Building a High-Quality Leather Bag Brand and a Successful Ecommerce Business – Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company (Video)

Interview Video

Podcast Audio

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Intro

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company, a profitable online business that sells high-quality indestructible leather bags and accessories, shares his very interesting startup story as well as lessons in branding, marketing, and leadership in building a successful Ecommerce Business.

Resources Mentioned in the Episode

What You’ll Learn

Interview with Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company

Segment 1: The Story

In this segment, we will briefly discover the story behind the entrepreneur, businessperson, or brand.

  1. Could you please share the Startup story for Saddleback? How did you come up with the idea? What were the first steps are taken, initial investment, etc?
  2. What steps do you take to continue to grow personally as an entrepreneur, business owner, CEO (e.g. read books, coaches, mentors, etc.)?

Segment 2: The Business

In this segment, we will dive into the business and explore topics related to business strategy and tactics.

Create a Profitable Online Business

  1. What does your manufacturing process look like? Are all your products handmade?
  2. Is there a lot of competition in the leather bags space in the US? How do you differentiate your business and stay competitive in the marketplace?
  3. Who is your target market/ideal customer? Your business has a “family-based” small/medium-sized business feel to it as opposed to a corporate luxury brand feel. Is this intentional?
  4. What does your team look like? What are your thoughts on leadership, delegating, and running a company effectively?

Segment 3: The Digital

In this segment, we will explore questions related to eCommerce and digital strategy and tactics.

  1. Are you an Ecommerce only business? Do you still sell on eBay (there is actually a market of second-hand sellers of Saddleback bags on eBay)? Have you ever thought of selling through other retailers?
  2. What are your most effective marketing channels for you in terms of new customer acquisition? How big is your marketing team?
  3. You have a large and engaged social media following on YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. How do you view your social media as marketing channels? How do you measure the ROI from your social media channels?

Segment 4: Rapid Fire

In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.

  1. One book that you would recommend to entrepreneurs/business professionals in 2020 and why (Response: How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie)
  2. An innovative product or idea in the current eCommerce, retail, or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response: Sustainable Medical Attire)
  3. A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend (Response: Notes on your Phone)
  4. A startup or business (in eCommerce, retail, or tech) that you think is currently doing great things (Response: Holtz Leather)
  5. A peer entrepreneur or business-person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Response: Seth Godin)

Interview Transcript

Create a Profitable Online Business

Sushant Misra: Hey there entrepreneurs! my name is Sushant and welcome to Trep Talks. This is the show where i interview successful entrepreneurs business executives and thought leaders and ask them questions about their business story and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses. And today I’m so excited to welcome Mr. Dave Munson. Dave is the founder and CEO of Saddleback Leather Company which manufactures and sells high-quality leather bags briefcases and wallets and other leather merchandise. and today I want to ask Dave a few questions about his startup story and some of the strategies and tactics that he has used to grow his business so thank you so much for joining me today Dave. 

Dave Munson: Well, I’m glad to be here it’s an honor. 

Sushant Misra: The pleasure is all mine. so the first segment is called the story and in this segment, I want to discover um the story behind the entrepreneur business or the brand so I know that you have a very interesting story could you please share a little bit about your startup story for Saddleback Leather Company how did you get the idea and what were some of the first steps and yeah how did you get started?

Dave Munson: yeah so in 1999 i was teaching English down in Mexico and central Mexico southern Mexico uh and so i was down there and I was i was needing a bag to carry my books in i had an old you know backpack from college and so what i decided to do uh was get a leather one something like Indiana Jones would carry and so i started looking around for one couldn’t find one anywhere in the markets but i found a guy making leather bags so i asked him if i drew it out if he could make it for me so he did and everywhere i went with that bag everyone was asking me oh my gosh where did you get that bag and 

Sushant Misra: so  before this you know you never thought about like starting a business this was just like your personal you wanted to get it back for your personal reasons, 

Dave Munson: right yeah i got a degree in theology so if you want to know about the end of the world and how all that happens and how to go to heaven i’m your guy but i didn’t know anything about business or anything about marketing or or design or anything like that so uh yes so i i had a bag made everyone loved it and i told them i didn’t want any breakable parts no zippers no snaps magnets you know that sort of thing so i said i want them to fight over it when i’m dead so that’s our slogan they’ll fight over it when you’re dead and i got back up to the u.s and everyone was asking me you know man where’d you get that bag where’d you get that bag where could i buy one of those bags you know four or five times a day people tapped me on the shoulder so i uh i went back to mexico i ended up in juarez mexico across from el paso texas um i was living there with my dog uh we slept on the floor of a 1Sushant Misra:  a month apartment for three years no hot water uh we um i would go to the bus station uh once a week or so and they would this father and son further south would send bags up on the bus and i’d go get him take him to el paso sell them on ebay i used a friend’s mechanic shop at night and he he did said you know he wasn’t using it so i sold there on ebay and then uh yeah i got selling so many bags that i couldn’t keep up with demand.

Sushant Misra: do you, by the way, do you consider yourself to be like a natural entrepreneur or more like a salesperson kind of a personality because when I see your videos on youtube or other channels like I can I can I feel that you know you almost as a personality you’re more of a self uh sales or entrepreneurial personality do you think that that helped you in building this business because otherwise someone else could have very easily found that you know they’re interested in this bag but they would have never thought about starting a business.

Dave Munson: yeah um i think i have the entrepreneurial spirit so i’ve had about 30 different jobs before i started my own and i just hated working for people so i saw the problem in all in everything i saw that it’s kind of a flaw when you get married that’s a curse because you see the flaw in your wife you see the flaw in the kids you see everything’s wrong so you have to you know decide when you speak up when you don’t the salesperson that’s a different breed those guys they have to follow up and pursue and pursue and set set times to follow up again and be really persistent that’s those are the excellent sales people they’re always networking networking networking um that’s a different profile my brother has that um but he wouldn’t be an entrepreneur he doesn’t have a lot of ideas for things and so i’ve got a lot of ideas for things and how to make things better than everyone else so whenever i see a chair i think this is a terrible design why didn’t they do this what if what if we had a chair that had a plug you could plug your laptop into it you know so you’re always thinking of improving things so so i think the entrepreneurs they’re visionaries they have a lot of ideas um sales people don’t have a lot of ideas but they’re really good at connecting with people and being persistent and really you need kind of both uh once once a business gets off the ground you need to have uh sales people who can be persistent follow through um i don’t really need to follow through with too many things i’m not very good with that but i’m good with um yeah i’m good with people you want to be good with people i think it’d be difficult to start a business if you’re not good with people 

Sushant Misra: um so yeah and I know I know that uh you know when I look at your social media youtube channels Instagram um you travel a lot and uh I know that traveling has a lot of benefits um just meeting new people what what what is the benefit that you find that travel has do you do you recommend it to other people 

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company: yeah so uh i think it was saint augustine said the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page and so uh when i when you travel around i see little attachments i see little features of design i see little i see arches and i see different styles of homes and kitchens and you just start seeing so many things it opens your mind up to a lot of different um uh it’s a different way of thinking so it’s not always necessary but but it just opens your mind it has opened my mind up to a whole lot of different in design particularly um a lot of different things i think it’s very important to to uh to travel i think it’s it should be required to travel um overseas to to understand different cultures and perspectives and when you then when you get back you’re better able to relate to people uh not everyone you know your friends and buddy buddies but you’re it’s easier to to it’s easier to uh relate to people from other cultures so we’ve been to africa i don’t know a couple dozen times and i i was on the airplane one time talking to a guy and and he had a strong indian accent and i said oh where from india are you from where are you from in india he said actually i’m from nepal and i said oh okay so did you have water growing up in your in your home he goes no he was shocked he was a university professor uh up in at the university of washington and i said did you have electricity in your home he said he was wide-eyed he goes no i didn’t how did you know excuse me i said well we travel a little bit we realize not everyone has those things in their homes and he uh he he said but nobody knows that everyone thinks everyone in the world has a flat flat screen tv and i said i said no no i i understand that because of being in a lot of places without running water or you know a a well for the community you know that sort of thing no electricity the kids can’t study at night and anyway so i was able to have a meaningful conversation with him that nobody else had had and so that’s from traveling 

Sushant Misra: well i know i am from india and i grew up in india and and you know i can tell that growing up there was a lot of times there was a power outage and we had uh we literally had to study for exams like in kerosene lamps and things like that so that’s that’s that was the story of india at least i think 20 years ago 

Sushant Misra: now we’re going to move on to our next segment which is called the business and in this segment um i want to dive deep into a little bit more about your business and some of the strategies and tactics that you’ve used to start and grow your business. So i’m very interested in learning about what your manufacturing process is like um are you are all your products handmade?

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company: yeah so handmade is some people will say it’s not handmade if uh if a machine is is used um somebody else will say if even if you hand made the machine with just a knife and you and you pulled hair out and you made a band for it that doesn’t qualify as handmade anymore it had you can’t use a machine so yeah all of our stuff is um takes muscle it takes strength all of our bags it takes skill takes eight to ten months of of daily sewing on a heavy machine to be able to to get nice strong stitching uh all of the lining is done by hand all the pigskin all of the on top of the leather um yeah it’s now we have dies that we click we we cut out of you know certain things certain things we cut by hand when we’re doing our trunks leather trunks uh those are you know takes it takes two guys two weeks to make a trunk and that is completely hand sewn all by hand but we have sewing machines um that uh yeah that we do a lot of so we we consider it handmade even though we use dyes for cutting out leather but here’s the thing i had this father and son making bags a long time ago and they were all handmade like hand handmade like hand stitching and that sort of thing and the quality wasn’t as good as the quality that i get with my with my sewing machines and it’s not as consistent uh and they would miss things but when you have when you have repetition when you have three people who are making a bag and they get used to the same role over and over again and then they switch roles with someone else but they get real they get really good at it and you get higher quality um so i i wouldn’t want everything hand hand hand made i don’t think you would get the quality that we have um 

Sushant Misra: and do you do you think that there’s some drawback of this also given that you know you can’t really mass produce these bags if you’re like if there is a requirement for you know some uh manual uh intervention for every product or or do you consider this as a value proposition that this is you know you have uh a very curated selection of products 

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company: yeah it it it’s not a drawback because uh we don’t sell to ever we’re not trying to sell to the whole world we’re not trying to be a generic brand um so yeah we run out of stock quite often uh of of our bags which is it’s kind of nice it it creates more of a demand like wow everyone likes this bag everyone likes these bags so no that doesn’t bother me having that that it’s kind of it’s a constraint not having something that the machine just stamps out um or something low quality that that is made in such mass uh that you have ended up being kind of junky the lower quantity it requires us to do excellent work 

Sushant Misra: and who do you consider to be your ideal customer or target market i know when i look at your business you know i get the feeling of um you know more of a small business family family based and not not more of like a corporate brand um is that intentional or um what what was the strategy behind that

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company: yeah no one wants to buy from saddleback leather corp they want to buy from dave munson right you want to buy from a friend you want to buy from someone you like and so someone who’s authentic and so when so i share stuff that’s authentic um i i share the behind the scenes of our of our life with you know we have a not dead yet show um that we do little just behind the scenes stuff we have i think 70 episodes now um we we’re just very personable i think people like to buy from friends and so um and also it’s different from trying to compete with j.crew and all these you know ralph lauren all these really professional companies i purposefully have our customer service reps answer the phone hey uh hey how’s it going this is saddleback leather what’s going on how can i help you you know real casual so all the videos i posted a picture we were in australia one time and we saw this kangaroo at this park and he had a huge nuts hanging down i mean they were huge really impressive and i saw his i put my bag there i kind of and so and i got back and then i zoomed in and it magnified his you know his little nuts there they do you know and they make uh i’ve got bottle holders or bottle openers yeah they yeah they’re pretty cool so i took a picture and i posted it on facebook and some lady um older lady i checked looked her out looked her up she posted that is unprofessional and not funny and i said i said you know it’s funny you say that because my wife says that about me and unprofessional not funny and so yeah it’s it’s a it’s funny how people like that they’re like hey this guy’s real hey the guy’s got he’s he’s you know kind of ballsy he’s got he’s got guts he doesn’t just try to blend in and try to please everyone vanilla he takes a stand for stuff and and he’s and so anyway yeah we’re we’re very personable and i think that’s what has separated us from just a uh hey do you want to buy a bag it’s a nice quality you want to buy a bag

Sushant Misra: can you share a little bit about your team um and a little bit about your leadership style what are your thoughts on um delegating and running a company effectively 

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company: yeah so uh because i’m a visionary and i’ve got a i have usually have about 50 ideas before my first cup of coffee and um i just have a lot of you know that that can hurt a business if you don’t have people who are structured and organized and love numbers and all of that sort of thing it can really hurt your business so a danger of entrepreneurs is they hire a bunch of people just like themselves you have to hire people who are different from you um i mean you have to and if you’re let’s say you’re a business owner an entrepreneur and you have a really good idea for something that no one else has done or or that is better than other people’s uh and you’re kind of introverted you’ve got to have a visionary you’ve got to have people on your side who can think of new ideas and who are good with meeting with people networking so getting people around us the way you do that we use a a free test called the core values index okay the cvi and i give that to every employee before we hire them and then we ask we look for a personality profile we say hey this person’s got to be a little more serious they’ve got to be more numbers focused they’ve got to be okay being alone a lot and and we don’t want them in a hurry for things and so that turns out to be a certain profile and then we go and find that person and if you find the right person for the right roles man they have endless energy to do their work they’re hungry to do a good job but if if they’re not if you get them in the wrong role you just hire a really nice guy a really nice gal then you’re shooting yourself in the foot you need to find someone who’s whose personality fits the role and you find that when you use this uh personality test uh more often than not uh you are you end up with the right person like this actually works oh all the time yeah not all the time some usually 90 90 of the time and then you have other things like um one of the things we are big on is is what we try for is humility and we’re prideful a lot in a lot of different ways but uh we try to be humble and so we can take other people’s opinions and we can other people’s criticisms and other people’s um we don’t constantly interrupt people we’re we’re open to other people’s successes we want other people to be successful if you have a prideful person oh my gosh that’s you can’t work that way with those people they take credit for everything they they know it all you can’t tell them anything that around or easily offended they they brag about their successes they don’t congratulate anyone else it’s brutal there’s a great book called the ideal team player by patrick lincione the ideal team player and it talks all about that but um yeah that’s a really big one is is hiring humble people so in my interviews i ask i’m usually the last person to interview i’ll say so tell me uh tell me one of your bigger mistakes and humble people will go oh man i got a list prideful people say you know i don’t make mistakes or they they have trouble coming up with mistakes we just had that with a guy a production manager we were looking to hire in mexico and i said tell me about some of your bigger mistakes and you couldn’t think of any and i was hiring a general manager looking for that role last year and i interviewed a guy and he said the last mistake he made was like 31 years ago and i go oh so he’s too prideful not this this interview is over so um and here’s a little tip for entrepreneurs for when you have employees the favorite question is uh buy when because your business will grow at the at the speed at which you make agreements with people so you say that’s a great idea what have we agreed to so far in this meeting and so someone says oh this this this and you say okay great so who’s who’s gonna take that oh you will okay well by when can we have the results or b and oh i don’t know um i i’ll get back to you i have to check okay well by when will you know by when will you check by when by when oh so you’re going to have that by when can we have that for us to read by when can we have that prototype finished oh that’s interesting okay bye win so that’s got to be your favorite question and just casually ask by when and once people agree to it if you don’t make an agreement it might be three months before you see it so uh very important 

Sushant Misra: what if if a person makes an agreement and then they don’t deliver on that by one date 

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company: oh you know i do that everyone does that so you say oh so i thought we were going to have that you said he’d have it by friday um and he didn’t get it oh well you know i kind of got sidetracked i had a lot to do say okay no problem uh so by when do you think you can have it to us oh by by monday okay yeah no that’s great and then they give it to you now if they don’t get it on monday uh or once you start seeing a pattern of this but you may not even see a pattern if you don’t ask the question so if you see a pattern of them procrastinating on everything not finishing duties not finishing tasks not reaching back out to people not scheduling you start seeing that and you know you have the wrong person for that role and so you need to just remember it and either put them into a different role or replace them because you don’t want uh but see yeah that’s where the cbi comes in certain certain tasks i don’t i don’t ask people there are certain people i don’t ask them by when because i know they already have it scheduled and they’ll have they’ll have it finished you know before the date but you know you get to know your people 

Sushant Misra: okay now we’re going to move on to our next segment it’s called the digital and in this segment i’m going to ask you a few questions or maybe i’ll just ask you one question because we’re running out of time uh about your digital business and your digital marketing strategy i am very interested in learning about um your marketing because you know your uh a lot of your marketing comes across through your social media i suppose um how would you describe your overall marketing strategy in terms of uh new customer acquisition and how do you see your social media as um as a marketing channel 

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company: so the social media is just you have to do it you have to um do that we we have a a good following of people so we have um one of the fan groups has like 83 84Sushant Misra:  the saddleback leather fan group is what it’s called um yeah we we have big fan big fan groups and they market for us so we share with them things and they talk about it and they talk about with all their friends they post pictures of their bags their friends see them with their bags all the time so so this fan group is not managed by your company like this is a separate uh yeah they do there’s some different people started themselves just customers um no we don’t manage that at all but we get in there and so one of our nicest things is to we we get in involved with them and so i get in in fact i was just in a little earlier today and i’ll post pictures of things that i see and and they like interacting with the owner and i’m not too big to interact with people i love love people i love talking to people and so um us interacting with them is a is a big deal and then they talk about us one of the big things about the marketing that we’d like to do is education so um it is educating about leather educating about what goes into quality quality leather educated about the metal that we use for the hardware all just the finer details even educating about the tanning process vegetable tanning versus chrome tanning and what what are those um educating about the thread all these little details and the more when i learn it i just pass it on to them so uh education if you can educate people without asking them for anything just educate them they trust you and then they want the and they appreciate you there now there’s a little reciprocity going on where they want to reciprocate for you helping them be wiser in life in their decisions and um and so yes it’s you can never lose just educating people and and being in relationship with people caring for them and are you able to somehow measure the roi so you do the this education you put out so much different content on social media is there a way for you to know that yes i’m doing it i see that there’s a lot of views or there’s a lot of comments on my posts but it is actually turning into business uh do you do you measure that somehow um i mean we can see on google analytics who comes in from uh on social posts where they come from we can see you know so we can they let they help us to see those things but uh we don’t we don’t only do stuff if we’re gonna get sales we we just continually um educate continually interact continually spend time and it seems to work so we don’t only do stuff that we can measure or only do stuff that has a a really strong uh return on it we do like we’re i’m about ready to send out a just an encouraging email to our customer our our our newsletter group and just saying hey you know what it’s a hard time and uh you know and i’m going to just share with them some things that we’re going through and that i’m learning and i hope i hope it helps you so that’s not going to bring in any sales that newsletter um but it it cements in their mind that i care about them and that we’re friends 

Sushant Misra: finally we’re going to move on to our final segment called the rapid fire round and in this segment i’m going to ask you a few quick questions and you have to answer them in a few words or one or two sentences so the first one is do you recommend any book for entrepreneurs or business executives in 2020 and why i know you already mentioned one book 

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company: okay how to win friends and influence people by dale carnegie is written a long time ago but read that book how to win friends and influence people 

Sushant Misra: that is the book i i read it i think when i was a kid and it was very very useful um an innovative product or idea in the current e-commerce retail or tech landscape that you’re excited about 

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company: yeah so uh medical attire it’s kind of interesting um it’s a new thing for the most part in the us they usually wear them for surgeries but uh all natural all natural no polyester polyesters from the devil uh causes all kinds of problems uh all natural cotton cool 

Sushant Misra: a productivity tool or software that you would recommend 

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company: i would say notes on your phone as simple as that but take notes about everything you just just take down notes take down notes take down notes copy it all take down your ideas all day long uh 

Sushant Misra: a startup or business in e-commerce retailer tech that you think are doing great things right now to help create a profitable online business

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company: there’s a company called holtz leather h-o-l-t-z leather it’s a family i believe they’re in mississippi or alabama and they’re making small little uh very personalized thing it’s a family that works together um and they’re really breaking into the corporate world for corporate gifts i i kind of kind of like them cool um 

Sushant Misra: and finally a peer entrepreneur or business person who inspires you a 

Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company: an entrepreneur person who inspires me um i would say seth godin is who i he’s entrepreneurial he’s more of a writer of course uh marketing guy right marketing guy but he he encourages people around you to around you he around him he encourages people to try to launch to ship he’s constantly encouraging people and um you know he does he does make money from he’s definitely an entrepreneur but um know that he’s just so encouraging all the time it’s it’s a he’s a real he’s a real blessing to me a lot 

Sushant Misra: perfect so those were all the questions that i had thank you so much dave for joining us today thank you for sharing your story and some of the uh your insights with us so um if anyone wants to find you or if you have any products or your company how can they find you 

Dave Munson: yeah uh saddlebackleather.com like the saddle of a horse on his back and leather.com saddlebackleather.com that’s where we are uh we also are here in fort worth texas right now you can’t visit because we are we are all shut down um but yeah we’re here in fort worth texas and uh yeah it’s kind of fun we have a fun little thing going here perfect thank you thank you so much again uh dave for joining us today at Trep Talks hey thanks for having me it’s it’s an honor thank you thank you. 

Create a Profitable Online Business
Create a Profitable Online Business
Create a Profitable Online Business
Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Company

Also, get inspired to Create a Profitable Online Business with the Interview with Angela (Li) Right.



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