Ashley Wheeler, sales and marketing specialist for American
Leather Direct (ALD) currently based in Morgantown, Kentucky, has been super busy
this year. Among her regular work, she has been writing copy and designing
layouts for the leather distributor’s newly launched website.
“A lot goes into new websites,” said Wheeler, who was hired
by ALD last year to work both in sales and on this specific marketing project. “It’s
an ecommerce website, so customers can purchase directly from it. I sketched it
out, and the graphic designer we’ve contracted has made it happen.”
Lots of professionally taken photos are now posted at the new
site, which has the same address as the former one (www.aleatherd.com).
Ecommerce, a “now” term for business transactions made via
the internet (think Amazon.com and its shopping cart logo), is a growing trend,
expected to continue and even accelerate as more enterprises move sections of
their operations online. Today, the market share for ecommerce is 11.9% of all retail
sales, up from 3.5% a decade ago. But brick and mortar stores still dominate,
according to www.shopify.com.
The new, ALD website covers both wholesale businesses and
retail accounts. “We’ve always been trying to make it easier online to market
both demographics,” she said. “Customers
can apply online for a business account, no matter what the size of their
business, as long as they fill out the application form. They will know whether
or not they’re approved in one business day. Once approved, they have access to
business prices. Orders can be placed anytime, without waiting for ALD business
hours to order.”
ALD’s retail side is mostly for hobbyists and leather
crafters, she added. “Our goal is to make quality leather accessible to
hobbyists and people just getting started in leather crafting, so they can
order one piece at a time.”
The ecommerce site will not minimize the positive customer service
offered by the company for three decades, Wheeler noted, such as one-on-one,
customer consultations or choosing color options.
Orders, of course, can still be made over the phone or by
email. As before, customers can expect consistent quality, no matter what their
order size. Samples of leather or laces can be requested by calling, emailing
or going online. Orders will ship in one
to two business days, as usual (unless otherwise noted), and returns are accepted
within 30 days, as long as the leather is not altered.
Wheeler finds that being a one-stop-shop and offering quick
shipping are two things that customers appreciate. “But the best is that we
have no minimum orders. That’s number one,” she said.
She expects the upgraded website to reap positive results. “We foresee a higher volume of sales. And we’re hoping to be more of a resource — to have more educational posts at the site, like images showing different types of leather, to attract new customers,” she said.
ON THE MOVE
Another big change for American Leather Direct is right
around the corner. The 31-year-old company soon will be relocating from
Morgantown to a brand-new facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Wheeler estimates that by December 2018, the company will be
fully installed in its $2.8 million, 46,410-square-foot building on Central
Avenue. Extra space in the new facility will be available for rent. This is the
first time the leather distributor has changed locations in its 31-year
history. During the transition period, customers can expect regular operations,
Green?The urban community, located
only 25 miles from the original facility, was chosen because of its growth
potential, said Soreim Avila Rodriguez, who is CEO for ALD.
“We chose to
stay in the area,” Wheeler added, “so that we can continue to serve the local
customers we’ve had for over 30 years. And, it’s easier for us to schedule
shipments from a larger city. We’re closer to the interstate.”
Indeed, far from
being a sleepy Southern town, Bowling Green, the third most populous city in
the state is host to a number of major businesses, such as General Motors, Fruit
of the Loom, Bowling Green Metalforming (which employs over 1,600 people) and the
technology company Strykker Logistics.
And, this year,
the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce cited four economic development
projects totaling $14.86 million in capital investment and 82 new jobs. Over
the past five years, the chamber has announced $2.6 billion in capital and
5,106 jobs. Plus, the city is home to Western Kentucky University and other
educational and cultural attractions.
ALD has 11 employees working in a 20,000-square-foot facility in Morgantown. “We
always operated with a small staff. There is no turnover,” Wheeler said.
In fact, a
number of workers have put in long years with the company, like Bo Duncan, who
has been working at the Morgantown business since it started. “I’m only 48. I started straight out
of high school, at age 17. I was sweeping the floor and mowing yards. I worked
in the leather-shipping department for some years and moved up to supervisor in
shipping. I went into sales from there,” he said.
At one time,
Duncan drove a company delivery truck in Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama.“At the time, our biggest delivery
spots were in the Chattanooga area, where we sold to the saddle industry, and
to Sand Mountain, Tennessee, an area that had the biggest sales. We still sell
there,” he said.
role in sales has him doing three or four trade shows a year and meeting
customers. Ever industrious, Duncan also runs a beef cattle operation in rural
Morgantown. “We raise Black Angus beef cows. We have a cow-calf operation,” he
“I think there’s a good future,” he noted, when asked about the upcoming move to Bowling Green. “The company has been good to me for 31 years, and I don’t know what I could have done any different. I think the future is bright for ALD and for me.”
1984 as Triple C Leather, Inc., the business was purchased in 2010 by the
family-owned and operated tannery, Industrias Chahin de Orizaba, S.A. de C.V.,
also known as ChahinLeather, of Veracruz, Mexico. The company was renamed
American Leather Direct. Today, it distributes the tannery’s veg-and-chrome-tanned
leathers and is a supplier of leather laces. “All our leather is bovine. We do
not sell exotics,” Wheeler said.
manufactures cowhide from U.S.-raised, North American jumbo steers.“And, we supply rawhide for furniture,”
she added. “Different parts of the rawhide can be cut and molded, like in sling
ALD offers the
following types of leather:
• Skirting leather — Made from heavy, U.S.
• Natural tooling and strap leathers — Its
uniform thickness works for holsters and other moldable items.
• Bridle leathers — Fully finished with a
waxy feel and minimal stretching.
• Harness leather — Drum-dyed and
hot-tipped for weatherproofing ability.
• Latigo leather — A chrome-veg re-tan with
maximum durability to withstand the elements.
• Burgundy alum — A strong and durable,
• Double shoulders — Economical leather for
leather crafters for making finished goods, custom goods and small projects.
veg-tanned leather range from $6.85 per square foot for tooling leather, up to
$7.75 per square foot for latigo, our most expensive leather. The majority of
leather that we sell is veg-tan,” Wheeler said.
ALD sells to
dairy and equine tack industries, fashion industries, interior designers, penitentiary-run
leather workshops and more. “A lot of our customers make belts and bags,” she
said. Their cowhide is also used for saddles,
holsters, knife sheaths, dog collars, shoelaces, and the like.
In the company’s
home state, customers include makers of thoroughbred turnout harness in
Lexington, Kentucky and makers of buggy harness and reins from a growing Amish community
in Lewisburg, Kentucky. Among their numerous U.S. customers, ALD supplies
leather for tool belts made by Klein Tools, a family-run business since 1857,
based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“We ship all over the country. Obviously, we do a lot of
shows, where we meet a lot of our customers,” she said of big leather events, such
as WESA (Western & English Sales Association) Trade Show in Denver,
Colorado; The Rocky Mountain Leather Trade Show in Sheridan, Wyoming, and The
Southwest Leatherworkers Trade Show in Prescott, Arizona. “We like to see our
customers in person,” she added.
Sales are also made abroad, in places like Japan, China and
Indonesia. But, the majority of ALD’s sales are made in the United States.
steady,” Wheeler said of business for the past three years. “Our sales are
looking good. We see it being steady in the future. Our biggest challenge is
competing with materials like nylon and other synthetics.
“But we always think there is a place for leather. It’s timeless and versatile. Its unique products, if taken care of, will last a lifetime. And leather looks better with time. The oils develop a patina,” she said.
American Leather Direct (ALD) has its roots in Morgantown,
Kentucky. The leather distribution company, first called Triple C Leather Co.,
Inc., was founded in 1984 by two
brothers, Ronnie and Owen Carpenter, and Ronnie Creek.
“My dad grew up in leather,” recalled Ronnie Carpenter’s daughter,
Tonya Carpenter, who was born and raised in Morgantown. “He started his work in
leather on the ground floor atCaldwell
Lace & Leather Company, a
leather goods manufacturer located in Auburn, Kentucky. Eighteen years later,
he founded Triple C Leather,” she said.
“I was 9 years old. I remember when he first began the
business. The office was in our home. There were workers there, and the phone
was always ringing. I remember when they built the warehouse, around 1986, in
She began working part-time for Triple C Leather in 1994,
shortly after graduating from high school. “I stepped into it gradually. At
that time, I was an assistant and ran copies and typed orders,” she said.
Today, she works in customer relations for ALD.
Her memories of working with her
father are good ones, she said. “He was real quiet and laid back. He was a
straight shooter, never misrepresenting himself and the company. He took good
care of his employees. He is really a good man, honestly. I learned from him
how to do business, how to be a good customer and supplier.”
Her father, his brother, Owen
Carpenter, and Ronnie Creek all retired in 2010, the year ChahinLeather bought
Triple C. The two brothers live in Morgantown; Creek lives in Auburn.
At the time, Triple C had other
suppliers, she recalled, but ChahinLeather was their main supplier. The sale of
Triple C changed little in the way the current company and its workers conduct
business, she noted.
“Other than having new owners, we’re
the same company. They have the same values we did. The most important one is
customer service. We’re all about customer service. It’s about listening.
That’s probably the most important thing I know. If you listen, you know what the
customer wants and needs. The most important thing is to listen to what they’re
using the leather for, so we can make a good match.”
Like other ALD employees,
Carpenter wears many hats.“We’re so
small. Employees have no titles. We have many functions. I do a little
bit of everything — whatever it takes to get the work
done.” Besides sales, she does accounts payable, sometimes accounts receivable,
payroll and other financial functions.
“I love this company. I love our
customers. I love the people I work for,” she said.
FOR MORE INFO
Ashley Wheeler — firstname.lastname@example.org
Bo Duncan — email@example.com
Matt Ashley — firstname.lastname@example.org
For a video
of ChahinLeather go to:
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