An Interview with Kevin Hopkins & Rusty Darnell

We sat down with Kevin and Rusty recently for a new YouTube video, but if you’re the reading type check out the interview below!

The second the camera blinks red to record, Kevin Hopkins and Rusty Darnell are off to their antics as natural as they would be if talking to a customer they’d known for years. Always trying to get two birds with one stone, we conducted our interview in our happy little YouTube recording studio, surrounded by cameras and past works of leather created in previous videos by many of our staff. The video crew behind the cameras work silently as I (a happy little marketing associate) try to write as quietly as possible. Rusty and Kevin shine like stars in front of the camera, starting off with Rusty making jokes about Kevin’s non-descript branded iced tea and his ink pen that they spent several weeks digging out of the scrap bin “that one time.” 

Knowing our fearless leaders, we do the interview a little differently than others might, just like how we do business. Kevin and Rusty have our list of questions and talk for over 30 minutes about the business. Bouncing off of each other is much more entertaining to watch than simply talking to an employee making notes. The questions cover everything from their meager beginnings, to their philosophies on life and business, to what is to come for Springfield Leather in the future after its impressive 20-year milestone.  

When asking how both of them got into leatherworking, Kevin replies first. 

“In the early 70’s, I was a Hippie,” Kevin begins. “I was playin’ music in a Rock n’ Roll band, I needed a Leather Guitar Strap. So, I took a hundred bucks, I went to a leather store, and I spent it all on all the wrong stuff! Came home, made a guitar strap that was really lousy, but it held my guitar–it worked, and one of the guys in the band, the base player, said: ‘Hey! I’d like to have one of those straps too!’ So, okay. I made him one, and one thing lead to another… As time went on, I realized I was not gonna be the next Bruce Springsteen. So, I got a job working for the leather company that I bought supplies from.” Which, at the time, was Tandy Leather; “I worked for them for 24 years, and when they closed, I took the plunge. I bought the store here in Springfield, MO. and the rest is history, sorta.”  
 
As Kevin ends, he turns and smiles at Rusty, putting the question back onto him, in which Rusty replies, fondly: “Like many of you,” He points to Kevin. “Him. Believe it or not, Kevin and I have managed to be friends for over 25 years.” They both laugh over the fact that Rusty managed to say that aloud, considering how often they rib each other. “I have a background in construction. That’s what I’ve done 99% of my life. I have worked in many, many different fields of construction. I was working on Springfield Leather, the building, and I got t’ noticin’…I’m out here and it’s cold…I’m lookin’ in the window, and those people are warm!” 

“I think you got tired of me asking you when you were gonna be done!” Kevin interjects 

“So I decided to get a job here and tell him I would never be done!” 
 
“Well,” They both begin to laugh. “…that part worked out.” 
 
Next, SLC asks their two leaders to share their overall philosophies for life and business, as well as how they educate their employees and keep them in the know: both one of many keys to success. 

“As far as Philosophy for life and business.” Kevin appears thoughtful at first before answering with enthusiasm: “Mine personally…I wanna treat others like I wanna be treated, and I wanna be fair in business, and I wanna sell something to everybody!! I wanna have something for everybody, and I want it to be a win-win deal.”  

The excitement in his voice is infectious as Rusty answers back: “Y’know the thing is I like to sleep at night, and I like to do so and know that I did what I could do. I wanna be sure we’ve done everything we can to make sure we give a fair deal and to do the best we can to make someone successful at what they’re doing. I do think that contributes to the success of Springfield Leather.” 
 
They go on to talk about their employees, and how Kevin, back when he wasn’t our fearless leader, but a fearless employee of another place and time, it was difficult for him to have all the answers to everything he wanted to know, and it ended up affecting his work. Because of this, Rusty and Kevin both strive to have an educational environment for their employees, and one way they do that is with weekly meetings with all the employees, which Rusty roughly counts to be at about “90-ish, 93-94-ish, give or take? …are we countin’ dogs or we just countin’ people?” Just the people, Rusty. 
 

Kevin explains the weekly meeting best: “We try to make it so that everybody has the opportunity to know what all the various departments are doing, what they need, what’s going to be happening in the future…We just feel that’s the best way to go about it.” 

Rusty comments that perhaps their employees enjoy the meeting because of the free biscuits they receive. This employee pleads the 5th.  

“That probably has somethin’ to do with it.” Kevin jokes. 

When it comes to growth and keeping up with it, Kevin and Rusty both concede that it’s not easy. “Now, growth is extreeemely challenging!” Rusty admits. 

“And expensive!” Kevin interjects. 

And expensive…and it can be painful. And I’m sure that we have done our fair share of sharing the pain with those through growth because it causes you to work fast and furious and possibly make mistakes. 

 
“But y’know I’m glad you mentioned that,” Kevin holds up his index finger like he normally does when making an important point. “…because, this is the leather business. I don’t care who you are, if you’re involved in the leather business, in any way shape or form, whether you’re making something, selling something, buying something…you’re gonna make mistakes. And when we do, we want to try and make it so that everyone in our meetings understands what those mistakes are, how they came to be, and what we can do in the future to not make those same mistakes again.” 

In discussing the future of SLC and its 20-year milestone, Kevin and Rusty both acknowledge the congratulations given to them by Leather Crafters & Saddlers Journal. 

“Well, we thank you very much for that, and we thank you for the 20 years!”  

Rusty gives a big smile as he watches Kevin eagerly begin to elaborate on the most he can about SLC’s future.“We have expansion plans! SLC is going to get larger. I hope we get better. There is a little room for improvement…and we’re workin’ on that constantly. There’s gonna be a lot of changes and we’re excited about that!” 

“The good thing that we’ve both come to appreciate is that growth is a must, but you can also control the growth, and that’s key, I think. Controlling the growth to be at the right time, when the opportunity is there. So that’s what we’re hopin’ to take advantage of and we’ll give you more on that later!” Rusty adds. 

Finally, Kevin and Rusty address some of the more…interesting questions, including where Kevin does his lacing, how they find each other in SLC’s huge space, and if they have any ‘juicy tidbits’ to share with the reader. 
 
Rusty grins as he describes the hand-laced wallets we sell here at SLC, (all done by Kevin!) and how we sell some to people who wish to resell them…and Kevin describes the only economic way to get them done, since they take so much time: “…so I lace on the way home when I’m driving.” Kevin sheepishly admits. 

“You heard it, you heard it right here!” Rusty exclaims with a cackle. 

As for when one man needs to talk to the other and has to search through over 3300 sq. ft. of warehouse and retail, Kevin has it down to a science. “I can tell ya, when I’ve got something important that I need to talk to Rusty about, I know exactly where he is, and that place is somewhere else! That’s a fact!”  

“That’s exactly where Kevin is when you need him too!” Rusty laughs. 

As for “juicy tidbits” Kevin seems to struggle to come up with something for once, in which Rusty ‘helpfully’ interjects: “What kind of tea do you drink, Kevin?” 
 
Kevin picks up his non-branded tea before setting it back down. “I go to a place that has two kinds. I get traditional unsweetened tea, and I mix it with something called citrus green which is orange stuff…or! Sometimes, I’ll celebrate and put some raspberry stuff in it, and it’s always unswee–” 

Rusty looks straight into one of our cameras, pointing and interrupting with a laugh, saying that, “If you ever want to bring Kevin anything, bring him a glass of sweet tea!” To which Kevin immediately responds by gagging. There’s laughter in the recording room as Kevin continues to contemplate the horrors of sweet tea, and the recording equipment catches Rusty saying “cya!” just before being shut off.  

Our fearless leaders ask if that’s what we were after, and of course, it was. These guys are just as good on video as they are with leather! Now, we’d kept them for 30 minutes of their time, so they had to quickly book it back to their day job. (The one off the camera.) They leave the studio, Kevin with tea and ink pen in hand, ready to help the next employee or customer, ready to give someone that win-win deal. 

If you like what you read here and want to see the video in its entirety, with more questions and funny ‘juicy tidbits’, there is an interview now posted on our happy little YouTube channel called SpringfieldLeatherCo. We thank Leather Crafters for the opportunity to tell our story. Be sure to keep an eye on us, because Kevin and Rusty weren’t pulling your leg about our future plans, they’re big! 

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