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I read with interest the recent blog entitled "A tanners complaint" written by Ron Sauer and posted on March 12. It may surprise you to learn as someone who has spent most of his career "the other side of the fence" buying for a large brand that I tend to agree with a lot of what the blog has to say.
However, I think time is better spent on how to overcome these issues in the future rather than review the good old days. We also need to face the reality that while I agree with the comments about brands and buyers, I know that buyers and brands would have a similar list of complaints against tanners.
The key word in the blog is “relationship”, without a good working relationship you will always have the list of those issues that are pointed out. As in any good relationship you need trust and understanding, and it is understanding of each other’s problems and issues that is the key. In this respect the tanners complaint does seem a little one sided.
I believe the supply chain starts with the animal and ends with customer buying the finished product and it is this customer that drives the requirements of the supply chain, not the brand, they are part of the supply chain as is the tanner. So I do disagree fundamentally that the pressures exerted on the tanner is driven by its customer, the brand. The brand is simply the messenger from the final customer.
I have described what I see as the total supply chain and I would agree that the brand needs to take this approach as well. If they did, I am sure together some of the problems pointed out in the blog could be addressed.
I am not being naive as I see the only way forward is having a relationship that is based on trust, understanding and openness. If you have these foundations in place I firmly believe there is a basis for good ongoing business.
Having said that, I am also aware of the often revolving door of people involved in the brands in the buying and marketing departments of leather and other materials. It is a difficult situation, but here I think the tanner has to take the lead. I am afraid the days of long term employment in these roles is a thing of the past (which is a shame) so the tanner becomes the expert and they should act in that way. By using their knowledge in a positive way in the short term would be to take advantage in the longer term by developing a relationship with the brand as a whole rather than just some individual buyer.
But as I said at the outset I agree with some of the points in the blog but to me these are mostly symptoms of poor relationships that have not been fully developed and the onus is on both the tanner and the brand to get together. Perhaps due to the lack of experience and knowledge on the brand side it is even more up to the tanner to drive this relationship forward.
As in all relationships there will ups and down's and they will not be built over night but I am sure the effort will prove to be worthwhile in the end.
Andy Seaward, Director.
Seaward Material Solutions
About the author
Andy Seaward worked for Clarks for 45 years in various positions. Seaward moved into material sourcing in 1990 and spent the past 25 years sourcing leathers and synthetics for men, women and children’s shoe's as Clarks Global Materials Manager responsible for the sourcing of materials for both the UK and the US operations. This entailed sourcing materials and working with tanners from all over the globe.
Andy Seaward retired from Clarks in 2014 and has set up a consulting business, Seaward Material Solutions, for brands and tanners. He now uses his experience to help companies achieve better results and pass on his knowledge of the industry and sourcing.
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