Most small leather goods sold today are imported from other countries where environmental and labor restrictions are lax. Matt Renna thought there was a better way to provide these items to Vermonters, which is why he launched Queen City Dry Goods five years ago. Matt instantly became the go-to retailer for folks who wanted beautifully crafted leather goods made by a local artisan who prioritized fair trade practices. A new offering for the area, the business was welcomed by consumers and retailers alike.
A one-man custom shoe shop launched in Burlington a little over 15 years ago started Matt on the path to leather goods designer and entrepreneur. Matt possesses an astounding level of creativity but loves running a full-fledged business too, which has made Queen City Dry Goods a great fit for both his design passion and business know-how. Renna Shoes on Cherry Street in Burlington had been a great venture for Matt, but he wanted to do more small-goods production and branch out into other markets. In 2011, he made that leap when he opened Queen City Dry Goods on Church Street.
The success of Queen City Dry Goods meant that space became cramped quickly. “I was doing a retail store and a production facility, all in this tiny little space,” says Matt. As his business grew, he realized that he could better meet leather goods needs in Vermont and the surrounding states by shifting to a wholesale business model.
Queen City Dry Goods, which now operates at 450 Shunpike Road in Williston, offers classic-yet-contemporary products that Matt loves. From design to production, he focuses on creating compelling and usable leather goods including checkbook covers, wallets, folios, and women’s bags. His offerings have come a long way since Renna shoes, but he still carries a limited supply of footwear too. For Matt, the beauty of his business is the opportunity to marry the arts of design and fabrication.
Matt says that the small goods he makes are “really relevant and are really functional and contemporary, but have a very traditional material, so it has sort of a timelessness built into something that’s very much a product of now.”
His products are made from leather, felt, denim and other craft materials. In addition to creating original goods to be sold to retailers in New England, Matt also offers prototyping services to clients.
While he makes an array of goods today, Matt still loves crafting footwear, and his favorite item to make is still shoes. As a recent college grad, he started researching cobblery. Matt says that “the more I learned about the process, the more interested I got in it. I got really into the sewing machine side of it, and I’m just really interested in the process.” From design to production to sales, it’s the first item that he mastered. His appreciation for the craft is reflected in every shoe he creates.
Anything I do moving forward, I want to go through Opportunities.
However, having the design mastery to create beautiful leather goods is just one part of the picture. Matt also has the discipline to weigh the business angles of his creative enterprise. He proudly notes that he was well-organized going into the financing process with Opportunities Credit Union. Matt says he’s outsourced some production duties because he needs to take time to “focus on design and product development, and then marketing and distribution and all the other important aspects of running the business.” His well-rounded approach made his business plan and financing pitch stand out.
He’s planning for the future too. Although he’s a one-man operation now, Matt foresees hiring employees who can utilize the incredible machinery at his Williston location. “I also built the foundation here to build a factory,” said Matt. “Right now, I’m utilizing other factories to produce stuff and I’m going to grow this wholesale business, but at a certain point I’ll say, ‘alright, I’ve got enough cash flow here. I’m going to bring some of these things in-house.’”
Creating a unique profile as a small business is also important to Matt. He’s driven to create products that his customers in Vermont and the rest of New England will love to buy and can feel good about buying too.
“From start to finish, you’re buying something that American labor went into producing,” said Matt. “Everything was produced in a place where there’s environmental regulations and labor laws. You can trust that nobody was getting exploited in the production, at any point along the way, either the raw materials or the cutting and sewing and building of the product. That’s something that’s super important to me, and I think is resonating with more and more people out there today.”
It took years of hard work for Matt to develop his business skill and bring Queen City Dry Goods to where it is today. With his eye set on future growth, he crafted a business plan that accounted for every angle of his situation. Of course, writing a strong business plan was the first step. In order to grow his operation, Matt needed to find a financing partner that truly understood small businesses. That’s when he turned to Opportunities Credit Union.
“My accountant mentioned that she had other clients who had good luck working with Opportunities,” says Matt. He hadn’t heard of Opportunities before, but he lives in Winooski and decided to give working with the Credit Union a try.
Greg Huysman, Senior Business Development Manager of Opportunities was key in helping Matt secure the necessary line of credit to grow his business. Matt shares that Greg visited his business and “came over when necessary, helped me make sure I had everything I needed together for the application process. I was in Winooski at that time, and I live in Winooski, so it was convenient in that sense as well.”
As many other small business leaders have found, working with Greg and Opportunities was much easier for Matt than working with a larger, numbers-driven banking institution. He shares that he didn’t actually approach Opportunities first. Instead, he went to the bank in Burlington where he’d kept his business accounts for years. “I certainly had asked for them to loan me money and there was nothing there,” Matt says.
When he heard that Opportunities had granted other small businesses loans, he realized that the personalized, local approach of Greg and the Opportunities staff could benefit him. It was all about finding a local partner who would not only understand what he wanted to do but also what he needed to get there. The experience was so positive and painless that Matt says, “anything I do moving forward, I want to go through Opportunities.”
Opportunities understands the needs of entrepreneurs in Vermont. They recognized Matt’s incredible vision and supported it by offering him the line of equity he needed. He might have started out making custom footwear, but Matt’s business has grown thanks to his capabilities with handmade, fair trade leather goods and support from the local business community. Asked if he’d recommend Opportunities to others in the business community, Matt says that he would. “Absolutely, a hundred percent.”
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