Standing the Test of Time
By Liisa Andreassen
Originally started in 1867 and based in Toronto, Canada, today Wickett & Craig calls Curwensville, Pennsylvania, home – making it one of only two remaining vegetable tanneries in the U.S. Located on more than 16 acres of land, the state-of-the-art facility produces 4,500,000 square feet of both light and heavy-weight leathers annually. The former are used to craft luxury goods like shoes, bags and belts, while the latter are used to make traditional equestrian gear including saddles, bridles and straps.
Twenty-seven years ago, Matt Bressler, sales manager at Wickett & Craig, started with the company as a laborer. He says that he attributes its success to a number of things that include not only producing the best product it can, but to changing with the times.
“The need for leather has changed. It went from being a necessity when the company started 123 years ago, to being a want. We try to show people why they need and want it,” Bressler says. “My mantra is ‘do the right thing; not the easy thing.’ It’s the same at Wickett & Craig. Our process is likely like nothing you’ve ever seen. Vegetable tanning is the oldest form of tanning and we buy jumbo heavy steer all from North America and then these hides spend 14 days in our tanning liquor. We turn these hides into beautiful pieces of leather.”
A Q. and A. with Bressler
Why did the company move from Toronto in 1989?
Toronto officials thought it was going to be chosen to host the Winter Olympic Games and they moved out many businesses from the downtown area. We found an abandoned cheese factory with about 180,000 square feet in central Pennsylvania, in a town that already had a rich history as a tannery town. It was a good fit.
How many employees?
Describe the company culture? What’s it like to work there?
We’re located in a small town, so everyone really knows each other. We rely on each other like a family. The owners – Banks Bros and Sons – while involved in the company are absentee and don’t micromanage. They give us the tools we need to succeed and to do our jobs well. We are able to upgrade machines as needed. Like them, I hate the phrase, ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it.’ We change when we need to and they trust us.
Who are Banks Bros?
They were founded over 60 years ago as a processor and trader of Canadian and U.S. cattle hides and skins. Their hide facility in Toronto processes more than 15,000 hides per week.
What have been some of the greatest challenges for the company?
Over the years, we’ve found that customers don’t always know what they want, so educating the consumer about the difference between our leather and say “genuine leather” that they may find at Wal-Mart, is part of what we do. That Wal-Mart mentality is killing good leather. It’s one of the reasons we don’t sell our products online. We want to talk with the consumer and really find out what they want and need. They may think they know what type of leather they want, but it may not be the right one for the product they want. Also, keeping everyone at the company paddling in the same direction and finding vested talent is a challenge. Communication helps. The number one focus is the consumer, which trickles down to the sales team, which trickles down to the staff, the laborer and so on. We’re all in this together.
What have been some of the greatest successes?
We have good staff retention and communication. This helps us to deliver a consistent product and allows us to build and maintain strong relationships with customers at all levels.
Since you have been with the company, do you have a favorite story?
I have a funny one. Years ago, I sold some leather to a NYC designer. I told her it was going to be about $25 to $26 per square foot. Upon receipt of the leather, she called to say there was a problem. The price was fine, but it was not square. Again, it’s all about consumer education.
What’s in store for the future of the company?
To remain humble and keep our reputation, but continue to put our feet forward. We want to keep doing what we’re doing. If you do good things and give your all, it will work out.
What’s production like? For example, can you give me an idea regarding number of products sold per month?
We average about 10,000 sides per month.
What sets your products apart from others? What’s the real differentiator?
Their aging ability. Our leathers stand the test of time. They look better with age and develop a patina that tells a story. It shows character.
What are your top-selling products?
English bridles, skirting and harnesses.
How’s business? Has it gone up/down over say the past five years?
Our growth rate has stayed about the same, but the markets have changed. Compared to where we were about 10 years ago, we’re doing more small leather goods now. We’re also doing different colors like pinks and turquoise, which takes us out of our comfort zone. It can be risky for a vegetable tannery to do these things, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Wickett & Craig leathers can be purchased directly or through a network of certified distributors. The company is committed to making leathers “that work for you” and offer different options of weights and customization.
“We believe in what we do. We live it, we breathe it, we eat it, we sleep it,” Bressler says.
Wickett & Craig
120 Cooper Rd.
Curwensville, PA 16833