A piece of Americana
Jeff Leatherman has a nice home, a loving wife, two beautiful daughters and a thriving business.
It's a true success story - a piece of Americana.
But like most who live the American dream, Leatherman, 45, has had his share of sleepless nights along the way, primarily due to downward economies that hit the housing market and construction businesses hard during stretches of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Leatherman, who had left a sales job with a major paint company, went to work for a paint contractor as an independent subcontractor who painted houses when the Sacramento market was surging.
When the market slowed, so did the cash flow.
So Leatherman chose to follow his real dream to be his own boss - just as his father had been.
"Free enterprise is definitely where it is at," said Leatherman, owner of Jeff's Paint Store, located west of Yuba City at Highway 20 and George Washington Boulevard. "Whatever you are willing to put into it, you're going to get out of it."
It's that work ethic and personal persistence that convinced his mother, Fran Leatherman, to nominate her son for the Appeal-Democrat's Spirit of Freedom Awards 2002.
"He's very into that 'I'm going to make it' type of thing. He's worked very hard," Fran Leatherman said.
Jeff Leatherman's first store was at Highway 99 and Hunn Road, a "two-car garage" type building, out of which he catered to just a few paint contractors he knew. That was November 1991.
"A lot of people wouldn't have continued to try," Fran Leatherman said.
The following spring, Jeff Leatherman moved his business into a 1,500-square-foot building next to his current location, which he moved into in August 1993. It is 2,500 square feet and he added a larger retail element to guard against the kind of economic swings that can hit the contractors and their suppliers.
Leatherman said business is better than ever.
"What I'm selling is customer service. And I sell quality," said Leatherman.
Hard work also is a big part of that growth. Leatherman has only one other full-time employee, and his wife, Lisa, does the company books.
So there are a lot of hours.
Fran Leatherman said her son - and his older brothers, Oscar and Walt - always worked hard, even as children.
Jeff Leatherman said he remembers sweeping floors at his parents' paint manufacturing plant in San Jose when he was just 4 years old.
The family moved the company to Yuba County in 1979, and by then, Jeff Leatherman had worked his way up to vice president of the firm.
His parents sold the company in 1986, and Leatherman stayed on with the new firm in sales. But it wasn't the kind of work he wanted to do.
Then came the subcontractor work, but still that desire to be his own boss called to him.
Admittedly, Jeff Leatherman had the advantage of being able to get a loan from his parents to start his paint store.
He long ago paid back the note, and has expanded twice since then.
Still, business took a back seat after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"At first, I just stayed at home a couple of days and watched what was going on and how the world might be changed forever," said Leatherman, admittedly expecting the attacks to plunge the U.S. into immediate war.
"Then I started to do more of the quality-of-life things. I spent more time
with my family and less time at work," said Leatherman, noting his two daughters, Dominique, 9, and Gabrielle, who is 6.
The family lives in Browns Valley.
"But eventually you have to go back to work and try to conduct your business the way it was, and try not to think how the terrorists want you to think, and be afraid."
The whole experience reminded Leatherman why he wanted to be a small business owner in the first place: The ability to provide a product and service to a community, while providing a good life for his family.
Success is one thing. Greed is another.
"Quality of life is much more important than trying to run and beat Mr. and Mrs. Jones down the street," Leatherman said.
The American Dream: Jeff Leatherman
Category: The American Dream
Nominee: Jeff Leatherman
Nominator: Fran Leatherman
Jeff Leatherman owns Jeff's Paint Center. Our son started his company 11 years ago in a small garage off of Highway 99 in Yuba City. After a few years he moved to a small store on Colusa Frontage Road and George Washington Boulevard. Now he is in a bigger store in the same area. He has been married for 15 years and has two great kids. His wife works at the store in the office with him.
Jeff has spent a lot of time in the paint business. He worked for his father and I when he was a very young boy until we sold our company in 1986.
He and his family are being the American Dream.