Today we are introducing you to Colin, a leather craftsman and the small business owner of Cohan Leather in Stonelands QLD.
Colin is a self-taught leather craftsman who learnt the skill out of convenience to avoid long road trips into town when working on very remote cattle stations. Creating leather products quickly became a hobby for Colin and for 15 years he made products for himself, his friends and occasionally ran a stall at local markets. After experiencing a setback in his career, Colin took advice from an old friend and found a way to make money doing something that he loves. Today, Colin is continuing to teach himself new leather skills and would like to create workshops and videos so that others can learn the craft too.
“The most useful part of the support from my business coach Stacy was her excitement in my business idea. She was confident in me at a time when my confidence was low.”
Read his journey.
I do handcraft leather goods and the main part of my business is custom crafted leather goods. My customers tell me what they want and I find a way to create it for them. I opened my doors in the middle of May this year. Before that I was a hobby level craftsman for 15 years. It is something I thoroughly enjoy spending my time doing.
Some products I make include belts, rifle cases, dog collars, and really anything else a customer comes to me with. They show me a particular design and I can recreate that for them. I also specialise in the recreation of historical products that are important family heirlooms. Usually, after a fair bit of research on what they are supposed to look like, I can recreate these items for my customers. I do saddle repairs and I am getting into building saddles. I am very diverse in what I do.
A friend of mine has started a dog tracking devices business, and I am working with them now to develop a leather collar for this system to sit in.
Deciding To Go Into Business
Most of my life, I worked as a stockman on cattle stations. I learnt leather crafting while working on cattle stations out of necessity because it was easier to learn how to fix my own gear rather than travelling into town.
Prior to starting the business, I was a farm manager for Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council for 5 years. It was a high-pressure job, and I faced some mental health challenges during this time and didn’t have time for my craft. I found myself without a job.
I had a fair number of injuries from working on cattle stations. It is hard to find a job when people find out you are struggling with mental health. I picked up a few days of work through a friend from church but that wasn’t enough to pay the bills. As the healing process continued, I found it hard to find work especially with COVID-19 restriction. During the downtime, I got back into my leather craft. That is when I came across Many Rivers and everything lined up.
Starting Cohan Leather
When I picked up my leather trade again, friends who I had made products for over the years asked me to make more for them. I realised that not only is this something that I love doing but that it can bring in income for my family.
I used to sell my products at the markets, and it was just as a bit of a hobby at that stage. An old fella told me a secret, ‘find something you enjoy doing, and then work out a way to make money out of it.’ That is exactly what I have done. Now I wake up in the morning and I am excited to go to work. Having my own business has taken a lot of pressure off my shoulders and improved my mental health. It is exactly what I needed at this stage of my life.
Working with Many Rivers
At the time, I was struggling financially as well as with my mental health. I was looking online for different types of support. After some research and looking into Many Rivers, I thought I should have a go at opening my own small business. I knew of some local people who had received Many Rivers’ support. The application process to get on board with Many Rivers was very easy.
Although I had a basic understanding of business from my previous work, my business coach Stacey has helped me to fine-tune my business plan and financial records. She has also helped me through the process of applying for a loan through Many Rivers to get my business up and running.
The most useful thing for me was her excitement about my business idea. She was confident in me at a time when my confidence was low.
I received a loan from Many Rivers with Stacy’s support to get initial materials such as leather and buckles.
My wife helps me occasionally. It is very much a family business. I have three kids and they all enjoy helping me out.
The biggest challenge that I am facing is building a customer base, especially during this period of COVID-19 restrictions. I am unable to get to some shows such as rodeos where I can be seen more, and people can learn about what I can do with my craft. From where I live, I have to travel quite a few hours to get to anywhere to network. Most of my customers come from my Facebook page.
As a stockman, I worked with a lot of younger people entering the industry and I would train them up. Now it looks like Kingaroy Scouts group would like me to come and teach them leathercraft.
I have managed to secure a couple of return customers who are ordering on a regular basis. They come back and order different things from me, such as Kingaroy Scout and a local cattle dog breeder who needs a lot of dog collars. I want my business to head in the direction of workshops so that I can teach people the craft and I have started recording YouTube videos.
The biggest change for me and my family is being at home more. I work from home and get to see my kids growing up in a way that a lot of people don’t get to do anymore.
The area I really want to extend to is handcrafted leather boots. There are not a lot of courses on how to master this craft, so I am still learning. Down the track, I would love the leather boots to be the main part of my business. Everything I am doing now is self-taught.
Since starting this business I still work casually as a stockman because it is still something that I love, however, I no longer have to deteriorate my physical health by doing it every day.
Thanks Colin, for sharing your business journey so far. We are excited to be joining you on this journey as it continues. Follow Colhan Leather on Facebook to stay updated and to learn about leathercraft.
We love to encourage people to take the first step towards kick-starting their small businesses ideas. Do you want to make your small business dreams a reality? We’re here to support you the whole way.
Please take the Small Business Self Assessment and see if we are right for you.