By Nick Pernokas
It seems like Dave Schall, the president and co-owner of Keystone Leather in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, was always destined to fill this role.
Now 58, Dave Schall finished college in 1982 and went to work for the E.H. Hall Company, which was a sole cutting company in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. They had 15 full time cutters. In 1990, E.H. Hall, who had purchased Westfield Tannery a few years earlier, moved their cutting operation there and began doing business as Westfield Leather.
In 2003, Dave Murdock was the president of Westfield Leather and Schall was the sales manager there. When the Westfield tannery was closing, the two men started Keystone Leather. They were trying to fill the void left by Westfield, which had been the last cutting tannery in the United States. Keystone became an independent cutter so they did not have an affiliation with a particular tannery. They were able to purchase their leather from around the world, and cut footwear components, mainly shoe soles, out of the best leather available for that part. Keystone’s outsole leather was chosen to maintain good firmness, with an exceptionally tight fiber structure. Many patterns were available, including extra wide double welts. The parts were then sold primarily to domestic shoe companies.
In 2018, Keystone acquired RJF leather. RJF had been started by another Westfield alumnus, Roger Folmar. This purchase allowed Keystone to diversify and expand into some new markets that they didn’t service yet. RJF’s inventory includes leather for belts and holsters, as well as saddlery leathers. Their drum-dyed, veg-tanned leather comes in a wide range of colors, and is complemented by a wide selection of English Bridle leather and latigo. Their beautiful exotic leathers include ostrich and stingray.
“Our primary focus for the first 15 years was footwear. But that’s a diminishing market in the U.S.,” says Dave Schall.
The move also kept them in front of tanneries and enabled Keystone /RJF to strengthen their presence with some of the largest tanneries in the world. Many of these tanneries are in Mexico.
Although there’s a major trend towards rubber-soled shoes being made in the U.S., there are still a lot of work boot and western boot manufacturers that demand good sole leather. They also have a following with men’s dress shoe manufacturers.
“We want to be able to service them as well as we can,” says Dave.
Keystone has a good history with customers that know what to expect in terms of quality and delivery. In turn, Keystone understands their buying patterns and can anticipate these needs to provide this service in a timely fashion.
“Most of them do some manufacturing in other parts of the world, but they’ve made a commitment to do some of it here. Those factories seem to still be strong.”
Keystone Leather also sells to the custom bootmaker industry and has been a strong supporter of the Boot and Saddle Makers Round Up in Wichita Falls, Texas. Keystone has a special price list for custom bootmakers, and they ship all their orders within three days. They will accept any size order, no matter how small.
Keystone is special because they do all of their own manufacturing. They carry a large inventory of bends, but not many pre-cut soles. Most of them are cut to order for the manufacturers. If a customer needs an item, Dave can go cut it out. In this way, they’re never “out of stock.”
“Somebody that’s not doing their own manufacturing can’t provide service the way we can.”
Their eight employees work in a 12,500-square-foot building. They are capable of turning out 10,000 pairs of shoe soles a week. Keystone had never needed a storefront because they didn’t sell a finished product. That’s changed since the acquisition of RJF. They have walled off the front of the building and the RJF leathers are on display for customers to look at, feel and purchase.
Dave feels that the leather products industry is a niche industry that he doesn’t really see much large growth in. Dave feels that there is a lot of value in the long-time repeat customer. Keystone and RJF try to maintain and grow through dependable service to this market.
Dave’s son, Mike, became his partner in 2017. Mike brings a fresh perspective to the business. Mike’s other son, Matt, is also involved in the business. Both of them are doing an excellent job shepherding both companies into the digital age. All of their products can be viewed on their attractive websites. If you’d like to check out their beautiful leather and give their service a try, go to keystoneleather.com or rjfleather.com. You can just give them a call too, at (570)-329-3780.