Creating a Brand
By Danna Burns-Shaw
When you visit with Peter Hoffman you instantly know he is very passionate about his business. He dedicates 100% of himself to its success. He is single with no children, so 100 hours a week he takes care of his baby – his brand.
Peter comes from a long line of creative artists. At five years old, Peter was already known for his artistic ability. Always creating, his mind was eager to learn as much as he could, from whomever he could. After exposure to many different mediums, Peter began his career in the western boot business. But, he entered that arena from very interesting circumstances. In the late ‘70s, Peter was obsessed with obtaining a pair of cowboy boots. Standing 6 foot 9 inches, with a size 17 foot, he found it nearly impossible to find a pair of cowboy boots. He was living in San Diego, so he decided to go to Tijuana to look for a custom boot maker. He had heard they did custom boots, even for someone like him that was hard to fit.
Once he found the custom boot shop, he was infatuated with how they measured, constructed and allowed him to choose his leather and finishes. One week later, he went back to Tijuana and picked up his new snakeskin boots. Every time he wore his boots people would ask him, “Where did you get those cool boots?” He received so many compliments and loved his boots so much, that he returned to that same shop and soon owned seven pairs. Peter built a great relationship with the boot maker and began to contemplate going into the boot business.
Peter felt San Francisco would be a great market for cowboy boots, so in the early ‘80s he signed a lease for a shop on Haight Street. Working with his Tijuana connection, they built a fit center and the business took off. He wanted to expand his line, so he met with Ben Miller, an El Paso boot maker, and commissioned him to build higher quality boots.
In 1998, Peter decided to start a belt line. He had seen the demand for belts in his retail shops and also had the good fortune to meet a very accomplished leather worker who had built products for Danish royalty, as well as celebrities such as the Beatles and Jerry Garcia. Peter was a sponge, voraciously seeking to learn from his newfound, legendary friend. Peter said, “You can’t learn it in a book, someone needs to teach you.” Always seeking a better way to build, Peter soon found out that doing everything by hand just made better products. “Hand stitching will hold for decades, where machine stitch will wear out in a couple of years.” Another thing the Danish craftsman taught Peter was to take photos of everything he produced, since that was one thing he had failed to do himself. He had built elaborate guitar cases for the Beatles, but did not have any personal photos to affirm his efforts.
Peter uses apps to assist him in editing, filtering and tagging his photos; he is amazed how much he can do with his smart phone, versus old-school ways. Peter has aligned himself with many master buckle makers, providing belts for their exquisite buckles, knowing his quality belts needed more than a cheap throw-away buckle attached to them.
Always thinking about how he could advance his brand, Peter started researching and looking towards servicing corporate accounts. He approached a connection to David Yurman and shared his vision of providing his quality, exotic leather belts as an addition to Yurman’s popular contemporary buckle line. Peter soon found out there were a lot of hoops to jump through in order to get connected and vetted into becoming a supplier for a major world brand. Once connected with the New York City office of David Yurman though, success followed. They were open and saw a great asset in Peter Hoffman building their custom one-of-a-kind products. Peter said it was hard to get into the “big corporate accounts” because they are designed to make all the profits – and you to make very little. With that said, it does open up other doors. Using the knowledge obtained from his David Yurman experience, Peter did his due diligence and obtained another major player to build for – Nordstrom.
Fifty percent of Peter’s production was allocated for wholesale and 50% for his private clientele, with the majority of his production in exotic belts. However, he continues to make one-of-a-kind pieces that include wallets, handbags, key fobs and just recently, an extraordinary dice holder. His most difficult and time-consuming project was an American Hornback Alligator shoulder bag, taking more than 100 hours to complete. The detachable strap was 2 ½ inches and the entire bag was hand braided. Peter hand cuts his own lace and he needs to prepare 50 feet of lace to braid a 38 inch belt; every 14 feet of lace, once pulled, becomes 2 to 3 feet of finished material.
Peter knows the importance of building relationships. His long, successful career has connected him with other artisans to whom he gives high accolades for their willingness to help educate him along the way. Being in the western boot industry for years helped Peter to connect with leather suppliers and tool builders. He has great respect and admiration toward the community of artisans. Much of business is in the education. Peter spends hours daily learning to understand materials better and which tools and techniques to use to raise his standards in artisanship. Peter restates the old adage, “Cheap things are not good – and good things are not cheap!”
Being a successful, independent artist is not easy. It requires passion, determination, enthusiasm and a desire to continue to learn; Peter certainly is a great example of hard work and dedication resulting in building himself into a well-known brand.