Range Leather in Laramie wants customers to come for their heirloom quality leather goods and stay for the experience of watching the products be handmade right in front of them.
The business, which opened its first retail storefront at the end of March, hopes to make shopping at the store a destination experience, not just a place to buy your next wallet.
“I really see any sort of retail in our country going to some sort of experiential retail,” said owner Kyle Koster. “We want our customers to come in and have an experience along with their purchase.”
Customers enter Range Leather’s showroom in their newly renovated historic downtown building, where they can browse the company’s leather bags, wallets, jewelry and leather patch baseball caps. But the edge of the showroom is where Range Leather begins to differ from a typical store. Beyond the showroom is the production space for the company, where customers watch crafters creating the leather products.
“There’s a big production bar with five crafters up front,” Koster said. “You can talk to us crafters and experience the product being made. You get to see the care and the detail, the saddle stitching and all the things that we do to guarantee quality.”
Range Leather started with just Koster and his wife working out of a tiny apartment on their dining room table. When the couple moved to Laramie, he was working out of a garage. As business grew, he hired several employees and continued marketing through social media and selling exclusively through the Range Leather website. Though they didn’t have a storefront, people who followed their brand on social media would often stop in to see the crafting process when they were heading through on Interstate 80.
Koster hopes even more people will take the opportunity to pull off the interstate and stop in now that Range Leather has a retail space and room for curious customers to watch their process.
“Our hope with this storefront is that people come to see us and experience that,” he said.
With a lifetime customer satisfaction guarantee on all their products, Range Leather makes a point to anticipate where their products might fail and works to eliminate those weaknesses – whether that is a broken seam or a strap that fails.
“We’ve eliminated all the weak points in production that we can see, and really take the time and care when we are producing handcrafted products,” he said. “We craft products to stand the test of time. Our tagline is ‘Crafted to wear in, not out.’ The idea is if it wears in, it gets better with time.”
Many of their team of crafters didn’t necessarily have any experience in leather work, but they are the kind of people who are interested in working with their hands and crafting something that is meant to last.
“We at Range Leather desire to train craftsmen – not assembly line workers who would do the same thing every day,” Koster said of the 14 people now employed by the company. “That allows people to get better at their craft and get better at their trade. We’ve tried to create a system that allows them to learn. We really value long-term employees, because the training is so heavy on something like leather goods.”
Crafters at Range Leather work on a product from start to finish, beginning with a high-quality cowhide and taking it all the way to the finished product. Koster said the leather they work with is full grain leather. He explained there are several different grades of leather, and full grain is the highest quality.
“If someone has grandpa’s briefcase from 100 years ago, the reason it lasted was it was made of full grain leather,” Koster said. “You get the full thickness of the cow’s hide. You get what’s closest to the hair, and you get all this character. You get scars and different things that have been healed over.”
Koster said customers sometimes expect to see highly tooled western-style leather products like many have seen in cowboy or western culture, but Range Leather has a sleeker, more minimalistic look.
And that look is attracting business from around the state.
“The reason our business has grown is support from other local businesses,” Koster said, noting they have made hats for both Stag Arms in Cheyenne and Weatherby in Sheridan.
Range Leather’s leather patch hats are quickly becoming one of their most successful products. Koster said what sets their hats apart from other leather patch hats is the way they make them. Rather than burning the leather patch with a laser like many promotional hat companies do, Range Leather uses a combination of heat and pressure to apply what Koster calls a soft brand.
“We get this really cool depth of field – this debossed imprint on our hat, and we can do really fine details,” he said.
As their leather jewelry, watchbands and bags grow in popularity, as well, Koster said he would love to see the company become a household name that comes to mind when people think about buying leather products. He would like to see people turning away from buying cheap products shipped from overseas to looking for quality products that are made locally that will last a lifetime.
"A cool long-term goal would be switching the mindset in people to thinking similarly to how they would 100 years ago – thinking made in America, made in Wyoming and made to last.”
Visit Range Leather at 313 S. Second St. in Laramie, or visit their website at rangeleather.com.