Caleb 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 turned to art and decided to turn this new passion into a side business. He designed the logo and brand, honed his leather-making skills, and set up a tent at a local market.
Caleb decided on the name Kainos Leather based on the origin of the name – prices means “new” in Greek. The name was fitting as Caleb tried to buy old Bibles and restore them to new condition with various leather covers.
Now that Kainos Leather is a profitable 5-star Etsy shop, Caleb keeps 50 or more leathers on hand to keep up with the pace of new artisan rebinds.
Origin Story: What made you want to launch Kainos Skin?
When I was 18, I learned some basics about teaching my sisters a new skill. My next interest in leather came when my bride and I were looking for an heirloom Bible to sign at our wedding in 2019. The Bible and skin were absolutely beautiful and this is where my new appreciation and interest began. In late 2020, I bought another leather Bible for my wife, which made me even more interested in trying my hand at the craft in January 2021.
At that time, my day job was broadcast television and I spent most of the day in front of screens. I found book binding interesting and decided to try it out and have a physical hobby that would allow me to take a break from all the screens.
I had bought a couple of rebound bibles before and thought it was fun. It wasn’t long before I not only enjoyed bookbinding, but the full-grain leathers needed for quality work had quite the price tag. So I decided to pay for my hobby and started Kainos Leather, an artisanal, whole grain Bible binding shop.
What steps did you take to make Kainos Leather a success?
Several things are necessary to run a successful business. I would say the top three for Kainos Leather are unique products, professional product photography and videography, and great customer service.
I bring years of experience from the broadcast world to capture unique photos of my products. These photos also highlight how artisan rebinds from Kainos Leather stand out and are unlike any other rebound bible sold on Etsy.
Excellent customer service, especially in the digital sphere, and overall average prices for products and stores cannot be overstated. One bad review can spell disaster and potentially even lost sales. It costs less to keep the customer happy from the start and through the sales process.
How did you choose which products to sell?
When I first started 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 first-hand information on what was and wasn’t being bought in the initial market, what was being bought and what wasn’t being bought by potential buyers. I’ve learned that rebound books generally don’t sell very well.
But I also found that the rebound Bibles sold very well. People were willing to invest more in a Bible that they would use regularly and that had more personal meaning for them, their spiritual lives, and their families. It was then that Kainos Leather switched to rebinding almost exclusively Bibles. (Kainos Leather is currently closing) some vintage, some well loved and currently used and a few new Bibles in desperate need of a high quality full grain, artisan leather cover.
There are many leather artisans and many leather wallet makers, leather belt makers, leather journal makers, etc. you don’t need to search for a long time to see. So I decided to specialize in Bible rebinding.
How did you get started on Etsy?
Etsy is a very affordable platform for custom products. The website is known for being a hub for small businesses that produce crafty, unique, one-of-a-kind products. It was a perfect fit for Kainos Leather.
How do you advertise on Etsy?
I advertise minimally on Etsy, just enough for people to see my products when searching for Bible Rebinds. SEO is easy on the Etsy platform with the business insights and tools available.
That being said, first sales take a while for a new store with no reviews. So I priced my products below the competition, and as my quality improved and I developed a cost model for each product, I was able to price my items more accurately and affordably. Now my artisan rebinds are in the mid to high range, but the quality and reviews are there to back it up.
What do you consider to be your greatest successes as a business owner?
As a Kainos Leather owner, there are two major accomplishments I’ve seen. From a business perspective, I am proud to see a thriving side business that has grown to become debt free in about a year and provides a nice side income every month.
From a personal perspective, it gives me joy when I have the opportunity to use someone’s personal Bible for many more years. Or their grandmother’s Bible (I have to protect) and they want to protect the legacy of her faith. Or a military wife rebinding a Bible for her service husband. I get to be a part of so many different people’s life stories in so many different ways. This is an amazing part of Kainos Skin.
How did you fund your business as a startup?
Kainos Leather started with money “borrowed” from my savings account. I would borrow and pay back as business needs arose and sales came in over the course of a few months.
Kainos Leather turned green in 8 months and that’s when I decided to invest in an industrial leather sewing machine for speed and long term cost savings. About a month after that, the store was back in the green and the business was only operating at a profit since it was about 10 months old. As a sole proprietor, this helped me pay myself nothing for the first 14 months as I allowed the business to grow and stabilize.
Many small business owners start their businesses using personal funds to start their businesses. However, there are many ways to finance your Etsy business, including small business loans, crowdfunding, or using a business credit card.
How much did you have to invest to start your leather business?
My initial investment in the first year into the business was about $5,500, but it was gradual over the months. My biggest purchase that first year was an industrial leather sewing machine for about $1,200. (It was bought at the end of the year; until then all the stitching 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 range from $12,000 to $400,000 or more, depending on the type of business you are starting.
What challenges are you currently facing 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 work-life balance, especially considering Kainos Leather is a part-time side business. [It] requires approximately 15-20 hours per week in addition to full-time employment.
From 2022 to 2023, my growth was about 30 percent year-on-year. While I would like to see this 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 keys to achieving this are quality merchandise, customer service, and marketing.
People will pay more for a quality product. But even a cheap product that is cheaply produced for its price will still be poorly rated. Leatherwork is all about the details and attention to detail is the key to craftsmanship and quality Bible rebinding.
People want efficient, personal and professional communication from the store. Keeping each customer happy and turning their individual product vision into reality is only achieved through clear communication.
Just as brick and mortar stores have their own aesthetic, so does Kainos Leather. I apply my own creative style to my shop and bring my years of broadcast television and photography experience to capture my products through a lens and background that sets my products apart from all other rebinds.
With other Bible binders competing for attention, clicks, and ultimately the ultimate purchase, it’s critical to differentiate Kainos Leather products. This stylistic choice and $1 a day advertising on Etsy has been my marketing strategy for over 2 years. My busy shop and hundreds of completed repacks tell me this strategy works.