by Liisa Andreassen
In September 2020, we ran an article about an up-and-coming entrepreneur Nate Walker, founder of Lost Dutchman Leather. We were excited to catch up with him again and learn all that’s happened since we last talked. To date, he’s seen a huge growth spurt in his community and continues to push his creativity in design. In fact, over the last year, he’s realized about a 40 percent increase in sales and a corresponding production volume. Nice job!
And with that growth also came a new and improved workshop. He’s no longer renting workshop space from his folks, but has secured a new locale in Mesa, Arizona.
“It’s a stand-alone, 550-square-foot brick building with lots of natural light, which is a huge plus. I’m doing 100 percent of my production from there now,” he says.
Hiring, refining and exploring
Walker says that he directly attributes this growth to hiring new people, while continuing to refine the production process. That refinement includes assessing his sales channels, examining equipment inventory and exploring new products and design.
“I’ve actually stopped selling on Etsy completely,” he says. “As I focused more on my own website and built a bigger customer base, Etsy played less and less of a role in driving traffic to my brand. That, along with it becoming a much more saturated market, caused me to make my independent website my sole sales channel.”
And, while wallets remain his specialty, he has started a new line of machine-sewn products, which are a great choice for anyone who needs a wallet shipped right away or is on a tighter budget. Recently, he launched “The Franklin,” a stitchless wallet made from one piece of leather and folded to lock in place.
“That design has proved to be a huge success,” he says.
In the equipment department, he’s added a 12-ton hydraulic press to his shop and says that’s been one of the greatest contributing factors when it comes to scaling up production volume.
Right now, Walker has two full-time employees and so far, the people he’s hired have been friends, which is how he says he prefers to do it. He also has someone who handles his Facebook/Instagram advertising. And, with a solid marketing system in place, his sales have followed his production capability.
“When that goes up, we can increase our ad budget and see those sales come in,” he says. “I plan to make a few more hires this year.”
He admits that the growth has come with some challenges, but says the most important thing is that he didn’t grow too quickly. He made sure that they stuck to their quality standards, while still increasing production.
“I’m dedicated to that,” he says. “I’ve learned to keep a few core values (e.g., quality and customer service) as my focus as the business continues to grow. There have been parts of the crafting process that have had to change in order to scale production, but as long as I don’t violate those core values, I’m willing to let the craft evolve with the growth of the business.
What’s down the road? Walker says he doesn’t have any immediate plans to do anything too differently from what he’s doing now.
“I truly love what I do. If opportunities present themselves, I’ll evaluate those as they come, but for now the plan is to stick with what I’m doing,” he says.
That sounds like a pretty good plan.
Five Strategies for Success
Walker says that while he could offer inspirational advice, he believes there’s already plenty of that out there. He’d rather offer some tactical guidance. Here goes…
- Figure out what you’re good at and put your energy into it. Find people to do the things you’re not good at. When you first start a business you have to play every role, but as soon as you can get people to fill the roles you don’t excel at, do it.
- Don’t try to grow too quickly. When it comes to any sort of skilled, craft business quality is king. Don’t let rapid growth undermine that, or you’ll lose reputation in the market and you won’t have a sustainable path forward. Grow at a pace that allows you to retain your quality standards.
- Don’t get discouraged by the success of others. I used to spend too much time on social media, looking at everyone else’s work and comparing myself to crafters who appeared to have overnight success. I guess I just accepted the fact that I was growing at my own pace, as everyone does, and if I worked hard enough it would eventually pay off.
- Focus on the craft first and the sales second. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, people will take notice.
- Don’t buy the expensive stuff right out of the gate. While cheaper tools may not be ideal, you can still create something beautiful. Upgrade when you have the money to do so.