is big with holster people,” Weaver explained. “The shiny hardware will have its place in the market, but we recognize that options are important. We continue to add more hardware pieces, and in the past few years, have been pushing more into belt buckles and other hardware, like snaps, used for personal accessory or fashion products.”
“Hardware is doing well and is developing more lines,” Paul Weaver said, a remark which demonstrates that a positive attitude and a willingness to keep abreast of change through innovation remains an ongoing part of the company’s cultivation of success.
Jim Weaver, Supply Sales Manager
P.O. Box 68
7540 CR 201
Mount Hope, OH 44660-0068
Customer service hours:
8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mon.— Fri. (EST)
FINDING YOUR INNER STAR
Building character and leadership skills are a big priority at Weaver Leather, a leather goods manufacturer with 320 employees, based in Mount Hope, Ohio. The company originally used a leadership program called Character First.
“It was very good, but it ran its course. And, they weren’t making it anymore,” said Loni Menuez, associate director of the company’s new program, Lodestar Guidance.
Longtime CEO Paul Weaver, who semi-retired in 2017 and currently serves as chairman of the board, developed the faith-based leadership program. He saw that the former program had benefitted company culture and general morale. But, he and his staff couldn’t find a program to replace it. So, he set out to create one himself.
“I’ve never seen a good organization with a bad culture, and I’ve never seen a bad organization with a good culture. Our goal is to have the best quality product and best quality service. Companies are no better than their people,” he said.
He clearly recalls what it took him, and those involved in its production, to create Lodestar. “It was a daunting task. It took three years and cost five times more than I expected.”
Lodestar incorporates printed bulletins with short videos and was finished in March 2017. It centers on 48 core principles, such as accountability, compassion, diligence, initiative, attitude, forgiveness, motivation, self-control, generosity, self-awareness, transparency, punctuality, joyfulness, focus, respect and teach-ability.
“A teachable person, no matter how much they know or experience, still feels like there’s more to learn,” Menuez said. “The videos were professionally made. We have a bulletin and video for each principle. Paul spared no expense. He credits Lodestar and the character and culture of our employees as the heart of our success.”
“The 48 bulletins basically describe the principles and what they do for your life. There is no professional or personal life. There is just a life. There are no compartments,” Weaver reflected. ”If we educate our people on good character, it affects every aspect of their life. In training our people to be better employees, you are helping them in their personal life, as well. They can apply it to their family life.”
There are two parts to the Lodestar program, Menuez explained. A general assembly is held on the second Friday of each month, from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. And principles are also discussed in small groups of about 8 to 10 people, led by a manager or company CEO, Jason Weaver. One character principle is highlighted each month.
“I haven’t heard anything negative about the program. People really enjoy it. It’s amazing how many of our people mention Lodestar as their favorite thing about working here,” says Menuez.
The bulk of faith-based material is located in the literature’s center section, Faith. “Any company can extract the faith portion. The values are foundational. It’s never preachy,” she said. “We don’t have many people who have a faith issue. It’s not crammed down people’s throats. The program is more based on leadership. You self-examine — you can’t help it.”
Lodestar Guidance also has been marketed to churches, insurance and construction businesses, and to other enterprises outside Ohio. Some Ohio companies using the program include Keim Lumber in Millersburg, Berlin Gardens, a manufacturer of outdoor furniture in Berlin, Walnut Creek Foods in Walnut Creek and Troyer Foods in Millersburg, Weaver said.
Subscription prices are based upon the number of a company’s employees and how many bulletins are requested. Yearly subscriptions are offered. “People get 12 months at a time, one principle per month. They get to choose what is most relevant to them, at the time. If people can’t use the videos, we have special subscription rates for bulletins,” he said. More information on this program is available at http://www.lodestar-guidance.com.
Weaver has also written Business with a Higher Purpose, available at the company website. “We would like to take the principles and integrate them into a book, and also write one for children. Hopefully, parents would read and study with their kids. I see this as my legacy,” he said.
What changes has Lodestar brought to Weaver Leather culture? “The first person it changed was Paul Weaver,” he said. “You cannot teach what you do not live.”
LONG-TIME WORKER OFFERS SAGE ADVICE
Myron Stutzman started working at Weaver Leather in Mount Hope, Ohio, when he was only 17 years young. That was 44 years ago. Today, he is still working for the leather goods manufacturer and loves every minute of it. “I wanted to stay on. I like the people, and I like the values,” he said.
The late Harry A. Weaver founded the business in 1973; Stutzman was his first employee. Consequently, he has a long memory of its history. “We started out in one bay of a three-bay truck garage that was 20-by-40 feet. No running water and no telephone. We started very simple and small. Before that, Harry had worked in Orville Leather in Orville, Ohio, and his customers followed him.”
Stutzman’s starting wage was $2 per hour — the Federal hourly minimum in 1974. When he married in 1977, his hourly wage increased to $3. “A 50 percent increase!” he recalled, cheerily. By that time, the hourly minimum had inched up to $2.30. He and his wife Eileen, now married for 41 years, live only four miles from the Weaver workplace. They have five grown children.
“I learned so much from Harry. He died at age 64 in 1984. I was 27. At that age, you don’t realize what someone taught you. If I could have dinner with him today, I’d like to tell him, ‘thank you!’ ”
As the company grew, Stutzman’s expertise and salary grew with it. “I worked in manufacturing most of my years here. I’ve been in charge of their call center, of inside operations, like warehouse, manufacturing and maintenance and also the credit department. At one time, I supervised about 200 employees. I like fixing problems. I’m a hands-on person. I like to be on the floor, when in leadership, to find out what’s wrong.”
That can-do attitude taught him to resolve problems by consulting with others. For instance, in 2002, he saw a need to streamline warehouse shipping. So, he located a warehouse specialist on the East Coast. “I spent $8,000 in two days,” he recalled. But, it proved to be worth it. “He taught me how to think in a warehouse. We had a ‘rail system’ — conveyors. He told me, ‘Myron. This is your beachfront property. This is where it happens.’ ”
The warehouse expert advised him to move his top shipping items closer to the conveyors. “At the time, we were walking 100 feet away to get a product. I learned that you have to keep your primary bins in close, and have the other bins on the outside. After necessary changes were put in place, handling shipping orders went from 35 percent in 24 hours, to over 90 percent in 24 hours. And, the work took 15 percent less people. We really elevated our goal of meeting customer expectations.”
“Harry Weaver always taught me to ask advice,” he added. “He said, ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know. The fastest way to success is the right people — people who come up with good ideas. Always work with others. Don’t try to do everything yourself,’ ” Stutzman recalled. “He also taught me how to handle money. ‘It’s not what you make, it’s what you do with what you make.’ ”
Additionally, he learned that you have to talk to people on the floor; find out what’s bothering them and remove the frustration. “You want people to come up with ideas for improvement. Two heads are better than one. Some people have made my solutions better. And that doesn’t bother me. . . . If you can come to work with a servant’s heart, you want to ask yourself, how can I help my people? How can I help them win and make it easier for them?”
These days, Stutzman works at manufacturing support, plus tours and hospitality for visitors. “Every week, I give tours to customers, local schools and people related to our industry. I get to see Weaver Leather through the eyes of someone who has never seen the facility. They think we’re an importer, and here we have 200 people in manufacturing. People don’t realize how much manufacturing we’re doing, right here in Ohio.
“When I do tours, I show people the catalogs, so they can see our products. But more important than what we make here, is who we are,” he said, alluding to the company’s core values, which he recited by heart:
- We will honor God in all we do.
- We will treat our employees as our most valuable asset.
- We will ensure quality in every product.
- We will be innovative and committed to growth.
- We will exceed customers’ expectations.
- We will lead with character.”
“In today’s world, expectations are pretty low,” he observed. “People are shocked when you return phone calls. I try to return phone calls the same day, or by next morning.
“Our core values are about what we allow and don’t allow,” he added. “For instance — no swearing. It creates a hostile work environment. And, there’s only one work shift here. No night shift. By and large, the community here is Amish, who value spending time with family in the evening. No Saturday work. Weekends are family time. They start early and go home early. The employees voted for that.”
Maintaining a spotless shop is another Weaver Leather standard. “People don’t like to work where it’s sloppy and dirty. We make sure the place is organized. We clean the floors every day. A clean workplace gives you more energy,” he said.
“Weaver has been a fun ride,” he mused. “It’s just grown and grown and grown.”
— Lynn Ascrizzi