How to make a dream come true: OA Leather Supply in Wilkie

Since the closing of the SGLA liquor store in Wilkie, the brick building has stood empty and lifeless. That is until now.

Born and raised in Airdrie, Alta., Ian Guenter has bought the former liquor store in Wilkie, where he is operating his business, is a wholesale distributor of high-quality leather.

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Before coming to Wilkie, Guenter worked as an electrician in Calgary, Alta., until the work started to slow down. At the same time, he was just starting out on a hobby.

It all started when on a camping excursion while wearing his favourite black hoodie (or bunny hug) when he ripped a hole in it. He thought, “This sucks, this is my favourite hoodie, one with no logos on it as I don’t like logos.”

Guenter could not find another one like it unmasked and plain so he thought that he would like to design his own logo and start his own clothing brand. Guenter brought in some hoodies and wanted to also add to them things he could make. He was always interested in leatherworking, as another friend in Calgary was doing leatherworking, so Guenter thought, “If he can do it, so can I. At least I can try it!”

The following day after deciding to start up leatherworking, he was meeting his dad for coffee, who threw down a copy of Tandy Leather Catalogue, which Guenter found “weird” because he and his father had never discussed leather before. Guenter’s father said to him, “I feel that you would be good at this and I feel you should try this out.” This was obviously written in the stars and Guenter decided he would have to do this for sure now.

Guenter went around to the local Alberta leather shops but just couldn’t find the high quality that he was looking for. In one leather shop, he found a certain type of leather called horween, which is a higher quality leather from Chicago, Ill., which came in one size – 25 square feet. He wanted to make a wallet, needing only a small piece, but the wholesaler told him he had to buy the whole piece, which he had no use for. That’s when a light bulb went off in Guenter ‘s head and he decided he was going to purchase high quality leather, sell it online and cut it down to the appropriate sizes that people were wanting – half size, quarter size, all the way down to a single square foot.

To keep his startup costs to a minimum and instead of renting out a space, Guenter started the business in the house in Airdrie selling his leather online. He developed a webpage with reviews on the leather, high quality photos of the leather and the business soon took off. People were going crazy for it.

Many of Guenter’s online customers are small businesses that, too, have been started in homes or apartments, not wanting to spend the excessive amounts of money on too much leather they don’t or won’t ever use. They can take whatever they may need. No more. No less.

Guenter soon outgrew his home, decided to rent a space, outgrowing that in seven months. That’s when Guenter and his fiancé Michelle decided that with an online business they could move anywhere in Canada. Guenter’s sister lives in North Battleford with her family, so he and Michelle decided to look at the real estate in Saskatchewan. The first house that came up was the first one that they purchased. It was inexpensive, and perfect and they thought, “Let’s go for it!”

Guenter ran his business out of the loft for about six months and he then outgrew that space and decided to look for something bigger.

When looking around Wilkie, he noticed the only available big enough space for his needs was the old SGLA Liquor Store. He jumped at the chance to purchase the building and was very fortunate to have gotten it. Guenter hopes that he can stay in the building for quite a while.

The business is primarily online, selling to leathermakers wo make saddles, wallets, bags and other leather products, and he is selling all over the world. Primary customers are in the United States, at about 60 per cent. Thirty per cent area in Canada and Russia, Australia, South Korea, Singapore and Japan.

“There isn’t anyone in Canada that sells high end quality leather the way I do ... there was a huge hole in the market for high quality wholesale leather, customized to their uses. You don’t grow up wanting to be a leather salesman, it’s not really a conventional career choice. I found a niche and I found a hole in the market, saw an opportunity and took advantage of it, making it work!”

With not having to have walk in customers, it allows for more people to be served online and allow for no time loss in shipping and getting the placed orders all over the globe.

Guenter wants to add 3D technology to his web page to allow customers to be able to see the pieces they want right before them and know if that what they want from the comfort of their home, anywhere in the world, taking advantage of technology, allowing to make sure his customers get exactly what they want and need. Customers can contact him online at www.oaleathersupply.com He also is on Facebook at OA Leather Supply.

Guenter said that he and Michelle, since coming to Wilkie, have met many nice people through Michelle’s job at the Wilkie Curling Rink and her shop in North Battleford. They are enjoying their new home and being able to be a part of the community.

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