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Watch the Leather

Rider Boot Co. looks to expand its Italian-made boot line.



If you ask Ron Rider, high heels should be outlawed.

And he should know. Rider is a second-generation, 30-year veteran of the shoe business who for 15 years managed the shoe department at Franco's Fine Clothier. When he became frustrated at the kind of shoes available to Franco's, he decided in 2007 to design his own with the owner's blessing. The Rider Boot Co. brand was officially born in 2007 and there are exactly zero high-heeled shoes in the line.

After developing a core line of classic Italian-made men's and women's boots, Rider went into business for himself in 2011, selling them online out of a home office and a storage shed filled with inventory. It only took five years for the business to grow to the point that it could sustain a storefront location and the Jackson Ward Rider Boot Shop opened in November 2016 to fit and sell custom Italian-made boots and shoes.

Passionate as Rider and his wife Lisa are about quality-made shoes and boots, they've widened the store's focus with custom leather goods – belts, bags, wallets, eyeglass cases and clutches— made right in the shop. The store's back rooms house the machinery required to create custom leather goods: two industrial sewing machines, a burnisher for finishing edges, a device that thins the leather where it needs to be sewn together, a drill, a machine that adds snaps and a device that stamps their logo on each piece.

"We work with a tanner in Tuscany to bring in quality leather," explains Ron Rider of bringing in hides to match shoes in the store. Customers can then, for instance, custom order a belt by choosing the leather and buckle that best suits them. Already, hotels and other businesses are ordering custom-made leather goods for their own use.

With their newfound focus on leather goods, the couple is looking to looking to increase production and make it a bigger part of sales. Currently, it's 90 percent shoes and 10 percent leather goods, but by this time next year, they expect it to be more like half and half.

"The custom leather goods are becoming pretty popular and we've had repeat customers already," Lisa says. "The great thing about Richmond is they love to support Richmonders doing something interesting."

The problem with growing that side of the business is running a storefront while building up an inventory of custom leather goods. "It's hard to be in the middle of a stitch line and the phone rings or a customer walks in the shop," Lisa admits. "It's not easy to go back and pick up that stitch."

For that reason, along with the fact that the majority of their business happens on Fridays and Saturdays — and, incidentally, mainly visitors to Richmond find their way to the storefront — the couple is considering an adjustment to store hours so it will only be open those two days, allowing more time for making things.

One thing Ron Rider has gleaned from decades in the business is that people get excited when they get something that not everyone will have.

"We don't want to be trendy, we just want to sell good stuff."

Rider Boot Shop, 18 W. Broad St.

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