This month we chatted with Adam Kail, CEO and founder of Brothers Leather Supply Co., who design and create leather products in Grand Rapids, MI.
Not only do they have a great story and beautiful products, but they also are a company focused on how they can give back and help others. I hope you enjoy reading about their story as much as I enjoyed chatting with Adam.
Kylie: So tell us Adam, for those unaware, what is Brothers Leather?
Adam: We design and create leather products that we think are trendy, and that are a bit of a throwback to the original messenger bag or duffle bag. They’re modern enough for the daily commuter and at great prices too.
Kylie: How did you start? What’s the story?
Adam: Well we (my wife and I) didn’t think it would get to where it got to. I personally couldn’t find a bag that I liked, and that wouldn’t cost me a mortgage payment at the same time. From there we decided to create simple, standard designs for the bags. We had the designs and then figured out where we could get them manufactured at a good price. We created our own website (like our own Kickstarter basically) and put the designs on there.
Initially we just marketed to friends and families, and they were our only customers. In March 2014, still working out of our basement, I started seeing people visiting the site who I didn’t know or recognize, which is when I realized we had real growing potential. We now have a space in Grand Rapids where we do everything for the bags (design, manufacturing, sending), with additional people working there. We’re also opening up a retail store space in Grand Rapids, starting (hopefully!) September 1st!It’s been a really great growth time. It’s become evident that it’s something that the market has wanted, as seen by our growth so far. I also think people identify with our product, and with our story. They see themselves, hustling and growing with us.
Kylie: Any advice for others trying to start and grow their own business?
Adam: That’s a tough one; we’ve learned so much so it’s hard to say what the biggest thing is. One thing I would say is always test your ideas. Ask people close to you for their thoughts. Ask the people who invest (and by invest I mean purchase) your products: what they like, what they don’t like, what’s working for them. Get involved and communicate with them.
You definitely want to establish that communication loop between your customers and others, like friends and family, who are invested in your brand. It’s natural to push negative things or comments to the side, but that’s how you develop and grow. So always be checking and testing. And with hiring, find the best people you can because at the end of the day, they are what make your company grow.
Kylie: I think that’s great advice. On your site you have an area called “Bags for Good.” How did that come about?
Adam: It’s been there from the beginning. We always knew we wanted to give back, in both of our companies. Bags for Good is a big part of our company. World Vision is one organization that we work with; the bags are going to kids in Romania so they have something to carry their school supplies in.
We’ve also helped some companies and people here local to Grand Rapids. One couple couldn’t get pregnant, so they decided to adopt and we donated some proceeds to help them with their adoption fees. We’ve got the Mari J. Meyer Pancreatic Cancer 5K Run coming up here in September. I actually lost my grandpa to pancreatic cancer, so that was something that personally spoke to me.
We make ourselves available to listen to whoever, whatever organization, and decide as a team which we would like to support, either through promoting them, or donating products or proceeds. At the end of the day, I don’t put them on our site to make us look good as a company, but put them on there to give them visibility so people can learn more about them. That’s my hope, is that people are curious and click out to their site to learn more and support them that way.
Kylie: Any good stories or outcomes you’ve heard from doing this?
Adam: Well one example is the non-profit Hope In Our City. It’s a very new organization that our friends Jordan and Katie started in Denver, CO. The coolest part about helping them is that they’re a startup and non-profit so they need both awareness and cash. So I think we’ve been able to gain awareness for them. They’re doing this amazing work with inner city kids in Denver to help start them out on the right path and stay on right path.
I don’t say this in a negative sense at all, as I’m really thankful for it for our company, but we’ve gotten a ton of publicity, and I wish that more people like Jordan and Katie got the spotlight. They’re doing something that’s really really tough and dedicating their lives to that, so they deserve the attention. For us, Bags for Good is really just about giving them the spotlight and visibility into the amazing work they’re doing.
Kylie: That’s a great example, and true for me! I saw them on your site and investigated further through that. So on an unrelated topic, what’s your favorite piece that you’ve owned or created?
Adam: One of my favorite designs is the Fulton which was built for the person who travels a lot. It’s the largest bag we have, and was built and designed to be carried to the airport, or in a walking city, wherever your travels may take you. There are many ways you can access it, and three ways to carry it—any way that’s easiest for you. There are two lined hidden pockets, a laptop holder, iPhone holder, pen, and card holders. Plus of course room for your shoes and clothes and all of that. I love it because when I’m working while traveling and need to leave, I can throw the laptop into one of the two pockets, and go.
The Chairman is another one that I love. It’s super easy to get in and out of, has lots of pockets, a laptop and iPad holder and so on. It’s thoughtfully created.
Kylie: You’ve sold me! Where can we find you?
Adam: We’re in over 25 stores across the country; you can find most of those stores listed on our site. The site is also a great place to purchase bags too, and of course come September our retail store in Grand Rapids!
Kylie: So you’re in located in Michigan like us—what’s your favorite thing about being here? Least favorite?
Adam: Well I left the state for 10 years, moved to NYC, and Denver, CO after that. I then moved to GR about three years ago. My favorite thing about Michigan is probably the sports: Tigers, Michigan football, Red Wings. Also the weather. I love it; it gives me energy.
I also really identify with Michigan’s comeback-ness. It has a pretty poor reputation throughout the country. I however feel really good about growing a business here; I wouldn’t choose anywhere else. It has a great entrepreneurial and startup culture, and I like that we can contribute to that and to the economy. I would love to be able to show that we can do it well and that we successfully grew our business here.
As for a dislike—we’re too close to Ohio. If we could move Ohio to Florida, I totally would. Whenever we’re on road trips, we never stop for bathroom breaks there. I say that jokingly—we have a lot of great customers in Ohio. But I am a huge Michigan fan, so everyone understands that.
Kylie: Haha as a Michigan alum I can understand that. Anything else we should know?
Adam: Well we’ve got to mention Nutshell! We’ve been using it for about six months now, and can’t imagine growing our company without it. We were running on spreadsheets and that was becoming unsustainable, so we found Nutshell. In the past I’ve worked at other big companies with different CRM options, and it’s the best I’ve used by far. It’s insane how easy it is to use. I always know when to reach out to people, even with our whole team of people using it. It’s helped our business easily grow from a wholesale standpoint; we definitely would’ve lost sales without it.
Another thing I would mention is that our whole company is built on the premise that our company only gets better when our people get better. If we’re helping our employees get better as workers and as people, we’re going to get better too. I think that makes us unique; we really believe in personal development and helping our people to get better.
Kylie: Thanks so much for your thoughtful compliments, and for taking the time to interview with us, Adam. Keep growing great things in Michigan!