Published on September 12th, 2015 | by makesupply0
Tips For Ordering Direct From The Leather Tannery
Ordering directly from a leather tannery is a must for any serious Leatherworker. It allows you to gain a level of control over your materials that you never had before. However it can be a little daunting if it’s your first time calling up the big guys. Working with tanneries is officially joining the “big leagues” and its good to go in prepared. Here are a couple pointers to guide you along your first order!
Tannery vs Distributor – Knowing the Difference
Up until now you have probably dealt exclusively with leather distributors to get your supply. Places like Tandy Leather, Springfield Leather, Maverick, your local hobby shop, eBay, and the list goes on. These businesses have direct access to many different tanneries and pick which options they would like to retail. On the plus side: most of these business allow you to order directly online or in person. On the negative side: they might not carry what you are looking for. You might want a dark brown vegetable tanned leather in 3-4 oz but they only sell it in 7-8 oz or above. When working with leather distributors you are ultimately trading convenience for variety and customization.
On the other hand you have the leather tannery. Companies like Horween, Wickett & Craig, Hermann Oak. Working with these guys is going directly to the source. Some tanneries are very transparent with their ordering processes and some aren’t. Some tanneries welcome “little guy” orders and some don’t. When working with the leather tanneries you are trading variety and customization for convenience and easy ordering.
Scouting The Leather Tanneries
The first step, even before starting your search, is getting a strong idea of what you are looking to purchase. Are you looking for strictly vegetable tanned leather – in multiple colors – at a specific weight of 5 ounces? Are you looking for a tumbled pebble grain – in one color – and doesnt matter the size? Are you looking to only source for the USA or a european tannery? Asking yourself these questions will save a lot of time in your tannery search. The leather industry is still VERY old school and a lot of their websites are terrible. For example it seems like every vegetable tanned leather tannery in Italy is still using Flash websites.
Thankfully, some of the bigger tanneries (at least in the US) have decent enough websites and very helpful sales staff. They field a ton of questions every day and are prepared to give you answers. If you are trying to dig for a more obscure source — godspeed my friend.
Preparing For Your First Tannery Order
Once you have narrowed down some potential winners its time to contact them and learn how they work. Some tanneries will flat out refuse to work with you unless you are a company. You can cross those off your list immediately. Some tanneries will work with you but with a minimum purchase order. For example ordering direct from Hermann Oak requires a 10 side minimum purchase. However most tanneries are setup to work with you on a 1 side minimum order basis. Horween and Wickett & Craig are both examples where you can easily set that up.
So its good to get right down to business on your first contact and ask about the minimum order. Next would be asking for a price guide and line sheet (or catalog / whatever they call it). Most tanneries do not have this information plastered on their website. On top of that it is also good to inquire about extra “services”. The ability to split a leather down to the size you want is very beneficial. This is usually an extra charge tacked on per square foot. Everything looking good? Awesome!
Next you will want to order a swatch or samples of the particular leather you are interested in. This is a customary procedure for the tanneries. Some cost money and some don’t so ask ahead of time. After a week or so you should have some samples of the leather you are interested in hand.
Placing Your Tannery Order
At this point you are chompin’ at the bit to order some leather. Great, lets do it! Most, if not all, tanneries require you to call in orders over the phone. By now you know the tanneries ordering policy (minimums), cost of the leather you want, and the cost of the extra services (if applicable). Shipping charges are always a wildcard and depending how far you live from the tannery and how much leather you are ordering. Factor anywhere from $15 and higher. Increase that number substantially if you are not in the same country as the tannery. Leather is heavy and comes in big boxes!
Here is a breakdown of a recent order I placed with a tannery (Wickett & Craig)
Dark Brown English Bridle Leather (standard grade) (base cost: $8.94 / sq ft)
Special Services: Split and refinished flesh: (+ $1.50 / sq ft)
Updated cost per square foot ($8.94 + $1.50 = $10.44 / sq ft)
Size of the hide: 25 square feet
Cost pre-shipping and tax: $10.44 x 25 = $261
You can apply that breakdown to anything you order as long as you know the pricing.
Harnessing The True Power of The Tannery
Now you can start to see how ordering from the tannery can help you get exactly what you want. That obviously comes at a cost though. If you are still learning you may want to stick with using distributors until you have a better idea of what you want to make. Leatherworking ain’t a cheap hobby!
After reading all of this you still might wonder WHY ordering from the tannery is worth it. The flexibility is one thing but it sometimes doesnt outweigh the cost. This all changes if you take your hobby into a business. Ordering in volume is where the tannery magic happens. Ordering in volume opens you up to deep discounts and the ability to customize beyond weight. You can work with the tannery to develop your own colors, textures, or even tannages. This is how the big guys keep a competitive edge and exclusivity.