Leonard was powering through University like most people his age. A friend of his was doing really importing leather bags and Leonard figured it might be worth buying some to resell in his friends and classmates. He had no idea this side hustle of selling bags out of his dorm room and car would lead him down the path to creating his own product line.
Origin: From Short Term Sales to
It was June 2016, before Tan Leather Goods was born. Leonard with the help of his brother put some money towards their first batch of bags to import from Asia and just like that, they were in business. They knew the products would sell based on the affordable price point, there was no one providing quality leather bags as affordable as they could sell them. In a matter of days they were able sell out through Facebook to friends. So they continued to purchase batches and the leather bags became an on and off passion project. Later that year leading up to the holiday season they decided to put more money into the business buying the biggest batch yet and just like before they sold them quickly. Following their big holiday season success selling through markets, the writing was on the wall, it was time to solidify the business and figure out the next steps.
Tan Leather Goods Goes Local.
The early stages were much harder than they anticipated. As orders got bigger they ran into all kinds of issues from suppliers which led them to consider working with manufacturers. Using local manufactures is more expensive in the short term but they liked the idea of being able to create their own styles and support the local economy. Finding the right scale for orders with local manufacturers was tricky, initially they would order at least 30 bags. Although it was tricky to predict which styles would sell and when you're relying on vendors it's not easy to order very small batches to satisfy once off orders. The 6-8 weeks production lead times were becoming tricky to manage. All of those factors led to Tan Leather Goods taking the plunge into creating their very own workshop.
Building the Product Catalog.
Tan Leather Goods product line wasn't always so extensive. Once production was brought in house the team was able to do more smaller scale product which enabled them to add a number of new products to their catalog. They've always leaned inwards to create products based on requests. This led to leather belts, baby bags, duffle bags and other successful products inspired by customers and the people in their lives.
The company has been bootstrapped by Leonard with support from his brother. Early on they operated out of a garage before moving into a their very own building in as they scaled up manufacturing.
Choosing an eCommerce Platform
A friend mentioned he could build a eCommerce site for a few thousand Rand and the rest is history. Early on they had no idea about the other eCommerce options but overall they've been very happy with WordPress + WooCommerce.
What theme do you use? Why did you chose it?
Tan Leather Goods uses a customised version of Divi.
What do you like the most about WordPress + WooCommerce?
WordPress is really user friendly although they haven't used other platforms like Shopify or Squarespace. Even the least technical team members feel comfortable making changes (which seems like a good barometer of ease of use).
They feel that WooCommerce is the most local platform you can find and it seems to be the most prominent in South Africa. The free plugins they started with are were really helpful. It’s also nice that WordPress/WooCommerce is generally accepted by other developers.
Are there any challenges with WordPress + WooCommerce?
The only issues they've come across are the need to do some coding in the background which has led to a dependency on the agency they work with. It seems technical expertise is more advanced with WordPress. They've also realised that you need to be careful about choosing quality plugins which comes at a cost and most of are priced in USD.
What Apps and Services do you find most useful?
They've used Mailchimp since the start and it gets the job done for sending out email marketing and setting up marketing automation.
Xero is useful for handling all their book keeping, invoicing and financial reporting. The WooCommerce integration makes it really easy to get all their financials in one place.
Yoast SEO has been really useful for improving their site's SEO.
How has Covid-19 impacted your business? How have you responded?
It's been tough time for Tan Leather Goods as their production and ability to sell was hampered. Given that they sell on Takealot and to some other retailers they've had to come up with new means of developing income. In response to this they started producing masks. Once manufacturing was able to begin again they ran online sales to get cash flow back on track.
Brooklyn Leather Pencil Bag
Growing the Business
Social Media and in particular Facebook has been the biggest driver of business. Tan Leather Goods has found huge success in running ads on social media as well as doing periodic competitions. Having multiple sales channels gives them various avenues and means to grow the business. While they love building up their customer base directly Takealot and wholesale are useful to move product. Another space that's enabled Tan Leather Goods to grow is coverage from micro and macro influencers. They have a standard agreement with them that they provide them with free products in return for an honest review and a photoshoot once a year. It's been very important to them that they use influencers, not to hard-sell products, but rather as custodians of their brand. Influencers receive products for free and in return, they ask them to generate authentic content on how they use our products in their everyday life.
Who do you use for Payments and Shipping? What are the pros and cons of these services?
Tan Leather Goods uses 4 different couriers to accommodate different use cases. They are using Worldnet, Courier IT, Aramex for international and MDS. They like MDS's backend and the updates they provide are very helpful for customers.
Who do you use for Payments?
They use Payfast and more recently added Payflex.
Advice for other Entrepreneurs getting started?
"Be positive! Look at challenges as opportunities and learn to love the process."