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Mike’s love for motorcycles began when, as a boy in Algeria, he discovered the freedom and independence that riding gives. He emigrated to the United States and, in 1991, began selling motorcycle gear to motorcycle shops. When that didn’t work out so well, he decided to sell gear at motorcycle rallies, direct to the people who wore leathers. People warned him: Bikers are mean; you won’t be safe at those rallies. But Mike found just the opposite. He was welcomed into the community of motorcycle enthusiasts.
He crisscrossed the country from east to west and north to south. He slept in his van or in inexpensive hotels. He loved selling at rallies; he loved the atmosphere, the energy, the music. He chose the name Eagle Leather because he saw how much his customers liked the eagle and all that it symbolizes.
Mike sold top-quality leather gear, and his customers loved it. They kept asking him for his business card, for a permanent location where they could find him again. He spotted a store that he could rent at the B&I shopping center in Tacoma. That was in 1992. Mike’s business grew and he expanded into larger and larger retail spaces. But it wasn’t all roses, and in 1995 Mike took a hiatus and tried network marketing. After a few months, it was clear that he really wanted to get back into the motorcycle gear business.
He went back to the beginning and took to the road. For about a year and a half, he traveled, selling at major rallies. Again, his large selection of quality leathers made him a hit. By 1998, he was ready to open a store again and rented a corner location in Lakewood. Business boomed, and Mike rented larger locations until, by 2007, Eagle Leather was the biggest motorcycle gear store in the Pacific Northwest.
Expansion to Auburn proved to be another setback; the new store was too close to the one in Lakewood. Mike says, “In life, nothing is straight. Rivers are not straight; roads aren’t straight. I don’t expect everything to go smoothly all the time and I focus on the long-term, so setbacks can’t hurt me. I learn from them and move on.”
Early on, Mike paid a branding company to come up with a slogan for the store. They did: Here for the Ride. But Mike never liked it. When he thought about what he sold, he changed his slogan to Gear for the Ride. He’ll tell you that experts are often necessary, but he knows his products and his customers best.
The Eagle Leather store carries its own, exclusive, Eagle Leather brand motorcycle gear. We asked Mike how he chooses and designs items to carry the Eagle Leather brand. He pointed out that the store carries lots of good brands of leather gear. He and his sales staff know the strengths and weaknesses of all of the items they carry. Mike and his salespeople talk to customers all day long. They know what customers want and what they don’t like. So Mike can take the best and most desired features from various brands and incorporate them into something new. Then they go to the very best manufacturer who can provide that item in the right style, with the features and benefits customers want and need, and in a wide range of sizes. He gets leather samples to be sure he’s getting the best and he’s willing to pay a premium to get it.
Then, when he’s sure of the quality, he puts a two-year warranty against defects on that item. Other brands offer a one-year warranty. Mike insists on a longer warranty because he wants customers to come back if there’s a problem down the road. He wants his branded products to be good—or he’ll make it right. He’s building trust, building community.
We asked Mike what advice he’d give to a young, beginning entrepreneur. He said, “Do what you love. It’s going to take a lot of time to become an expert in your field and in your product, to become successful. You need to love customers, love people in general. You need to really like helping people. Respect, help, and grow your employees. You need really good employees to grow your business.