Turner is a famous name in the leather industry. Generations of tanners have used their machinery, dating back to the 1920s. The Turner name is linked with reliability, workmanship and quality.

On the surface, the machinery made by Turner looks the same as it did when the last machine was produced prior to the bankruptcy of the Mercier Turner Group in 1999. Each machine still sports the green and white livery. However, beneath the surface a newer, leaner and fitter company is growing continuously. And there are three new tannery machines in the pipeline.

Didier Chambon, former sales manager, Mercier Turner, acquired most of the former company assets at an auction held in 2000. He is now the new president of Turner and owns the majority shareholding. Turner own the former Mercier factory site, a vast array of spare parts (approximately 70,000) and the drawings and copyright for most of the machines.

The company structure has been completely reorganised in terms of labour and working practices. Today, Turner employ 20 people and hire a further 40 to manufacture parts and install electrical equipment etc on a contract basis.

‘We have changed the philosophy of the business and now out-source much more work. Our main task is to assemble the machines, supply spares and offer a high technical service to our customers’, Chambon told Leather International. Productivity under the system has risen by 30%.

Last year, the business sold 50 machines worldwide and the next step is to increase sales to 60 machines this year. Currently, they have a core of 16 models in a range of sizes and all are based on cylinder mechanisms.

‘Our aim is to establish a high standard technical centre here in Annonay, near St Etienne, with only moderate levels of production’, says Chambon. ‘We have a highly qualified R&D team here and in the past two years we have managed to rebuild the business by offering a good service.’ Technical service and fault finding can even be carried out from France to any part of the world using a link-up via a pc.

The R&D team at Turner have been busy. At the forthcoming Tanning Tech exhibition at the end of October, they are looking at launching a prototype sorting and selection ‘Selectra’ machine that is currently being trialled at a tannery in Italy. The machine will sort and select wet-blue and crusted small skins. Turner have developed the machine in partnership with the University of Lyon. If successful, a side and/or hide version of the Selectra will also be developed.

Turner are also developing a new machine to detect hide defects automatically. If trials are successful, the machine may also be launched at Tanning Tech this year.

They are also evolving a new generation of splitting machines. It is expected that the new model may be introduced in 2004. ‘We hope to make something new and different for the market’, Chambon remarked. The major markets for the company are Italy, France and Spain in Europe although much of the new business is in China and other parts of Asia. They have also sold some equipment to tanners in the Middle East.

‘We have noticed that the market is a little more positive since the end of the conflict in Iraq and the lowering of SARS restrictions in Asia. However, business has become more difficult as the Euro has continued to strengthen against the dollar. This has made our goods less competitive. As for Turner, the signs are good and I don’t expect any problems in the short term.’

The Turner name was founded in the 1920s in the USA. The business was then sold and production switched to Germany. In 1993 the French Mercier Frères acquired the business. Mercier Frères were specialists at producing tannery machinery for the small skins market while Turner were known for makers of equipment for side and hide leather. Production was transferred to Annonay and the Mercier Turner group remained in business until 1999.