In 2021 Tim Aton was working at a marketing agency in Spokane, Washington, running campaigns for clients. Then he received a call from a friend in Wyoming whose company, Range Leather, manufactured and sold hand-crafted leather goods.
The friend told him, “If you ever want to go from an agency to the brand side, come and help me grow Range.”
Aton made the jump. He’s now the chief operating officer of Range Leather, having moved his family to Laramie.
He and I recently discussed his new role. The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about Range Leather.
Tim Aton: Kyle Koster launched Range Leather in 2015 with a Kickstarter campaign. The company is based in Laramie, Wyoming. I was doing marketing for an agency in Spokane. Range Leather was a freelance client of mine. Kyle was from Laramie but lived in Spokane then.
He moved back to Laramie, and I stayed in Spokane. We reunited last year when Range was growing like crazy. Kyle bought a building in downtown Laramie. All of Range’s products are made there by humans. He called me and said, “If you ever want to go from an agency to the brand side, come and help me grow Range.” I was tired of the agency world. Living in small-town Laramie and running a leather brand looked good. I made the jump, and it’s been amazing.
Range Leather’s mission is to bring back the idea that products should last. Everything’s disposable these days. The company makes wallets, hats, bags, jewelry, and key chains. Our snapback hats with leather patches make up a good third, if not half, of revenue. People who wear hats tend to own a lot of them, so there’s a repeat purchase rate.
Our hats are unique. We use custom, full-grain leather from Horween Leather, a tannery in Chicago. Our leather is designed to take heat stamping better so that our logo’s shape is clearer, doesn’t smudge, and wears well.
A $30 hat has more volume than an $80 wallet. A wallet lasts forever, more or less. Purses are similar. But folks collect hats.
Bandholz: Talk about the differences between working for an agency versus a brand.
Aton: There are pros and cons to both. Agencies have access to many businesses and people — to expand a network and learn from others. There’s a lot of cross-pollinating of info. But the downside is being on the hook 24/7. Plus, you spend millions of dollars daily on clients’ ads. The stress can wear on you.
Working for a brand provides focus. It’s been nice to go deeper into one company instead of giving surface-level attention to 10. For instance, I can spend extra time thinking about our welcome email flow. But I lose access to what’s going on broadly in the space. I’ve been mitigating that by joining MentorPass, the one-to-one coaching service. Twitter is great for chatting with folks and learning from other brands. I still have friends on the agency side that I connect with monthly.
Bandholz: What drives sales for Range Leather?
Aton: The biggest challenge for us is educating prospects about leather. People know what leather is generally but not the specifics, such as types of leather, leather care, and how leather is made. That’s the educational part. We do that mostly through email, though we plan to add it to the site. Folks with the most leather knowledge tend to be our best customers.
We purchase the highest quality leather. It’s expensive, but we’ve been able to streamline our production process to keep costs down. And our crafters are amazing. They can build our products super-fast with very few errors.
Bandholz: You’re responsible for marketing and operations.
Aton: Yes, two separate functions. I break up my day. The first half is marketing — planning campaigns, working with the team, and all the promotional tasks you would expect.
Then I go home for lunch, see the family, regroup, and come back with an ops mindset. I look at the fires we are fighting and processes that need updating. I work with our wholesale team — B2B sales are huge for us. I work on customer experience. And I manage the shipping team. We pick, pack, and ship here.
Kyle’s expertise is product design and leather. Our production manager runs the day-to-day with the crafters. I don’t have to handle that. I primarily oversee operations and marketing. If I push an ad campaign and orders go up, I can rearrange the shipping team’s schedule to accommodate the orders. We can adapt fast on that front.
I love having eyes on both areas simultaneously.
Bandholz: Where can people follow you, support you, or buy cool leather goods?