“Top Quality Leather Goods for a Fair Investment”
by Gene Fowler
Last summer, a 12-year-old boy staying with his family at The Inn at Honey Run in Millersburg, Ohio, found the seven-inch tooth of a woolly mammoth on the hotel grounds. Scientists identified it as a third upper molar of the Ice Age beast, to be exact. Understandably, the youngster was over the moon about his find.
Most visitors to the rolling hills of Holmes County discover far more practical items. Tour buses regularly pass through this Ohio region known as Amish Country for its many residents who are members of the traditionalist Christian church fellowship, their lives graced with hard work and discipline. And while their faith informs the purpose of their work, Amish businesses, as Karen Coblentz of Coblentz Leather explains, do not use their religion to promote or advertise the business.
Come to think of it, I’ve never eaten a Methodist hamburger or worn a Presbyterian tennis shoe. “Like everyone else,” adds Karen, “we’re simply human.”
Karen’s father, Marion Coblentz, coined the family business slogan: Top Quality Leather Goods for a Fair Investment. A stroll through the Coblentz Leather catalog, which can be downloaded from the internet, reveals the slogan as a gracious understatement. And upon closer examination, one finds that even the higher-priced items deliver fair value. Karen adds, “We like to say that we have everything from a $2.80 key chain to our luxurious Lakewood Leather Briefcase that sells for $1,000.”
In between those price points, one finds dozens of styles of men’s and women’s English bridle leather waist belts, including Lentz belts and money belts. Embossed belts include designs described as basket weave, diamond burst, oval rivets and rope, flower and longhorn. Ladies’ belts come in shades from black and brown to turquoise and pink.
In the wallet department, Coblentz Leather makes and sells bifold and trifold wallets, money clip wallets, magnetic money clip wallets, credit card wallets, five designs of trucker wallets and 39 styles of roper wallets. There’s little cowpoke wallets, ladies’ wallets and dozens of colors and styles of clutches. Then there’s also doorbells, cell phone cases, placemats, bracelets, gun slings, aprons, checkbook covers, pouches, purses, pillows, coasters, wine bottle bags, wine carriers, valets, padfolios, bags, knife sheaths, carpenter suspenders and pouches, and dog collars and dog leads! Try saying all that in one breath. Whew!
Of course, Coblentz Leather also makes and carries several styles of horse collars. At one time, the business was named Coblentz Collars. “My grandpa Robert Coblentz started repairing horse collars in 1973,” explains Karen. “Then he moved into making collars, and the business grew. At first, he made one collar a day, but now we can make about 20 to 30 a day.” Some 95% of all the items Coblentz carries are made onsite in the Millersburg shop.
Grandpa Coblentz is semi-retired today, but he knows he’s leaving the family leathercraft business in good hands. Of Coblentz Leather’s dozen employees, eight are Coblentzes. It takes a sizable crew to keep up with the business. “Leathercrafting has expanded drastically in our community in the last few years,” Karen notes. “When my grandpa first started, the customer base was mainly local families and farmers. Now, we ship to every state in the Union and 14 foreign countries. My dad kinda likes the idea of keeping the business small, but we’re really swamped with the way it’s grown.”
Marion Coblentz explains, “The American people are tired of buying cheap imported belts that have layers of cardboard and plastic covered by a thin veneer of leather that usually end up breaking within the first few months.” Thus, the Coblentz belts, which are the family company’s #1 seller, are made from 100% pure leather (cowhide) and come with a lifetime guarantee against breakage.
To maintain that quality, the family uses North American hides. “They may be a little more expensive and a little harder to get than imported hides,” adds Karen, “but they’re definitely worth it.” For the most part, the Coblentzes stick with English bridle leather from Wickett & Craig Tannery of Pennsylvania. “Their hides are tanned with a centuries-old secret recipe, which makes for the best quality leathers.”
Karen estimates that 98% of the family’s products are made from cowhide, but she adds that quite a few are comprised of American bison leather.
The company’s extensive selection of wallets are the second-best sellers. Karen notes, the Coblentzes have a wallet to fit your needs–whether you’re an “absolute minimalist” or a person who likes to carry around “everything but the kitchen sink.”
Like her siblings, Karen was introduced to leatherwork at an early age, recalling her earliest experiences of the family art-craft at around three years old. “Working with leather is not like anything else,” she notes enthusiastically. “You can wet it and mold it, and then when it dries out it keeps its shape. And every hide is different, so there’s always an element of surprise. We use the best part of the hides for our belts; for our wallets we always look for the softer, stretchier part. Our team’s focus is directly on the quality of each and every product we make! All of our pieces are hand-selected and cut, and while we do use machines, like a strap cutter and Adler sewing machines, we do a lot of fine-tuning by hand.”
Because the Amish pursue a life off the electrical grid, the Coblentz Leather shop and store is powered by a generator. Unlike some Amish, the Coblentzes do utilize telephones in their business. About two-thirds of the business is generated through catalog orders. Most orders ship the same day they are received. The other third comes from walk-ins to the Millersburg shop. If you visit during milder weather, there’s even a petting area outside for the kiddos. “And in the summertime, we fly our 15-foot-long Coblentz Leather blimp, which can be seen from miles away,” adds Karen. “That tends to raise a few eyebrows.”
3348 US 62
Millersburg, OH 44654
(330) 893 3858