We started Holtz Leather after suffering some of the lowest points in our life.
Over the course of five years, we suffered four miscarriages, lost our business, and our house. With a borrowed embroidery machine, we started a business that saved our family from becoming homeless. Through this time of extreme humbling, God has taught us that life is more than the things we acquire or the titles we have.
Boy Meets Girl — 1993-1997
Our story really does have a ‘boy meets girl’ beginning. Coleen and I have been sweet on each other since we were just kids. I remember playing “bubble gum, bubble gum” in the back of my dad’s old pick up truck. We were no older than 5-6 years old.
Our First Date
It wasn’t five-star dining. Looking back, I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t put more thought into it. I took her to McDonald’s, the dollar theater, and Krispy Kreme for doughnuts… I ended up spilling chocolate milk all over us and backing into a pole when we were leaving. From those early days to today, we were and still are inseparable!
Boy Marries Girl
Coleen was 14 and I was 15 when we were married… JUST KIDDING!! That’s a joke I tell people when they ask “now, how old were you when you got married?” In reality, we were married young — my bride was 17 and I was 18. In fact, Coleen’s parents had to sign for her to marry me. And… with $1,000 in our pockets, a borrowed car, and hearts full of dreams, we began our adventure together.
We had loads of people tell us we would never make it. 23 years later, I have no doubt it was the best decision I ever made!
First Business & Growing Family
Since Coleen and I were dating, there were two things we wanted. The first was a big family (lots of kids) and the second was to own our own business. I have been an entrepreneur since I was 10 years old. I’ve done paper routes, landscaping, small engine repair, and counterfeiting (that’s a funny story for later.) In 1999, I launched a very successful e-commerce computer parts business. We were 22 years old and had three kids. We were making good progress towards having a large family.
Losing Everything — 2008-2013
In 2008, the Lord began a process of shaping our hearts in His likeness. Over the course of 5 years, we suffered 4 miscarriages, lost our business, our home, had our cars repossessed, and nearly became homeless. I mean that literally. These were some very dark and difficult times in our life.
It was a time of chastening that opened our eyes to the blessings of having a grateful heart.
Starting Holtz Leather
It actually didn’t start with leather… We were two weeks away from being evicted from our home. We had 6 kids, 2 donkeys, a horse, and no housing prospects. I was completely broken and ashamed, but what I had not realized at that moment was that over the previous 5 years I had become stronger, wiser, and more certain of the things in life that really mattered. It wasn’t money, physical possessions, or prestige. It was a mindset focused on family and centered on the One who is sovereign over it all.
So, how did Holtz Leather begin? As a last-ditch effort to stay afloat, Coleen had an idea to try something on Etsy. I called my Dad who had an old embroidery machine in his basement, and we purchased 4 cotton robes. These weren’t just any robes — they were robes that bridal parties would wear to get ready for the big day. We bought 4 because that’s all we had money to buy.
We embroidered some dummy initials on them, took some pictures, and posted them on Etsy. INSTANTLY… we heard a “cha-ching” from our phone. We were using the Etsy app and that’s the sound it made when you received a sale. “Cha-ching!” We heard one and then another, and another…
It was an immediate and much-needed success!
From our success on Etsy, we knew we wanted to build something different, something lasting. For us, it was a family business of making leather goods! We worked in our basement burning the midnight oil, teaching ourselves how to be expert leathersmiths. We read every book under the sun about the leather trade and taught ourselves how to sew. Those humble beginnings helped us develop a foundation of love and compassion within our family and within our business.
First Production Facility
Our growth was explosive and it continued to the point that we had to move into a full-scale production facility. Around this time, 2 major things started to take place in our lives.
First, we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Losing everything has a very lasting effect on your finances. It took us a long time to dig ourselves out of the debt we took on, but we fought hard and never gave up.
Second, we felt a growing desire in our hearts to adopt. Adoption is very expensive, but having early success in business allowed us to believe it might be possible for us.
Planning Our Retail Store
Fun fact: early on when we would hire folks, we’d tell them in the interview “we aren’t real sure how long this will last…” Needless to say, a retail store was never in our original plan. As our business continued to grow, we were offered some additional production space that happened to have a retail store underneath. We thought, “Well, it wouldn’t hurt to try our hand at retail.”
We don’t do things halfway, so it was not just about opening doors and throwing a few products out to see what would happen. We wanted our retail store to exemplify what Holtz Leather was about at its core. We wanted to show the heart of the American family, hard work, and the values that made this country great! Every part of our store, from displays to customer integration was all about making a unique, one-of-a-kind shopping experience.
If you are ever near Huntsville, stop in and check it out!
On the day before we opened, I remember talking with Coleen about bringing some games to play with the kids. We were opening on Black Friday and we didn’t anticipate anyone would come by. WE WERE WRONG!
Black Friday was HUGE and has become a special anniversary for our family. On that day each year, our family works in the retail store. It’s a day filled with meeting familiar faces and lots of new ones. We are grateful to the Huntsville community for giving us a place to connect!
My Dad, who was my best man at my wedding and still is today, retired from both the Marines and SCI. I get my insane work ethic from him. Even though he retired, he still wanted to be active and give more to the family. He has always had an obsession with woodworking and, more specifically, woodturning. We launched a small number of his hand-turned pens, which grew into a full line of Millworks products
Madison Get Married!
Our oldest daughter got married to her childhood sweetheart. They are both in Hawaii serving their country. Boy, do we miss her! She is still involved in Holtz Leather and maintains all of our books for the business.
Coleen has wanted to adopt since she was a kid. I didn’t get on board until we were in the midst of losing everything. Through that process, my heart became laser-focused on the mission of adoption. The growth of our company has allowed our family to grow. That’s really what the Holtz story is about: family.
Check out our video documentary on the Whole Lotta Holtz blog to learn more about our journey.