OWATONNA — In 2006, Lanny Uber sold the business that had been in his family for six generations. Six years later, he is buying it back and bringing it home.
Uber bought back Uber Tanning, a business that left Owatonna and moved to Ham Lake, Minn. Before the business was moved, it had been in Owatonna for more than 100 years.
Jared Rinerson, who bought the business from Uber in 2006, moved the company from Owatonna. In August this year, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which is liquidation or the sale of a debtor’s non-exempt property and the distribution of proceeds to creditors, according to the United States Courts website.
According to the Minnesota branch of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, creditors have claim to nearly $1 million in the case.
Since selling the business in 2006, Uber said he temporarily served as a consultant for the new ownership and also was a repairman at the Owatonna facility. He was not involved in the regular business of Uber after the sale, he said.
“I wasn’t really aware of how things were maybe going downhill,” Uber said. “I had heard from some of the prior friends who were still in the business that maybe things weren’t getting done in a timely fashion, so there was a little inkling that way.”
In February, the lease expired on the facility on Adams Avenue in Owatonna, so the shop was moved to Ham Lake. After the move, there was still equipment in Owatonna for working with leather and a staff willing to do the work.
“I had an empty building and some surplus equipment that was never purchased in 2006 that was sitting in the warehouse,” Uber said. “A number of us weren’t all that old where we wanted to just sit on the porch, so we resumed operations here in late spring, early summer under the name Century Leather Products.”
Century Leather provides custom leather products strictly to the wholesale market.
While Uber was starting a new business, his former business was in trouble. Uber said he wouldn’t speculate about what led to the Aug. 27 filing for bankruptcy, but that a variety of factors contributed to the business failing.
“(Rinerson) met with the bank in Ham Lake in early August,” Uber said. “His family had quite a meeting over the prior week and they just decided that they weren’t able to keep the company going. It was financially insolvent so they signed everything over to the bank to be foreclosed on, essentially.”
The People’s Press was unable to reach Rinerson for comment.
Though the glove shop left Owatonna in February, the tannery on North Street remained. The bank was having trouble finding buyers for the business, and approached Uber about buying it back, which he did.
“It was not an easy decision,” Uber said. “But I guess we opted to strike a deal with the bank and so we’re back at the tannery, also.”
Uber declined comment on how much he sold the business for in 2006, or on how much he purchased the business for this year.
The bankruptcy left a lot of back orders waiting to be filled. Uber said its unclear how many people are waiting for their orders because the records are still being looked over.
It’s not clear yet if the Uber name will continue to be used, but buying back the business has its benefits for Century Leather.
“Because we didn’t have our own facility for producing the leather, I had to buy it in the market,” Uber said. “In the six years I was gone, I was pretty surprised at how leather prices have gone up. So part of the incentive was to be able to make our own leather again for this facility, which is what the tannery always did.
“You can make the leather for a lot cheaper than you can purchase it in the market. Then you have control over the quality and you get the type of leather you want.”
Uber said he also bought back the business to help restore its reputation, which he said had been somewhat tarnished.
“There were a lot of people that made pretty sizable prepayments that were now left holding the bag, and that just didn’t seem right to me,” Uber said.
Uber said the orders that are still in need of completion are being handled on a case-by-case basis.
“Depending on where they are in the process, I call the people and provide them with the options that are open to them,” Uber said. “A lot of people have been extremely receptive. Everyone so far has been wanting to move forward.”
Uber is hoping to get as many of his former employees back as possible. When he sold the business in 2006, about a dozen people were working for Uber. He intends to get the business back on track.
“I think we need to keep our word and get the back orders processed in a timely fashion, and stay on top of turning the product out on time,” Uber said. “I can go out and approach old clients and they were more than happy to give us business because of our track record before 2006. We’ve made every shipment on time or early.
“The people that were here were excellent. They were trained and dedicated workers. The goal is to get everybody back.”
Reach reporter Al Strain at 444-2376 or follow him on Twitter.com@OPPalstrain.