by Liisa Andreassen
No social media? No website? No ecommerce? No problem. In fact, E.C. Leather in Tulsa, Oklahoma, prefers it this way. This small family-run business still likes to talk to people and their old-school formula seems to be working just fine.
While the business was founded in 1977, the foundation for E.C. Leather was set way earlier than that. Mark Eagan, president of E.C Leather, says that the backstory starts with his dad, Thomas L. (Lenny) Eagan, who was born in Peabody, Massachusetts, in 1913 and grew up working at A.C. Lawrence Tanning Co., once one of the largest and most diverse tanneries in the world.
A business in the making
“My dad worked his way up from the beam house to outside sales and then met A.R. “Bill” Tandy, brother of Charles Tandy, at a trade show in New York City. Tandy was setting up a separate business, Mid-Continent Leather Sales Co., to be the sales agency selling in the southwest for Lawrence, as well as several other tanneries and importers. My father became a partner and moved the family to Tulsa in 1952,” Eagan says.
Nearly 20 years later, Tandy passed away and Tom bought the business from Tandy’s widow. After graduating from the University of Tulsa in 1972, Eagan started working with his father, older brother and sister. They expanded the business by adding more inventory and selling direct to the smaller saddle shops. They supplied leathers for saddle skirting strap and chap leathers, double shoulders for belts and holsters and added hardware, buckles, Fiebing dyes and products, and C.S. Osborne tools, too.
With more changes on the horizon, Eagan’s dad passed away in 1973 and his brother moved on to start a leather business of his own. It was time to take stock and reevaluate, so he and his sister started an offshoot of Mid-Continent – E.C. Leather – in 1977. Fast forward to 2006, when Mid-Continent was sold to Tandy Leather and liquidated, and E.C. has been going strong ever since.
Today, the business continues to thrive as a family-run operation built on old-school values and philosophies. While Eagan’s sister passed away a few years back, he now works alongside his brother and nephew and they all wear several hats depending on what needs to be done that day.
“Family can be the best way to run a business; it has been that way for us,” Mark says.
The personal touch
Over more than four decades, E.C. Leather has had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of wonderful people who either make a living from leather crafting or simply enjoy it as a hobby. They have customers from all over the U.S., some in Puerto Rico as well as several in Canada, and they sell to federal and state prisons across the country.
“Angola State Prison in Louisiana is a big client and many prisons in Texas also have craft shops,” Mark says.
The majority (about 90 percent) of E.C.’s clients range from small crafters to medium-sized businesses. Eagan says there’s a constant flow of customers – both local and from the surrounding states – saddle and western gear makers and upholsterers.
But how do they find these folks without any internet presence? They have no website or social media sites. Eagan admits to being old school and says it just works for them.
“We advertise in trade magazines such as ShopTalk! and attend trade shows from time to time – but mostly, it’s word of mouth,” he says. “We try to go that extra mile for our customers, and they appreciate it and hopefully pass our name to others.”
E.C. Leather carries a pretty complete range of leathers in stock for the saddle, craft and western type leather goods maker and its 3,400-square-foot warehouse is centrally located in the middle of Tulsa. Its warehouse is stocked with leather that it’s purchased as close-out and discontinued leathers – all good quality and well-priced.
Catalogs are mailed out each year and orders are placed over the phone. Eagan says they actually prefer talking to their customers about what’s in stock and then maybe suggesting what they feel could be a better choice.
“You can’t do that online,” he says. “We’re happy to send photos via phone, or send a swatch in the mail. We also get plenty of orders through the mail, fax or email. We’ve just developed great personal relationships over the years with our leather sources.”
Eagan also admits that they have a good grade of veg-tan types of leather, all from South America, at very reasonable prices, so that the small saddle shop and leather crafter can make a quality product and still sell it and make a little money. They also have some nice U.S. hides in oil tans and chap type leathers in stock.
“We try to carry in stock what most of our customers need, without trying to carry everything,” he says. “We’ve really been keeping our heads down and moving forward with each turn of the economy and price change. We’ve lost a number of our good customers over the last several years due to death, age or just getting tired, but the good news is that we’ve found as many or more who are excited about working with leather to make a great product.”
E.C. carries specific leathers for vehicles, furniture, accessories and more. And for the client that thinks more outside the box, they offer many embossed or stenciled leathers and they’ll do their best to communicate the latest trends.
Until this pandemic, E.C.’s greatest challenge has been to keep doing right by their customers. Now, it’s focused on getting caught up again and maintaining business.
“The business really hasn’t changed much in 43 years,” Eagan says. “Our core customer wants a constant, fairly-priced item – no surprises. This may sound corny, but it works for us.”
Want to know more? Call 918-583-0292. They’re ready to talk.