Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Leather goods
Founder Thomas Brierton is expanding his company's offerings from luxury leather consumer goods to custom products for restaurants.
An economics major who previously worked at Taylor Guitars, Brierton enjoyed manufacturing things for years before officially launching Bryer Leather in 2014.
"I started making skateboards in college," he recalls. "That transitioned into working on leather, and I found myself making wallets for friends. I eventually realized I could make a bag, and then a lot of people really wanted one. That's when I decided to go in full-force on the business."
Brierton purchased his sewing machine out of personal savings and then sold wallets -- manufactured from home -- to build up capital. "I did my own website with Shopify," he adds. "Then I got a big order for leather bracelets and was able to use that to finance a laser cutter."
Today, Brierton operates out of a 1,000-square-foot workshop in an industrial space in San Diego. He manufactures custom leather bags, wallets, and bracelets for consumers under the name Bryer Leather and multi-material menu covers, check presenters, signs, and serving trays for area restaurants under the name, Bryer Made.
He decided to broaden his offerings from purely consumer goods to supply chain necessities after a big client took its bracelet business to China. "I guess they went cheap," Brierton says. "I was making 1,000 units a week for them, so that hit my business a little. I've been slowly expanding to restaurants, with about two or three new ones a month."
He sources all of his leather from Horween Leather Company in Chicago, the oldest tannery in the nation. "I use them because of their quality," Brierton adds. "I'm really pleased with their product. They also have a following of their own. If you use their leather, you gain an audience of people who already like it, their leather fans."
Inspiration for new products and designs comes from a variety of places. "I definitely draw inspiration from bags I see," Brierton explains. "I like to pick and choose pieces of what I like and then use the leather, colors, and fabrics to create a cohesive product. I also enjoy playing with shapes when creating bracelets. I design everything in Adobe Illustrator so I can play around with the designs and tweak things."
Challenges: Brierton says that lack of time is a major challenge, as he's usually his shop's only employee. "If I get a huge order, I'll hire a couple people to help," he says. "But the laser cutter takes a lot of labor out of the process, so I'm able to do big workloads with just me."
Opportunities: Brierton plans to ramp up his marketing efforts for Bryer Made this year. "So far, it has been mostly word of mouth," he explains. "I want to change this by creating a better online presence to make it easier to expand to restaurants outside of San Diego. [Bryer Leather] bags are great when I can sell them, but that's a one-unit sale. Restaurants might order 100 menus and then need more when they expand. The numbers are a lot better."
To facilitate this growth, he recently hired a commission-based sales rep. "He has been doing outreach and outside sales for me to bring in some new customers," Brierton adds. "That has been going pretty well."
Needs: "Someone to help with the website," Brierton says. "Someone to help me update it, do product photos, do a little marketing. I'm able to do a lot, but I can't do it all."