Despite the summer vacations and traditional tannery shutdowns I have managed to fit in two tannery trips in July; one to the newly renamed Scottish Leather Group and the other to the ECCO’s leather research and development centre at Dongen in the Netherlands. These are both impressive operations and are thriving against a generally subdued European leather industry background.

So how do they do it? What is their secret? Probably the most noticeable aspects are their committment to investment and innovation. Both groups invest a great deal of effort in finding new leathers which are different and not easy to copy. They achieve high standards and adhere to the most exacting specifications. They believe in delivering what they say they will, when they say they will.

The equipment in their tanneries is bang up to the minute, their effluent plants are among the most environmentally sound in the world and their investment does not end there. Both groups acknowledge the importance of a committed workforce. They offer training and attractive working conditions and want to break out of the traditional view of the tannery as a dirty, smelly and low paid environment.

Jonathan Muirhead, group chairman, Scottish Leather, says that they put great store on recruitment and building a skills based workforce. He said the group offer an attractive final salary pension scheme and are trying to redress the low paid image of the leather industry generally.

Managing director for both Bridge of Weir and NCT (National Chrome Tanning), Iain McFadyen is a good example of how the group take talented young people and train them up. McFadyen joined in 1976 as a management trainee across the group.

James Lang, managing director of Muirhead, says that Muirhead try to be different. They operate much as a small company might, processing 3,500 hides/week and allowing companies to order small batches which would not be possible with large, volume driven companies. Despite their dynamic and flexible approach to their small specialist customers, they can also offer the type of investment in technology and human resources which is normally only possible with the backing of a much larger group with greater financial resources.

ECCO Group also invest in their workforce, taking in trainees and then employing them throughout the group. They already have five students working in Holland on RESTORM but are now launching a theoretical and practical two-year course which will take students from various training establishments which will involve one year in Holland before moving on to Thailand or Indonesia. They also bring in technicians from Thailand and Indonesia for development work on new leathers. This provides them with a much greater understanding of what the group is capable of and in turn they take their knowledge back to their home tannery. By providing training, good working conditions and career opportunities they are hoping to attract future management potential. They also believe in the rotation of staff which gives people the chance to work in other countries.

Lang says Muirhead are ‘maniacal’ about making sure a customer gets what he wants and when he wants it. The company offer consistency, reliability and will meet any specifications which they are contracted to. And in their newly published brochure, ECCO state that they innovate and develop the finest leathers. ‘We always strive to fulfil our customers’ expectations at all times. Promises given – promises kept!’