A One-Stop Alligator Resource
By Liisa Andreassen
It all began in 1992, when Mark Staton returned to his home state of Louisiana after a three-year stint in Papua New Guinea. While there, he lived with his wife and three children and worked on the world’s largest commercial crocodile farm. Today, he runs a business, Mark Staton Co., based in Lafayette that deals mostly in alligator leather goods.
Living in the isolated and unique culture of Papua New Guinea was an experience Staton and his family will never forget.
“We made lifelong friendships and memories, and I had my first practical experiences in farming of crocodilians,” Staton says. “I was hired as the technical manager and eventually became the general manager of the Mainland Holdings Crocodile Farm, which was, at the time, the largest commercial crocodile farm in the world. As general manager, I began trading with tanneries and skin buyers around the world. This experience made it possible to continue dealing with tanneries when we returned to the U.S.”
Alligator-rich territory and perseverance
Staton set up shop in Lafayette because it was strategically located in the heart of the state’s alligator-rich marshlands and bayou country and he had a close connection with the farmers, trappers and skin dealers. Mark Staton Co. now brings those toothy reptiles’ uniquely textured hides “from the swamp to the showroom.”
He admits it was not easy establishing a new business after they returned from Papua New Guinea. The U.S. market for alligator skins was flooded and the world economy was weak and affected by the Gulf War. Determined to start his own business, he never thought about getting a regular job. It was with the support of a patient wife, a Ph.D. in alligator biology, feeds and nutrition, and his experiences in farming and skin trading that provided him with the ability to establish a variety of consulting and trading accounts, which led to that start.
Over the years, the business has evolved and there are now a dozen employees. There have also been challenges, including the time the business was flooded in August 2016. Six thousand square feet of office, shop and warehouse were three feet under for a few days, which led to serious property loss in terms of buildings, machinery, inventory, computers, records, etc. – but they forged on.
Pride and purpose
The alligator market has also changed, but Staton says this has only led to new opportunities for the company, including product manufacturing.
“For years, we’ve helped local Louisiana alligator hunters get their skins tanned. We now get their products made or make them ourselves,” he says. “Our production team of eight leather workers has developed a good set of leather-working skills, of course with special emphasis on alligator leather and products for hunters with their own skins, private label for designers, and to consumers in the Lafayette market who know us. We’ve always tried to stay away from the markets and customers served by our skin customers.”
As for its core clients, Staton says, “We sell to small guys like us.”
The company takes time to listen to what their customers are looking for and figures out how they can best fill their alligator needs, keeping in mind their finished project and budget. They primarily sell in the U.S. and have sold to customers in almost every state.
“Our alligator skins and products are enjoyed and used by satisfied customers from every walk of life, from ‘ordinary Joes’ and billionaires to movie stars and royalty,” Staton says.
The local hides are sent away to be tanned, and then shipped back glazed in eye-popping pinks, purples and greens as well as more subdued greens, blacks and browns. In the creation of everything from purses and wallets to belts and bowties, employees choose the areas of the hides that will best highlight the texture of the skin and provide design elements that customers crave. One hide can produce a smorgasbord of items for a customer: from purses and belts to phone cases, shoes and even baseballs.
When asked what he enjoys most about the business, Staton says he really has a passion for seeing and being a part of beautiful things made from a natural resource.
“We have raw salted alligator skins arrive at our back door on the measuring table, and leave through the front door as beautiful finished alligator skins or alligator skin products,” he says. “There are few people in this country who do exactly what we do and we believe what sets us apart is our customer service and knowledge of the alligator skins.”
Staton’s team has more than 100 years combined experience in handling alligator skins as raw skins, leather and products.
All in the family
Business aside, Staton says his greatest success has been raising a wonderful family while following his dreams along the path of a fairly unconventional life.
“My wife, Allison, and our three daughters, literally followed me to the opposite side of the Earth and back,” he says. “Our family now includes three son-in-laws and seven grandchildren. All the credit goes to Allison; the only thing I did was choose the right wife!”
And the family that moves together, works together. Allison works in the family business alongside their daughter, Karin Marie Herbert, who handles office administration, and her husband Clint Herbert, the sales and marketing manager. Three of Staton’s grandchildren also spent their first years hanging around the shop, though Staton jokes they didn’t get much work done.
Staton hopes the business will continue to grow and evolve and says that every year brings unpredictable changes. But because they’re small, diversified and adaptable, he believes they’ll meet the challenges head on.
“We’re a small business. We all do what we need to do to make things run,” he says. “If you’re a manufacturer, designer, retailer or consumer, we’re the one-stop alligator source for you.”
Mark Staton Co.
111 Bourque Rd.
Lafayette, LA 70506