By Danna Burns-Shaw
Did you know that family businesses account for 64% of U.S. gross domestic product? They generate 62% of the country’s employment and account for 78% of all new job creation. Family-owned businesses are the backbone of the American economy! Small businesses employ just over half of U.S. workers. Research also shows that family businesses are less likely to lay off employees and stand behind their products with better customer service.
Heritage Brand is a small, family-owned business nestled just outside of Bend, Oregon, in the beautiful town of Tumalo. Every business starts with an idea and it’s usually derived from a thought or a passion. Heritage Brand is no exception. It began with a mother-daughter duo bouncing ideas off each other during a barrel race.
Jessica Crouch grew up showing horses. Her mother Luanne, owner of Luanne’s Leathers, was very skilled and would build Jessica chaps and fancy show shirts to compete in AQHA shows and barrel races.
In the late 90s, Jessica yearned to own one of the very popular Kippy Belts that were all the rage; however, the price was way out of her budget. Being a leather worker, Luanne said, “I bet we could do something like that.” So, Jessica and her mother jumped in the truck and headed to Portland to pick up supplies at Oregon Leather. Jessica still owns the belt she and her mother constructed.
This belt inspired Jessica to design and build tack sets with “bling;” a trend that no one could have imagined becoming so hugely successful. At first they laughed. They couldn’t help it. Before 2002 fancy horse tack consisted of engraved silver conchos, metal lacing, horsehair tassels and rawhide braiding. When the first “crystal conchos” showed up on a bridle at the local barrel race that year, people didn’t quite know how to respond. The idea seemed absurd; yet it was so flashy and fun that people just couldn’t stop staring. By the end of the day, they were already getting on board with the brazen new look. “Laughs had turned into requests for orders, and the bling tack craze had begun,” remembers Jessica.
Many small businesses begin with acquaintances, friends and family members wanting you to build them something like what you created for yourself. And many women entrepreneurs start businesses out of their homes because they want to be a stay-at-home mom; both scenarios describe Jessica’s reasons for launching Heritage Brand.
Initially, Jessica had no intention or desire to own her own business. After high school she went to college and received her teaching degree, a degree that gave her flexibility to rodeo on weekends and in the summer months. But, when her daughter, Railey, was born, her mind shifted to “stay-at-home-mom mode.” She converted a room in their home to a small leather shop and started constructing leather tack sets embellished with Swarovski crystals and colorful designs. It didn’t take long before the demand of her products outgrew that room. Her ability to meet all the demands by herself was posing a challenge too, hence the beginning of her thriving company Heritage Brand.
In 2007, Jessica’s husband, Jim, and his father, Jim Sr., sold their construction company, so Jessica recruited them to help with the booming Heritage Brand business. Over the years they have moved to three different locations before building and finishing their 4,000-square-foot shop in February 2019. The new location is complete with a working shop and showroom and adjoins with their other business Tumalo Cider, a tasting room and cider brewing business.
Jim assists with sales, marketing and the tech area of the business. He installed ways to measure every aspect of the business through KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Having experience with many prior businesses, he quickly helped to level the load. Jim Sr. worked and owned construction businesses and was used to working with his hands. He found working with leather was very similar to working with wood; it was forgiving and consistent at the same time. Jim Sr. became very efficient with tooling, stitching and assembling leather tack sets, halters and dog collars. Jim Sr. recently retired, but will step in and help on occasion when needed.
Heritage Brand has six employees: Jessica, Jim, another Jessica that handles HR/administrative duties, Ben, a leather carver/artist, Kelsey, production and the first face you see when you walk into the shop, and Rylan and Emily, also in production. Jessica is very happy with her small team and has no plans to expand her model.
Heritage Brand’s shop is set up with two, old-style Adler machines that are no longer available. Jessica said, “We would take five if we could get them. They are the workhorses of our shop and run steady for five to six hours a day.” They also have a clicker. The rest of the shop consists of small hand tools and talent.
Both Jessica and Jim ride and compete in rodeo. She is a professional barrel racer and he is a professional team roper. It gives them a better handle on the equestrian industry, as well as helping them decompress and recharge their batteries. Daughter Railey is a senior in high school. She is artistic, but understandably hasn’t decided her path in life yet.
Most businesses experience growing pains and burn-out and Jessica felt that coming on in 2018. “I didn’t want to go to work anymore. The business that had once fueled my passions, and could keep me up 24-hours straight effortlessly churning out new designs, didn’t exist anymore. It now felt like work. After 17 years, I had unwittingly steered us down a path where we were spending a large percentage of time mass-producing wholesale products. Though successful, the opportunity for creativity was so limited that I had almost forgotten what it felt like. My fire was out. I was desperate to find my passion again, and little did I know just how transformational the Marilyn Bag would be for me.”
Jessica set out to create something new and fresh – a handbag, now known as the Marilyn – that appealed to her personally. As each failed prototype was tossed aside, she promised herself that if it wasn’t an amazing bag she’d want the world to know she created, she wasn’t going to do it. “I felt like I had been settling for the last several years. My business had become a diluted version of what it used to be. I had to get back into my lane or I needed to get off the road,” said Jessica. Heritage Brand launched the first Marilyn Bag in April 2019.
Jessica had never been so nervous for a product launch before. This was entirely outside her comfort zone. This bag was not a product for your horse or dog, markets she was confident and familiar with, this was something entirely new and terrifying and much more personal. Each Marilyn is a direct reflection of Jessica’s own taste and style – there are no custom orders. If she flopped, it was really going to sting and she wasn’t sure there was a next step after that. “I had a lot riding on this. Maybe everything,” she said.
“The response was mind-blowing… completely mind-blowing! It was so much more than we could have ever anticipated. Most importantly, I found my stride again.” The Marilyn Bag quickly became the top-selling item for Heritage Brand. This year they are on track to build and sell over 1,200 bags and are scheduled to build approximately 150 tack sets. It’s incredible what a new product can do to your manufacturing model when that new product starts to make a movement!
The Marilyn Bag is priced $459 and up. Heritage Brand tack sets start at $1,000. The smaller part of their business is dog collars, hardware and awards. Their products are uniquely offered on their website once a week on Thursdays at 5pm PST, until they are sold. The only trade show that Heritage Brand attends is the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada. It took years of going to trade shows, rodeos and events to establish their brand and their reputation, bringing them the best form of advertising…word of mouth.
Each piece is one of a kind, stamped with its own unique number and a promise not to be duplicated. The Marilyn Bag is everything a statement piece should be. Made from buttery-soft Italian, U.S. and French leathers, each bag is perfectly complimented by the coveted, hand-tooled straps. Effortless, yet dramatic. The perfect leather drape, spaciously designed for all your favorite things, combined with a timeless style that simply won’t be ignored.
Heritage Brand quickly gained a reputation not only for beautiful designs, but for durability and uncompromising quality that set their products apart from other manufacturers. They are constantly improving and evolving their processes and materials to ensure they are producing only the highest-quality products. It’s the Heritage Brand benchmark. These principles helped solidify the company’s reputation and propel the growth of the business into a global presence within just a few short years.
“Our trademark has always been to create items unique to each individual customer, and that still holds true today. Every order is handcrafted to individual customer’s specifications…from the leather color down to the layout of each crystal and concho. Each detail is exclusive to that order. This element is our signature strength and the passion of our business,” says Jessica.
Over the years the obsession has grown as well as the designs. Heritage Brand designs remain at the forefront of the industry because their designers relentlessly pursue fresh new looks, with an emphasis on creating products with enduring style that will continue to appeal for years to come. They are proud of their unyielding conviction for creating only original designs and have acquiesced to be the standard many companies continue to emulate.
64654 Cook Ave, Suite 100
Bend, Oregon 97703
Monday-Friday 8-4 (PDT)
The Heritage Brand Mission
To be an innovative, leading-edge company that is devoted to providing customers with the most fashion-forward, original and high-quality leather products on the market today.