Staying True to its Roots, Never Trendy
By Danna Burns-Shaw
Berlin Custom Leather Company gets its name from the small community that it resides in Berlin, Ohio. Berlin is in the heart of one of the United States’ largest Amish communities near Millersburg, Ohio. The area is steeped in rich old-school traditions like family unity, impeccable work ethic, faith and community values.
In 1979, David Yoder started a leather business, making leather horse collars in a 24 X 40-foot building. In 1994, David decided to make Western horse tack. The business was mostly contract labor and had only a couple of employees.
David’s son, Adrian joined him in 1994, and early on found out he really enjoyed the manufacturing side of the business.
At a very young age, Adrian received ownership of the business from his father. Adrian was very passionate about the business and enjoyed creating the company’s processes and systems. His model was simple: build the highest quality products for a fair price and ship within 24 hours.
As more products were introduced, there was a need for more employees. Adrian liked the direction his company was going, but knew he needed more help to grow the business he had acquired from his father.
In 2008, Adrian’s brother- in-law, Henry Hershberger joined the business; he decided to go all in and purchased 40 percent of Berlin Custom Leather. Henry’s strengths were different than Adrian’s, which made the company even stronger.
Adrian loved working in the business, but disliked sales. Henry’s predominate role was to work on the business as he took over sales, answering the phones and taking care of the frontlines of the business, freeing up Adrian to stay on the manufacturing floor. He was able to make sure everything was held to the highest of standards.
Henry attends the WESA Market in Denver, and has hired nine independent sales reps to directly service stores. Berlin Custom Leather runs their business without advanced technology. They believe in building relationships with people, not through computers and the internet. The sales reps are responsible to service Berlin’s wholesale accounts, which allows both Adrian and Henry to concentrate on what they do best – build everyday horse working gear and have all orders shipped within 24 hours.
Founder David Yoder, 77, still works in the shop and touches almost every piece of leather that comes in. They purchase all of their materials from USA distributors; they do not go oversees to buy any of their materials. Their largest and best-selling collection is their Herman Oak Harness Leather Collection, with their Wickett & Craig Harness and Bridle Collection being second. From the beginning, one thing was decided that they have never strayed from – Berlin Custom Leather products are built for working cowboys, horse trainers and the everyday equestrian. They don’t intend to build anything trendy. They stay in their lane and know who they are. They know that year in and year out, folks will need good quality working horse gear, and Berlin Custom Leather builds some of the best working gear on the market, at an affordable price.
Berlin Custom Leather only sells their products to wholesale accounts and has no intention to sell directly to the consumer. They leave that responsibility up to the 750 wholesale accounts they service in the United States and other countries all over the world.
A few years ago, they outgrew their building and moved into a larger 52 X 120-foot building, to keep up with the supply and demand of servicing their hundreds of accounts. Adrian always dreamed that he could produce products that they could sell to the largest Western retailers in the world. His dream has become a reality; most of the largest retailers carry Berlin Custom Leather products.
Another surprising bit of information is that each product has one price; they do not offer discounts to large stores and charge more to smaller ones. It doesn’t matter to them if you purchase one piece or 5,000…the price is the same. “It gives the small shops the ability to compete with the big guys. It also cuts the paperwork way down for us and brings down our overhead, keeping us very competitive,” Adrian explains.
Berlin is not automated; they still run business like it was run years ago via mail and phone, not with computers and internet. It’s truly amazing how well it works for them – a refreshing thought for the rest of us that are heavily distracted by our electronic devices.
Adrian said, “I always dreamed as a small kid, of seeing products I’d built in those horse mail-order catalogs that everyone sends out. Now we are in most of the major mail-order catalogs. That gives me a great sense of accomplishment.”
Berlin’s biggest competition is the internet, but they have no plans to throw their hat into that ring. Their motto is to have lean manufacturing with applied common sense. Adrian stated, “We are constantly working on building up the ‘meat and potato’ part of our line, the products that sell day in and day out. Our goal is to have enough inventories built up so we can receive and ship the order the same day, or within 24 hours of receiving the order.”
It is remarkable that Adrian and Henry, along with their 10 hardworking dedicated employees, can produce enough products to supply 750 wholesale accounts, with some of their accounts purchasing hundreds of units at a time. It proves that staying in your own lane and not getting distracted by trends can be a great business model. They are not preoccupied by creating and designing new, trendy products. Berlin Custom Leather has established the core products that equestrians in many disciplines pull out and use day after day. Knowing their heavily-used products will eventually wear out, or get misplaced, and will need to be replaced often, keeps equestrians constantly purchasing Berlin products with their quick service, fair price and impeccable quality.
Berlin Custom Leather knows that the world is becoming more corporatized. But, they also know that they have something that sets them apart. The ability to speak one on one with their customers, and knowing them personally, they feel is a breath of fresh air in this very disconnected world we currently live in.
Adrian’s long term goal is that he and Henry, along with their other family members, build up the business, but not grow it too fast. They want to keep it in a manageable position so that eventually their six sons will have the opportunity to come into the business. Adrian’s rule is, “we can be punchy and cowboy, but we can’t be trendy. If you want working tack, and I think that will always be here as long as horses are here, we are where you will look. If you get into trends, you need to create them and really get into that trend, which is a completely different marketing aspect than we want to attempt.”
Berlin Custom Leather knows its business. Adrian is 38, Henry, 37 and David is 77. They do not need to reinvent themselves; each has their role to play and does so diligently five days a week, from 6 am to 3:30 pm. They do what they do best; they build quality working gear at a fair price and ship within 24 hours. With their steadfast work ethic and clear vision for the future, I’m sure we will see Berlin Custom Leather well into the third generation of dedicated craftsman.
Adrian wanted to give recognition to Shep Hermann and Doug Morrison from Herman Oak Leather. “They have helped me tremendously. Over the years, they gave me a lot of great advice, especially Shep. He is probably one of the smartest guys I know. He gave me little tidbits of advice and I do want to recognize that Herman Oak Leather IS the bread and butter of our business.”
Berlin Custom Leather Ltd.
5085 TR 353