A hot wife, two fabulous kids, 14 Rwandan sons and daughters, a cool dog and a crooked federale sent to kill me kind of makes up the Saddleback story. And here’s how it happened.
The Saddleback Story
I got my first exposure to real tough leather at a Mexican bullfight... and I was the one fighting the bull. I didn't understand much Spanish then, but from what I gathered, they said to shake this cape thing and the bull would go for it.
What they didn't tell me (or maybe they did) was that if anything else were shaking i.e. my left leg, the bull might go for that instead. Well, he wasn't real pretty with one curved horn and one straight one, and he wasn't real bright either, but he was a fast learner. So the shaking thing worked... the first time.
To read "Dave the Bullfighter" click here.
My long and promising 15 minute bullfighting career ended that day and shortly thereafter, Saddleback Leather began. It's been a fun ride filled with quite a few adventures.
A crooked Federale was sent to kill me. I traded my black lab, Blue's, puppies for 100 tacos, two times.
To read "Puppies for Tacos" click here.
Dave's Best Friend(s)
Blue and I lived in a $100/month apartment in Juarez, Mexico for a three years sleeping on the floor and with no hot water. My little brother, Jonathan, and I worked for a Mexican mafia family (we think). But the biggest adventure of all was when I met my hot wife, Suzette, on Myspace while I was in Costa Rica and Panama getting pics of my bags. When I saw that picture of her skinning a deer, my heart stopped. Way sexier than any lingerie for sure.
More than a Little Luck
So, I had my first bag made while living in Southern Mexico as a volunteer English teacher to kids who needed a little help at a place called Centro NOE.
I had looked everywhere for just the right bag to carry the school books, but with no luck. So I prayed for God to help me find the greatest bag ever, just like the one I had in my head. Well, as it turned out, He helped me to find that bag, but in a way I wasn't expecting.
I walked into a little leather shop and met a fellow working leather in the back. I asked him if he could make me a bag if I were to draw it out. I told him that I wanted it to be made so well that my grandkids would fight over it while I was still warm in the grave. He said "Si" and I said "Bueno" and that's how it all started. God directed me to the perfect bag that didn't even exist yet.
I loved that thing and when I got back to the states, I found that a lot of other people did too. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I got 3 to 4 compliments a day on it. People asked me all the time where I found it and where they could get one too. The bag was actually fun to carry because I like talking to strangers. People crossed the street to ask about it and came out of their offices when I walked by their windows.
A Great Start
One of the more common remarks I heard was "I bet that bag has some great stories" and believe me, it did (hitchhiking southern Mexico with big sombreros (I'm the one on the right), surf trips, car crashes, jungle treks, countless taco stands etc.). It didn't take long to realize that I was onto a good thing.
Well, Blue and I went right back to Mexico to have 8 more made. A month later, in Portland, Oregon, we sold most of the bags off the safari rack of my old Land Cruiser in about 3 hours. Well, I'm the one who sold them. Blue just sat there on the tailgate.
Back to Old Mexico
After that, I decided to move back to Mexico to get more bags made and get the company off the ground. I moved to Acapulco first. That didn’t work, so I ended up selling real estate around a golf course near Mexico City for a couple of years while I was getting a few bags made.
They asked me in the interview if I knew how to sell real estate. I looked at the man, slightly rolled my eyes with an insulted look and kind of laughed and confidently said, “Of course I can”. Then I thought to myself, “How hard could selling real estate in Mexico be anyways”? But that’s a story for another time.
The leather worker, who made my first bag, though talented, was to be trusted about as much as you’d trust a crocodile to protect a room full of two legged cats and so I started looking for someone else. I went to Mexico's leather town, Leon, to find a new craftsman.
Arriving, I started asking strangers on the street, "Excuse me, do you know where I can find a leather worker?" Pretty much everybody pointed me in the same direction of Don David (The don of a family is the older and most respected patriarch in the family).
So I started my search for his little workshop/storefront. When I walked in, I knew I was home. This gentleman had a big wide smile and gentle sparkling eyes that put me right at ease.
I introduced myself, handed him the bag and asked if he could make it. Knowing what I know now, that was a really dumb question. He could've made a functional leather car engine if I would have asked him to.
He shared his resume over the next several months as I sat in that little shop on an overturned 5 gallon bucket for hours on end (there was a cushion). I sat fascinated watching him work and listening to his story as he told me about how his father's father was a leather craftsman in that very workshop back in the 1800's.
His grandfather trained his father who in turn trained him. Don David started as his father's full time apprentice in 1948 at the age of 10 and is now training his son to take his place.
Using his vast experience working leather, he transformed my basic but great looking bag into an amazingly durable and highly functional work of art. He's truly a gifted man.
On the Road Again
In 2003, Blue and I ended up living in Juarez, Mexico in a not so nice neighborhood and rented a $100/month apartment with no hot water. I saved so much money living there that I was able to send a little money for 5 more bags, then 8, then even a dozen at a time.
Things were really starting to roll, but it wasn't long before I started to burn out doing everything myself. The lure of $17,000 USD a year just wasn't as attractive as it once was. I was longing for the good life on the road again.
That's when I talked Dad into working with me “part time” to help with customer service and bookkeeping and shipping and quality control and sales on eBay and a bunch of other things. Boy was he a breath of fresh air. Well, part time turned into a full time in no time and all of his business wisdom and understanding really made a huge difference. And soon, the struggling company became a healthy company.
Now I was able to get back to traveling a little more. Whether in Poland or Panama or the Czech Republic or Slovenia or in the Sahara or anywhere else, I was finally able to go more places than I could ever drive or hitchhike to.
But after 3 years of living in Juarez, I got real tired of it. I was tired of wondering if my old truck would be there in the morning and leaving the glove box open so that my loving neighbors wouldn't break the glass to find out it was empty. I was tired of drug dealers and prostitutes on the corner of my street and ignoring the same old foot cop trying in vain to pull me over every morning to get a bribe and I was getting pretty tired of the no hot water thing too. It was time.
So, in 2006, just after a trip through Costa Rica and Panama, I moved to El Paso, Texas, met my super funny and hot wife, Suzette, on MySpace.com and got married 6 months later.
The Real Adventure Begins...
9 months and 15 minutes after the wedding, we had our gorgeous little baby girl, Sela (Honestly, she looked just like me, minus the goatee, when she was born, but she got really cute about 4 months later).
I used to think that I’d have to do my traveling before I got married since no one really travels once they get married and have kids, right? Boy was I wrong. It’s when we got married and had kids that the traveling really got going. Bora Bora, Kenya, Australia, Scotland, Cayman Islands, Canada, Jamaica, Spain, Seychelles, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ireland, France, New Zealand and all over Mexico.
Our kids have more stamps on their passports than my brother. Anyways, our brave and kind little boy, Cross, came around not too long afterward and here we are.
In 2007, the business really started taking off and we were able to hire several family members to help us out. They were such a help, but it wasn’t long before we started to feel like we were going underwater.
Shortly, Suzette and I began praying for just the right person to help us sort things out. We hired a local business coach who came in and taught me to delegate. He was a real blessing for about the first two years, but it wasn’t long before Saddleback had outgrown his understanding of business and starting sinking again.
That’s when I started seeking the kind of wisdom that would take Saddleback to the level of our bags. Larry Briggs, a 25 year seasoned CEO trainer whom I had met on a recent trip to Africa, was the answer. He’s been amazing in how he has coached me to lead our team towards our vision and to understand how to be a CEO (still learning that one).
They were things I had never heard before. I can't imagine where we'd be right now if God hadn’t introduced us and also surrounded us with the team we have right now. There are no slackers on this ship. We have REALLY great people.
And now, like in the kangaroo picture, we're tough as nuts. A strong and healthy leather company, built to be able to take a lickin' and keep on tickin'.
At the end of most every day, I lay down with Suzette and we talk about our new African kids and the different bag owners who we've been going back and forth with. Relationships are where it’s at. It’s been a long road and filled with loads of fun and learning.
There have been some rough times too. I’ve made some major mistakes and disappointed a lot of people, but we’re learning and thankfully most people have been very patient with me.
A Special Thanks
But I would be remiss if I did not give honor to whom honor is due. There have been many sacrifices in the growth of Saddleback, but none greater than that of the first cow, we'll call her "Daisy Bell".
Her true identity is being protected out of respect for her friends and family. We stumbled upon this old photo of her in our archives. The spirit of "Daisy Bell" lives on today. She clearly did not die in vain.
To put it simply, Saddleback's goal is this: To love people around the world by making excessively high quality leather designs. And now you know... the rest of the story.