Yes, there is a Stone Mountain. Standing 1,686 feet high in the Georgia sky, east of Atlanta, it is the geographic and historic landmark that more than 24 years ago inspired the name of a nearby company that manufactures handbags. Today, Stone Mountain Accessories is the designer and manufacturer of an array of high-quality leather goods ranging from handbags to wallets to luggage to jackets.
Kenneth Orr, the company’s president, describes Stone Mountain’s original objectives: “My partner and I set out to make a line of leather handbags that had a certain level of quality for a woman who wanted a better product but at a moderate price.
We did that, and now we have customers who are still buying our bags more than 20 years later. We even have some customers who still have the first Stone Mountain bag they bought back then. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t. The styles are classic and the quality is there.”
The partner Orr refers to is David Hauck, who became president of Stone Mountain in 1979 after working as a buyer for Sears, Roebuck and Company. Hauck invited Orr to join the business as vice president of sales. Orr, who had learned the handbag retail business working in his father-in-law’s New York showroom and then staying on for another eight years after the business was sold, at first declined the offer. However, within six months he changed his mind.
“I knew that I had built a following among my customers,” Orr explains. “I enjoyed working in the warehouse and in distribution too. And I loved manufacturing — the whole business of design and application, plus the selling. But I realized that I could never have my own piece of that business, so I decided to come to Stone Mountain.”
Stone Mountain was then owned by McCrackin Industries and managed by the three McCrackin partners. The basic product line consisted of vinyl handbags, with leather products just being added. By 1980, the leather products were upgraded with better material, more-detailed construction, more durable hardware. Along the way, the price for a leather bag rose from $35 to $45 to reflect the improved quality and styling.
Hauck and Orr bought the company from the three owners in 1983. At that point the manufacturing operation consisted of three factories in rural Georgia, facilities that Orr describes as “the best I’d seen, capable of massive manufacturing and quality.” He set about learning the centuries-old tanning techniques still practiced in New England by visiting those tanneries. Additionally, employees in the Stone Mountain factories received training in cutting leather — a process that, as Orr points out, requires different skills than those used for cutting vinyl.
The result of these activities was the start of a new product line consisting of high-quality, skin-soft leather handbags designed and manufactured for a more affluent customer. Over the years, the line evolved to include handbags in both casual and cutting-edge designs in a range of rich hues, accessories such as belts and gloves for women and men, wallets and small leather goods for women and men, and distinctive luggage. Eventually, jackets for women and men were added to the lineup.
Changes in merchandising also have occurred over the past 20 years. In addition to selling at national and regional department store chains such as Bon-Ton Stores, Boscov’s, Dayton-Hudson (now Target Corporation), Dillard’s, Federated Department Stores, May Company and Saks, the Stone Mountain name is franchised for outlets at major discount malls. The company also offers its products on the Home Shopping Network, including channels in Japan.
In the course of becoming a business with more than $20 million in annual sales, Stone Mountain also experienced changes in operations. While remaining a partner in the company, Hauck withdrew from participation in day-to-date operations in the early 1990s.
Orr assumed the leadership of the business, which has its headquarters in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue, offices in midtown and a warehouse across the river in New Jersey. Manufacturing was moved offshore in 1998.
Orr discusses the future of the Stone Mountain product line in terms of its established quality, diversification and marketing potential. Talking about the company’s reputation for durable styling, he notes, “The Stone Mountain name is built in designs that have become classics. Our most popular product for 20 years has been our medium-sized leather hobo bag, with compartments and functional features that include a snap-out key holder, construction with a leather-lined collar, long zipper, cosmetic holder and cell phone holder. We’ve sold millions of them. They’re part of our legacy.”
As to newer offerings, he says the company is producing a line of handbags with the kinds of designs and prices that will appeal to younger customers who want a better product. Orr also reveals that Stone Mountain is introducing a line of bags in canvas, linen, straw, imported fabrics and nylon. He emphasizes that these new designs and materials will “have the same quality and durability as the leather products.” The manufacturer is also in the process of developing a line of Italian-designed loafers and slip-on shoes.
Orr says Stone Mountain products will be available in more outlet stores in the near future. Also on the horizon is the opening of the company’s own stores, which will offer the complete product line. Plans for international marketing and distribution in Europe, South America and Asia are also in the making. “This will be a big endeavor,” Orr comments, “but we know that we can make it happen. I’ve had wonderful opportunities in the past and I’ve made the most of them. We’ll do it again.”