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RapidChat: Adam Kail

As discussion continues on bringing more retail tenants to downtown Grand Rapids, entrepreneur Adam Kail has turned a blind eye to the conversation. Instead of partaking in the chatter, he and his team are taking a stance. Previously a 95 percent web-based business, Brother's Leather Supply Co. will be opening their first brick and mortar store at 15 S. Division this September.

As discussion continues on bringing more retail tenants to downtown Grand Rapids, entrepreneur Adam Kail has turned a blind eye to the conversation. Instead of partaking in the chatter, he and his team are taking a stance: Brother's Leather Supply Co. will be opening their first brick and mortar store at 15 S. Division this September.
Rapid Growth: As the owner of an executive search firm, what inspired you to take a leap in a completely different direction with creating leather goods?
 
Adam Kail: It’s a pretty crazy story. I couldn’t find a leather bag that I wanted and didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for. I started researching the process and thought that the risk would be worth the reward. With a $2,500 investment, my wife, Beth, and I launched Brothers Leather Supply Co. in six weeks. We launched four products on backorder, and gave potential buyers a $30 discount.

The response was tremendous, and it took off from there. We were shipping and receiving boxes from our basement, with our two kids ages 4 and 2 (plus one on the way) running around. It was pretty hectic to say the least, and four months later we signed a lease on a space at 131 and Hall Street as our operation grew. We’ve got a team of five, and we’re continuing to grow! Since launch, we’ve sold bags in every US state/territory, and to 19 countries.

RG: What is the story behind the name “Brothers Leather Supply Co.”?
 
AK: This is another funny story. My great friend Ryan, who is the Chief Designer for our bags and products now, is an expert packaging and brand designer, and we were considering launching a company called “Brothers Business and Branding.” We were going to be a one-stop resource for people starting new companies - I’d help with the business plan, registering the company, figuring out a marketing plan, budget, etc., and Ryan would help with the name, logo, color scheme, packaging, etc. We realized that it wasn’t the right time to launch this venture after Ryan had created the logo.

When I decided to start this company, I told him I thought that “Brothers Leather” would be perfect and asked if I could use the logo he created for our other company. He’s a legendary human and he agreed without pause. We like to think that our bags stick closer than a brother, and so that also plays in to our name. I think a lot of times people spend way too much time trying to name a company when it’s really all about two things: customer service and product. I’m really happy with how Brothers Leather Supply Co.’s name turned out.
 
RG: What does the process look like for developing a new product within the Brother’s Leather Supply line?
 
AK: It’s roughly a 9-month process. Each month we have a design meeting where we go over a few main topics. First, is there any product currently offered that we need to redesign/tweak based on customer feedback? Secondly, we go over the latest rendition of whatever design we’re working on.

In designing a product, we always ask “what does our customer want?” which we know from emails/phone calls/surveys that we send out. We also try to stay ahead of what’s trending and ensure our designs will be relevant when they launch. When we get a design done, then we go through a series of tests, engineering, and internal and external feedback, and then we go to production.
 
RG: Which of your designs is your favorite?
 
AK: The Fulton. It’s an amazing bag to take as a carry-on when you fly. We designed it to be incredibly functional as well as beautifully handcrafted. It’s got a secure compartment for your laptop, two easy-access hidden pockets near the zipper up top, a spacious interior, and can be carried three separate ways. I travel frequently, and it’s always annoying to be somewhere with a lot of stuff out, and have to pack up fast so you just throw everything in a space and try to move. With this bag, you can stay organized, efficient, and be arguably the best-looking person on the airplane.
 
RG: In addition to selling your products online, you have a few retail partners. Can any interested merchant carry your product line?
 
AK: Yeah, we actually have 25+ partners from California to Texas, North Carolina to London, England. We have a pretty great wholesale program and are always looking for the right partners to help promote our brand nationally. We spend a few minutes making sure it’s the right fit for both the merchant and us, and then we move forward. We promote all our partners on our social media sites and our website. We see it as a partnership more than anything - the more successful they are, the more we are.
 
RG: I read that most of your customers tend to be men. Do you have any new products or marketing plans in the pipeline that will be more targeted towards women?
 
AK: I’m happy to tell you that we have a women’s line launching this fall. Our first line will consist of a clutch, shopper, medium carry, and large carry, and will be offered in natural tan and black. I’m really excited to launch these as we’ve been working on them since January. My wife has been running point on it, and has done a fantastic job. The designs are timeless as well as extremely functional.
 
We also currently offer two different Tote bags that many women have purchased. We have a Vintage Tote which is more of a everyday bag and The Grand Tote which is geared toward the professional.
 
RG: Can you tell me more about your partnership with Garrett Goodwin - the drummer for Carrie Underwood?
 
AK: Garrett reached out to us as he was a huge fan of our bags and wanted to see if he could help get the word out. He’s been extremely helpful sharing our brand with his followers and people he comes across, as well as offering suggestions on how we can grow and improve. He’s become a great friend and is an even better person than he is drummer. They played in Michigan a few weeks ago and he had us out - it was a great time.
 
RG: How else are you getting the word out about Brother’s Leather?
 
AK: It’s been pretty organic. Our social stuff does well, plus we’ve been featured in publications like this, Maxim, Grand Rapids Business Journal, MLive, Grand Rapids Press, Michiprenuer, Super Compressor, Stupid Dope, and more. The best marketing tool we have is our products. People use their bags, wallets, iPhone cases daily, and refer our stuff to all their friends. Having a superior product is what has helped us grow so quickly.
 
RG: You and your team are opening your first flagship store on S. Division. Can you tell me more about that?
 
AK: If you’d have told me a year ago, when we were still operating Brothers Leather out of our basement, that in a year we would be opening a retail store, I would have laughed. Right now, 95 percent of our sales happen via the internet, but we always thought that if we could find the perfect situation for a retail space we’d jump at it.

Division Avenue, aka The Avenue for the Arts, was always our first choice, as we think the community is fantastic and that part of the city is growing tremendously. We stumbled across 15 S. Division and it couldn’t be a better situation. The people who own the building are fantastic, the space is ideal, and we think it’s going to be a big hit. We’re still under construction, but are aiming to be open for business September 1, and will have a Grand Opening event just before ArtPrize. We think that this investment in our company is going to further promote our brand in our city, give people an opportunity to touch and feel our products prior to purchasing, and gives us access to an amazing community and group of people.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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