It is not just the old hands in the leather industry that look back at its growth over the years to predict a bright future; sometimes, a new entrant can take an objective look from outside and find a firm belief in the opportunities that lie ahead. One relatively new player is bringing its high standards of quality and service in the manufacture of blades, as well as a history of excellence and a will to innovate, to help the industry thrive. "This is still a very strong industry, and we have met with the leading UK tanneries and they are very positive, which justifies what we have done," says Rob Andrews, commercial director at Hardy UK and Arkote.
Arkote is one of the world's top suppliers of steel machine knives and is the leading manufacturer of blades for the tobacco industry, selling them to every major machine builder and factory. It has been producing blades in Sheffield, UK, for more than 130 years. In 2015, Arkote made its move into the leather industry with the acquisition of Liverpool-based Hardy, which is a leading brand for shaving and fleshing blades.
"The tobacco industry is changing and faces many challenges, so we wanted to get into new markets," remarks Peter Oxspring, managing director at Hardy and Arkote. "We began looking for potential acquisitions that matched our expertise in manufacturing and exporting steel products in niche industries. We looked at Hardy and it fitted well, so then we looked at the leather industry and we saw a great future in it.
"It is a very interesting market and has many similarities with what we were already doing," he adds. "It is a worldwide industry with different types of machine builders - large companies and smaller independent companies - and exporting is our bread and butter. Our advantage is that we have really good people at Hardy, who have many years of experience and a lot of knowledge to build on."
The business developed that platform this year with the acquisition of Zanogen, a well-known manufacturer of spiral blades for the leather industry, to further strengthen its market reach. In March, Arkote acquired the company to bring together two of the industry's leading manufacturers of shaving and fleshing blades. The Hardy and Zanogen brands have many loyal customers, and the synergy between them will benefit clients around the world.
Blades from both brands will continue to be exclusively produced in the UK - which Arkote believes is a hallmark of good manufacturing - but the company's strategy is truly global.
"With Hardy, we got a great company with a great name in the industry for high quality and good pricing," says Oxspring. "We inherited a strong business and gave it more direction in terms of management, marketing and branding, though the product already sold itself. With Zanogen, the timing was right for us and the previous owner, and we can build on its strength in some regions. It improves our standing around the world and, with some investment in machinery to increase the quality and consistency of the product, it will work in synergy with the Hardy brand.
"The blade is a very important part of the leather-making process and this is an industry that produces a quality product and does not like to take risks in the processing of it, so consistent, quality blades are paramount," he states. "The blades we make are the blades people want, so we just have to continue investing in people, machinery and processes to maintain our quality and consistency."
Arkote's brand-new Americas office will help to extend its global reach. The Hardy and Zanogen brands are already strong in South and North America, but the company's new representative will help to expand on their presence and agent network in many of the countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay and the US.
"The competition is stronger in some markets, but we already have a global reach - there are no markets left to crack," says Oxspring. "But there is more to come from us and we are looking for more growth opportunities, because we see a real future in this industry."