Clever?

29 May 2008



Let me start by quoting an email received by Leather from a Middle Eastern country which shows how easy it is for people to access the international trade platform and how difficult it is at the same time for them to trade:
Quote ‘Hi. We company working in the field of leather, we have all kinds of rawhide and plant and want to expand our dealings in this area is why we decided Mrslaat several companies including Crkim and hope that has been treated us. Note: quality leather available to us is the sheep and goats and cattle and raw Mudbog' unquote.


I'd love to know from someone who reads this what a mudbog is. However, even if I knew what a mudbog is, I would still hesitate to deal with a company that offers its services with the above quoted mail. Apart from this message, which generates a good laugh, tanners are the funniest people in the world. They can spend a fortune on certain things and are money conscious to the extreme about other things. How many travel first or business class overseas and refuse to invest a few thousand dollars in useful equipment? In order to counteract the overwhelming conquest by Chinese tanners, western tanners, those that intend to survive, have given priority to quality rather than quantity and, in fact, with the unbeatable productivity of Chinese workers combined with their extremely low salaries, their prohibitive working conditions and pollution that is still not under control, there is no way for a western tannery to be competitive against a Chinese tannery for mass produced leather. The competitive edge today is, therefore, creativity and quality but not only for the Americans and Europeans but also for the Indians, Bangladeshi and Pakistani producers. Even the African tanners can't beat the Chinese on their turf of cheapest of cheap. As in developed countries, tanneries in the Indian subcontinent and Africa are closing, not able to compete with their Vietnamese or Chinese colleagues. The only solution is to produce quality or at least a product that has its competitive edge not based on a price war. Reliability is one thing, quality another. Product safety is yet another and becoming very important after it was discovered last year that many Chinese products are outright dangerous for consumer health. Poisonous toothpaste and lead laden toys as well as unhygienic food are no jokes. We haven't heard about prohibited chemicals used in leather yet but I wonder what outcome tests on Chinese leather products will give. How to obtain quality? Well, to produce quality leather in the first place one needs to be a tanner, not a guy who has money and buys a factory that buys raw hides and skins and turns out a product that is called by Wikepedia finished leather just because it looks like leather and smells like leather. A real tanner is a guy who is a master chef in a five star kitchen called the tannery. A tanner needs in-depth knowledge of the raw materials that are available in the market. He needs to know his chemistry and he needs to possess that inborn capability to dialogue with his product. A tanner also needs the aid of machines. Good European machines are twice as expensive as machines made in India, three times or more expensive than machines made in China. A fleshing machine is a fleshing machine is a fleshing machine? Yes it is. No it isn't. A top quality European made wooden drum costs some €40,000, whereas a Chinese made drum of the same size costs a quarter of that price. There must be a difference, quite a difference. Why else would Chinese tanners buy the €40,000 top quality drum if they have their home made product readily available at a fraction of that price? Why does India import Italian fleshing machines when it makes similar machines on its own soil at half the price? Similar comparisons can be made for leather chemicals. European chemicals are more expensive than similar products made elsewhere. But there is no doubt that they are also better, much better. Quality and composition consistency of a chemical is fundamental for good consistent leather quality. A tanner must be able to rely on the chemicals he buys. Chemicals are a mix and that mix must be the same from one batch to the next. If it is not then the leather will not be the same from one batch to the next, even if the tanner sticks religiously to the tanning formula. Tanners in the developing world all complain that they have problems with their chemicals and when you ask them where they buy those problematic chemicals it is clear that their first objective was to buy cheap rather than good. Italian chemical companies are doing good business in the Indian subcontinent. Why? Simple. They deliver at the right price good consistent quality chemicals at the right concentration which are unfortunately not available made locally. In the great majority of cases product ‘A' made in Europe is not the same as the product called ‘A' made by an overseas subsidiary of the same chemical company. So a clever tanner should look at quality when he needs to buy a machine and a chemical because what appears cheap or a deal at first sight will inevitably turn out to be expensive. Tanners in developing countries generally sit on huge stocks of rejected leathers immobilising a huge capital eating into their profit or creating losses. If they had bought the expensive European made ‘A' chemical rather than the locally made ‘A' or, worse, a locally made copy of ‘A' they would have saved money. No rejects, no immobilisation of capital, no stocks. Quality problems are not only generated by inconsistent chemicals, because even with the expensive European chemicals one can create the money consuming rejected stocks by bad execution of the tanning formula. Too much or too little water. Too high or too low a temperature. Bad timing. Percentage calculation errors. Imprecise weighing. All are factors that contribute to quality inconsistency. Few tanners are prepared to invest in quality consistency, thinking that such an investment is superfluous or at least a luxury. Instead they should think again and try to minimise human errors (which are inevitable) by investing in process control. Tanners in developed countries believe they do not need process control due to the fact that their workers are educated, being able to calculate, read and write. Tanners in developing countries believe that process control is too sophisticated for their under-educated workers, few of whom can read or write. Both are wrong and both by being pennywise are dollar foolish. Sam Setter [email protected]



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