By: Liisa Anderassen
Greg Cooper, president of Texas Leather Trim, a family-owned and operated business, describes his business as a “manufacturer for manufacturers.” He shares that it’s gone through many evolutions during the past 50+ years, but says that he’s in it for the long haul. Like many small, U.S.-based businesses, Texas Leather Trim knows what its like to change course when product demands dwindle or change and Cooper shares that this is the key to keep things moving down the road.
First started in 1968, by a trim and binding company, Gaywood Mfg., out of St. Louis, Missouri, Texas Leather Trim’s main goal was to supply shoe manufacturers with trims, bindings, bows, braids, box toes and other items that went into footwear at the time. The industry was a competitive one and the company struggled to gain a solid share of business. That’s where Cooper’s family comes in.
“In 1975, my father, John Cooper, was working for Eastern Airline. He was offered the opportunity to move to Texas from St. Louis to see if he could help to get Texas Leather Trim moving in the right direction. He accepted the challenge and moved our family to Texas with no guarantees,” Greg says.
John learned the business and quickly started to build relationships and learn about customers’ needs. Through years of hard work, travel and listening, he managed to turn the business around and later purchased it outright.
While attending Texas Tech University, Greg worked for his father in the factory during school breaks – doing everything from cutting leather and sweeping floors to painting the walls and cleaning out the warehouse.
“It wasn’t the most fun for a young college man, but I really learned and gained an understanding of all aspects of our manufacturing and our business,” Greg says.
When he graduated college, he became a full-time employee and worked as a salesman. Just like his dad, he took to the open road to continue to build the business, but the landscape was changing. More and more footwear manufacturing was moving to China and, subsequently, this had a negative effect on subcontract manufacturers.
“It was a tough time for domestic manufacturers, but our relationships with the western boot trade really allowed us to flourish,” Greg says. “Without the boot companies, large and small, we would have had a difficult time surviving.”
As footwear companies continued to exit the U.S., the Coopers were offered an opportunity to buy a portion of Tandy Leather Company. They ended up purchasing its lacing manufacturing and corporate gift manufacturing divisions. This acquisition allowed them to become more diversified and they started to do more stitching, embossing and work for the promotional products industry. They continued to expand this portion of the business, while concentrating on making items for other manufacturers, not direct to consumer, but finished goods for other manufacturing companies.
Around this time, John decided to step back a bit and Greg took over as president. Now, today’s business looks vastly different than it did 53 years ago, or even 15 years ago. Some of its largest partners are no longer in business and some of its smaller partners have grown into top customers.
“Our reliance on footwear manufacturers has changed, although they are still very important to our success,” Greg says. “Footwear used to be about 90 percent of our business, now it’s about 50 percent.”
The company continues to make the products it always has, but has expanded into other areas that now include leather lace, collars, boat trims and more custom manufacturing for other corporations. They make seating and bags for Harley Davidson Motor, Indian Motorcycle and John Deere tractors; leather head covers for a company in the golf industry; baseball gloves; travel bags and much more. They also do quite a bit in the flooring and high-end rug business –all out of leather.
“You have to be nimble,” Greg says.
Right now, the business employs 40 people and Greg is proud of the fact that he didn’t have to let anyone go during COVID. While he admits there was a big downturn in business, they were lucky to be designated an essential business because they supplied many of the parts needed for footwear and other items for essential workers. A PPE loan and goodwill from clients worked to carry them through.
“I was really touched to see how people in the industry worked to keep each other afloat,” he says. “For example, one of our clients, Ryan Vaughan, CEO, Anderson Bean, ordered products from us that I knew they really didn’t need. He just wanted to help. I’ll never forget that. The custom boot manufacturers are some of the best people I’ve ever met.”
So, what’s on the horizon for Texas Leather Trim? Greg plans to continue talking with customers to find out what they need, what they’re looking for and what they’re having trouble finding.
“We’re in the problem-solving business now,” he says. “We stay active in what’s going on in the leather and component market, have relationships with many tanneries and component manufacturers and try to negotiate the best terms in order to stay competitive.”
Greg says that his son, Jake, is currently attending college and, just like he used to, works in the factory during school breaks.
“We’re not sure if he’ll join our company when he’s finished with school, but there’s a place for him if he should choose to join us,” he says.
Texas Leather Trim
2422 Blue Smoke Ct S
Fort Worth, TX 76105
Photographs Courtesy of Texas Leather Trim