Campbell is seen here sourcing leather hides in China for merchandising and product development.
By Andy Kriege, YSN
Mike Campbell, president/CEO of Leather Italia USA, sat down with AVB’s director of home furnishings merchandising Seth Weisblatt to help kick off the Furniture Channel education track at this week’s Summit 21.
At a time when finding a reliable source for product is paramount, Campbell had some very encouraging news for independent furniture dealers. According to the chief exec, not only does Leather Italia have product, but it can consistently supply the pieces that fit the business model of the smaller independent retailer.
As Campbell put it, “When the pandemic initially hit, our unique approach of ‘do not disturb or disrupt our longstanding supply chain relationships’ proved itself to be a successful strategy. We actually bolstered more inventories and purchased large quantities of raw materials throughout the past year.”
Indeed, to further ensure an uninterrupted supply of goods from its overseas suppliers, Leather Italia consistently orders 15 percent more goods and materials than its order projections, he said.
One of the proactive ways the company avoided inventory issues is by monitoring supply chains for each item several times a day. “We talk to factories every night,” Campbell said. “We can then adjust accordingly on a daily or weekly basis. We stay ahead of demand issues by doing so.”
Campbell shared the ironic story of how he got started in the business. Fresh out of school and without a job, he was down to $1.38 in change and out of gas. He began walking down the main drag in High Point, N.C., and started knocking on doors. After being turned away several times, he took a different approach and knocked on the back door of a furniture store. When no one answered, he picked up a broom and began sweeping the loading dock. Eventually a man came out and barked, “What are you doing? You don’t work here.” Campbell looked up and said, “Well, I do now.”
And so began his epic furniture odyssey. He was first offered a job unloading trucks and soon moved on to the sales floor, pitching all types of furniture.
The next leg of the journey led Campbell to a position representing a leather tannery out of Australia. He began selling the raw leather materials and gained an invaluable understanding of the science of leather.
After putting in more than five years he was ready to go out on his own. Leveraging his leather contacts with manufacturing partners in Italy, Campbell fashioned some basic leather grouping mock-ups on frames and brought them back to the States to show at his first market — all financed on a home equity line of credit. But Campbell never once doubted he would succeed.
“I knew nobody would outwork me,” he said, “so it was just a matter of time before things would fall into place.”
He was right. His mock-ups garnered enough interest to get the pieces into production, and Leather Italia USA was born.
Fast-forward nearly 25 years and the company now has annual sales topping $52 million and produces over 300 styles of stationary and motion leather furniture. The business specializes in about 40 groups that are part of a “quick-ship” warehouse program, which is especially well suited for independent dealers like those of BrandSource.
“Leather Italia USA is such a great fit for the BrandSource dealer, based on the fact that we have a performing in-stock leather program with an uninterrupted supply chain,” Campbell explained. “Having two domestic warehouses” — in Leland, N.C. and Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. — “ensures a variety of both stationary and motion models that are proven, quick-ship items for the BrandSource dealer.”
Minimum capital outlay is another added benefit offered by Leather Italia USA. “We set up our business with small dealers in mind so they could order with no minimums,” he noted. “We wanted to not only ensure that there would be inventory to buy, but also to make sure our dealers’ credit did not take a hit.”
Campbell also supports the independent channel by shunning competitive e-commerce sites in a policy started years ago. “I always felt we need to be working exclusively with the independent retailer who is working hard to support their local community,” he said. “I would never sell to a retail partner and then place them in the position to compete with what an e-comm type offers.”
“We enjoy competing and winning the right way,” he added. And we do.”