The 31-year-old distributor has a brand-new, ecommerce website and is building a $2.8 million facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky
By Lynn Ascrizzi
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, she said.
Why Bowling 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.
Currently, 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.
Today, his 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 said.
“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.”
IT’S ALL BOVINE
Founded in 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.
ChahinLeather 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 chairs.”
ALD offers the following types of leather:
• Skirting leather — Made from heavy, U.S. steers.
• 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, burgundy-colored leather.
• Double shoulders — Economical leather for leather crafters for making finished goods, custom goods and small projects.
“Prices for 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.
“It’s been 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.
Recalling the Early Days of Triple C Leather Co.
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 Morgantown.”
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
AMERICAN LEATHER DIRECT
268 Orange Cemetery Rd.
Morgantown, KY 42261, USA
Soreim Avila Rodriguez, CEO
Ashley Wheeler — firstname.lastname@example.org
Bo Duncan — email@example.com
Matt Ashley — firstname.lastname@example.org
For a video of ChahinLeather go to: