Today we’d like to introduce you to Thomas Bates.
Thomas, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I worked seven years learning the leather accessories business before staring our own business selling belts and accessories in 1989. Our first customers were in the outdoor industry and included EMS and LL Bean. Our Thomas Bates brand became better known once the internet started in 1991 when we went online with www.thomasbates.com. Customers bought our products in about 300 outdoor stores and online.
Today, Thomas Bates products are available at retail stores, Amazon and on our own website. We also work with non-profits such as Boy Scouts of America, Trout Unlimited and others. With our patented Visiontree® digital imaging system, developed almost 20 years ago, we can create any pattern or logo on any product we make from belts to canvas bags. We stock over 400 patterns that can be applied to all of our products and we create about 5-10 new patterns every week. Although bold but true, when you combine the options, we believe Thomas Bates offers more belts and accessories products than any other accessories maker or brand in the world.
We’ve added more and more US manufacturing over the years. From simple stitching to now a full accessories factory employing currently 25 people in Haverhill. We produce belts, bags, wallets and pet products for our own brands and many other national brands. We also have deep roots with partner factories around the world, but our emphasis is always on what we can make right here in Haverhill.
Our newest marketing development is offering hand sewn men’s shoes under the T.B. PHELPS brand. Phelps is an old family brand name of mine, it is also my middle name, My great uncle had a leather accessories brand in the 1940’s, making women’s belts and bags under that name Phelps name. In 2015, we purchased one of our customers (a small footwear company) and combined the product lines to include men’s leather shoes, bags and wallets.
T.B. PHELPS is available in 250 men’s specialty retail stores and golf pro shops around the USA. They also can be seen at www.tbphelps.com. We offer products made from the finest quality USA cowhide, bison and elk leathers. They are beautifully made shoes and accessories. It’s a great product. The belts are all made in the USA in our Haverhill, MA, factory, and we are hopeful to offer some US shoe production within the next year as well.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It is always a challenge to get enough business to financially sustain ourselves. As we’ve expanded our number of products and distribution, it has become easier to have different segments of the business carry us when another falls off. But size also creates its own nightmares as volume fluctuates, sometimes dramatically.
This past winter was particularly hard as 1) it is traditionally our slowest time of year, and 2) one contract customer stopped ordering and we saw a huge swing in production. Fortunately, we had other business and financial resources that we could lean upon.
There are two of the realities in our business: you always need to keep some ability to get cash quickly. The other reality, at least for us, is that you always have your own branded distribution to fall back on which can carry the company financially.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
We have always been known as good quality belt makers. With T.B. PHELPS we are getting known as a very high-quality belt and shoe maker. We offer more custom options to our customers than they can get anywhere else.
I am most proud of our team. They dedicate themselves to meeting the customers’ needs. With so many products and branded customer needs, they do a fantastic job.
Plus, I am proud of our suppliers here in the USA and abroad who devote themselves to meeting our needs, often in spite of the small quantities we require to complete an order. We develop custom fabrics, leathers, metal buckles and plastic parts. The teamwork we have coming from all corners is unparalleled.
Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I’ve been working in Haverhill for 30 years, formerly known as Shoe City.
First, we were cutting reptile leathers here for shoe companies in the Northeast, then later we purchased a local belt company that had been based here since 1975.
We moved most of our operations here from our original home in East Haddam, CT in 2003. I have found the area to be a good source of workers and reasonable space costs. The only downside might be parking as Haverhill has become somewhat of a bedroom community to Boston.
- Thomas Bates products range from $10 to $100, averaging around $25.
- T.B. PHELPS products range from $25 for small accessories to $250 for our better shoes.
- Website: www.thomasbates.com; www.tbphelps.com
- Phone: 800-929-5859
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com