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Kaleb George discovered his affinity for high-quality leather in 2019 and, a few years later, decided to turn his love of leather into an Etsy business. He applied himself to the craft and decided to turn this new passion into a side business. He perfected his leather-making skills, had his coworker Corey Fugate design the logo and branding, and Kaleb set up a tent at a local market.
Kaleb settled on the name Kainos Leather because of the origins of the name — kainos means “new” in Greek. The name was highly fitting as Kaleb sought to buy old Bibles and restore them to like-new condition with a variety of leather covers.
Now, Kainos Leather is a profitable 5-star Etsy shop, with Kaleb keeping 50 or more leathers on hand to keep up the pace for new artisan rebinds.
Origin story: What made you want to start Kainos Leather?
When I was 18, I learned some basics to be able to teach my siblings a new skill. My next interest in leather came when I was looking for an heirloom Bible for my bride-to-be and I to sign at our wedding in 2019. The Bible and the leather were absolutely beautiful and that was where my new appreciation and interest began. I purchased another rebound leather Bible for my wife in late 2020, and that piqued my interest more to try my hand at the craft in January 2021.
My day-to-day job at the time was for a broadcast TV station, and I was in front of screens most of the day. I found book-binding interesting and decided to give it a try and have a physical hobby that allowed a break from all the screens.
I had purchased a couple of rebound Bibles before and thought it looked like fun. It didn’t take long for me to find out that, not only did I enjoy bookbinding, but the full grain leather hides needed for quality work had a pretty price tag. So I decided to make the hobby pay for itself and started Kainos Leather, an artisan, full-grain Bible rebinding shop.
What steps did you take to make Kainos Leather successful?
There are a few things that it takes to run a successful business. I would say the top three for Kainos Leather are a unique product, professional product photography and videography and excellent customer service.
I bring my years of expertise from the broadcast world to take unique photos of my products. These photos also highlight how the artisan rebinds from Kainos Leather stand out and are different than any other rebound Bible sold on Etsy.
Excellent customer service cannot be understated, especially in the digital sphere, and overall averaged ratings for products and shops. One bad review can spell disaster and potentially even lost sales. It is less costly to ensure the customer is satisfied from the onset and through the sales process.
How did you choose which products to sell?
When I first began Kainos Leather, I was mostly rebinding books: some classics, some new, some children’s books. I had my first booth at a local festival and was able to get a preliminary market read on what was purchased, what was not, what was picked up by potential buyers and what was not. I found out that generally rebound books didn’t sell that well.
But I also found out that rebound Bibles sold quite well. People were willing to invest more in a Bible they would use regularly and that holds more personal meaning to them, their spiritual lives and their families. It was then that Kainos Leather shifted to almost exclusively rebinding Bibles. (Kainos Leather currently binds) some vintage, some well-loved and currently used and quite a few brand-new Bibles that desperately need a premium full-grain, artisan leather cover.
There are so many leather crafters, and one doesn’t have to search long to see a plethora of leather wallet makers, leather belt makers, leather journal makers, etc. So I decided to specialize in Bible rebinds.
How did you get started on Etsy?
Etsy is a very convenient platform for custom products. The website is well-known for being a hub for small businesses that produce crafty, unique, one-of-a-kind items. This was a perfect fit for Kainos Leather.
How do you advertise on Etsy?
I do minimal advertising on Etsy, just enough to keep my products seen when people search for Bible Rebinds. SEO is easy on the Etsy platform with the business insights and tools available.
That being said, the first sales take a while for a new shop with no reviews. So I priced my items lower than the competition, and as my quality improved and I developed my cost of goods model per item, I was able to more accurately and profitably price my items. Now, my artisan rebinds are in the medium-to-high range, but the quality and reviews are there to support it.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishments as a business owner?
There are two great accomplishments that I see as the owner of Kainos Leather. From a business perspective, I am proud to see a prospering side business that grew in just about a year to be debt free, providing a nice side income every month.
From a personal perspective, it brings me joy when I have the opportunity to preserve someone’s personal Bible for many more years of use. Or (I get to preserve) their grandmother’s Bible, and they want to preserve the legacy of her faith. Or a Navy wife, rebinding a Bible for her deployed husband. I get to be a piece of so many different people’s life stories in various ways. That is an amazing part of Kainos Leather.
How did you fund your business as a startup?
Kainos Leather was started with money “borrowed” out of my savings account. I would borrow and pay back as the business needs arose and as the sales came in over the course of several months.
Kainos Leather hit green within 8 months and that was when I decided to invest in an industrial leather sewing machine for speed and long-term cost savings. The shop was in the green again about a month after that and has solely been operating with its own profits since the business was about 10 months old. As the sole proprietor, it helped I didn’t pay myself anything for the first 14 months as I let the business grow and become stable.
How much did you have to invest to start your leather business?
My initial investment in the first year in the business was about $5,500 but was gradual over the months. My single biggest purchase in the first year was an industrial leather sewing machine, roughly $1,200. (That was purchased at the end of the year; until then, all the sewing was done by hand). The other big-ticket items were, of course, leather (about $2,500) and Bibles (about $1,000). Tools and other supplies were several hundred.
The average cost of starting a small business can run anywhere from $12,000 to $400,000 or more depending on the type of business you start.
What are some challenges you currently face with your business?
Currently, Kainos Leather is an Etsy-only business, and this one sales platform provides almost more work than one person can handle. One of the struggles as a small business owner is finding the work-life balance, especially considering Kainos Leather is a part-time side business. (It) needs about 15 to 20 hours a week in addition to a full-time job.
My growth from 2022 to 2023 has been about 30 percent year-over-year. While I’d like to see that trajectory continue, my main goal is to not lose the fun, joy and passion for my business.
How do you keep Kainos Leather a 5-star Etsy shop?
In my experience, three of the main keys to achieve this are quality of goods sold, customer service, and marketing.
People will pay more to receive a quality product. But even an inexpensive product made cheaply due to price will still be rated poorly. Leather work is all about the details, and attention to the small things is key to the craft and delivering a quality Bible rebind.
People want efficient, personal, and professional communication from a shop. Keeping every customer happy and making their vision for their custom product become a reality is only achieved through clear communication.
Just like brick-and-mortar stores have their own aesthetic, so does Kainos Leather. I applied my own creative style to my shop and brought in my years of broadcast TV and photography experience to capture my products through a lens and backdrop that separates my products from all the other rebinds.
Making Kainos Leather products stand out is critical when there are other Bible rebinders competing for the attention, clicks, and ultimately, the final purchase. This stylistic choice and advertising $1 a day on Etsy has been my marketing strategy for over 2 years. My busy shop and hundreds of completed rebinds tell me that this strategy has been effective.