Old School Meets New School
By Nick Pernokas
Matt Foster wasn’t always in the leather business. He started out as a loan officer in a bank, but he was looking for a more satisfying path. Matt’s brother had been working for some leather companies in California and Matt was intrigued by the leather business. The pair joined forces and formed a leather sales company called Stevenson Paxton in 1985. They opened stores in Arlington, Texas, and Sheridan, Wyoming.
“The leather business was a lot different back then,” remembers Matt.
At the time there were multiple tanneries for them to buy from on the West Coast alone, and many more dotted the rest of the country. They numbered in the hundreds. Today there are only around twenty left in the United States.
After twenty years, the brothers went their separate ways, dissolving their partnership in Stevenson Paxton. In 2006, Matt formed Maverick Leather and began to buy leather again. He also began to work for Levi Strauss, producing 2×3-foot “rustic” leather facsimiles of the famous jean patch for placement in their stores. It was an enjoyable gig that could be done accompanied by a glass of wine and music, but more importantly, it helped finance Maverick’s start up.
When Matt founded Maverick Leather in Petaluma, California, he was starting over at square one. Luckily, he had made a lot of good relationships over the years that gave him an edge in buying and selling leather.
“The friendships I formed with the tanneries, and with people like the Law family, Skip Horween, Shep Hermann and Fred Hermann, all helped shape my leather knowledge and my love of the leather business,” says Matt.
Matt had never planned on his children being in the business, but in 2011 he asked his daughter, Erin, to join him in the company.
Matt’s son, James, was a veteran. Matt and his wife, Nina, went to visit him in Bend, Oregon, in 2015, where he was attending helicopter school. They fell in love with the area. Nina told him that she wanted to move there. A few months later, the family rented a house in Bend for the Easter vacation. By the end of the week, the family had decided unanimously to move themselves, and their business, to Bend. By June, Maverick had a warehouse in Bend and by August, the Fosters had a house there. Even long-time friend and employee, Ryan Maes, made the move. Eventually both of Matt’s sons, James and Kevin, joined the business.
“They boss me around, and I let them,” laughs Matt.
Most of the employees were family friends or became friends after they joined Maverick. Matt believes that the Maverick employees work with him, not for him. This attitude carries over after work socially as well.
“I’m really fortunate to have this group of people around me who share a passionate dream. That doesn’t happen often in life. Some have even taken up leather work and have gotten very good at it.”
The good morale at Maverick seems to be paying off. The company has grown since its move. Matt was pleasantly surprised to discover how many leather craftsmen there were in the Bend area. Bag making is a craft that is thriving in this part of Oregon. JWM Derr was a large “soft” bag company that was located in Bend in the 80s. They pioneered many styles in soft side purses and tote bags. Derr also spawned an interest in bag manufacturing locally. Many of Maverick’s local customers actually worked for the Derr Company.
Bend is a tourist area with beautiful scenery and lots of activities. Many people use Maverick leather as an excuse to drive to Bend, so they can pick out their leather and have some fun afterwards. There’s no sales tax in Oregon either, so the savings can add up.
“We have a lot of fun with people coming in. We’re a little old school in that we like talking to our customers. We want them to know what they’re going to get when they open their package and meet, if not exceed, their expectations. And we want them to make money too.”
Matt believes part of his job is making new and different leathers available to his customers. Recently, he was in Turkey visiting the Sepici tannery, which is using European hides. The European hides are different from the U.S. ones because the cattle are older and the hides are also very clean. The leather produced is really nice and is available through Maverick.
“The craftsmen really enjoy the unique stuff we bring in,” says Ryan Maes.
Many of Maverick’s customers have started out as small shops, but have grown to where they’re purchasing very large amounts of leather. In some of those cases, Maverick will act as an agent between the customer and the tannery, in order to get them a better price.
Matt enjoys the creativity and enthusiasm of the people in all the facets of the leather business. This may be why he was drawn to it in the first place.
“They’re artists and we get to be part of that artistry,” says Matt.
“I really enjoy seeing our customers creating something beautiful out of the leather that we sold them,” adds Erin.
This enthusiasm is not limited to the craftsman that will actually produce something with the leather though.
“For us here at Maverick , we’ll get in a miscellaneous pallet from one of our suppliers; and sometimes it’s like Christmas morning because we’ll get so excited about what we’re going to find,” says Matt.
Maverick has nine employees, including family members, at their 7000-square-foot warehouse and showroom facility. Hermann Oak, Wickett and Craig, and Sepici are standard items. They buy all of Horween’s seconds. Maverick stocks high-quality leather from various European tanneries, and the best latigo leather that they can find. Matt has also been customizing some French calf by doing some artistic dye work on it and creating some one-of-a-kind pieces. This eclectic selection of leather is complemented by a basic line of conditioners, dyes and accessories.
“I want to do more, and stock more of the unique stuff that you’re not going to see everywhere. That’s why I like buying miscellaneous when we can. Because it is unique.”
Ryan is Maverick’s marketing director and Erin is the vice president. James is in charge of operations and Kevin works on the website. This younger perspective in management may be why Maverick is so successful in the use of social media to target customers. They have 24,000 followers on Instagram and 15,000 on Facebook. They are also having a lot of success with Etsy, the handicraft marketing site.
“Ryan has definitely pushed us forward in the social media because a lot of people want to see something on their phones, order it and get on with their day,” says Matt.
“It’s really rewarding to see where my Dad was when it started and how far we’ve come, and it’s cool that we all did it together,” says Erin.
Maverick still takes care of its more traditional customers through leather shows like Pendleton and Sheridan, as well as venues like the Jordan Valley “Big Loop Rodeo.”
“We’re still old school with any of the “Western trades,” says Matt.
Matt enjoys the laid-back atmosphere of Bend, and the small things, like sharing a good local brew with a friend. In his spare time, he really enjoys gardening.
A maverick can mean an unbranded cow, but it also means following your own path. Matt seems to have done that with his leather company.
If you would like to find out about Bend, with its nearby mountains and national forest, or just check out some cool leather, go to: www.maverickleathercompany.com or call (877)-845-0080.
Maverick Leather Company
63055 Corporate Place Space 6
Bend, OR 97701