Pain in Spain – part 2

ILM Editorial blog - Martin Ricker
Published:  14 October, 2013
Martin Ricker

A few weeks ago I wrote about the decline of the tanning industry in Spain in the past decade. The article ended on a positive note as the number of tanneries going out of business in Spain seems to have slowed. However, after recent visits to various trade fairs and events it seems that a few tanneries in Spain are still finding life difficult.

I will focus on three tanners that are well established yet are finding leather making in Spain, for different reasons, more challenging.

Spanish tanners, like many leather making companies from around the world, are mostly small to medium sized businesses (SMEs), which are predominantly family owned. Many have passed through several generations of the family with often the younger generation eager to make changes from the ways of the past while the older generation is keen to maintain the traditions of the business. It’s a common story within many family owned businesses and the battles go on. The successful companies are the ones that manage the evolution of the market and anticipate changes ahead without forgetting what made them successful in the first place.

One of the most well known tanners in Spain is Fontanellas y Marti from the Catalan tanning town of Igualada. They recently made a number of production and administration staff redundant (60 is the figured quoted) and the company switched production from their older tannery in Spain to their newer, more modern and no doubt cheaper to run plant in Vietnam. Fontanellas supply high quality leather for leather goods and footwear and some of the worlds leading luxury brands source from them.

I did contact Fontanellas y Marti to get a better understanding of the recent job losses and to find out what are their plans are for the future. They didn’t respond.

The second tanner that has been through a difficult period is M C Clols based near Barcelona. A sheep and goat leather tannery, this family owned business virtually went bankrupt in the past two years. I understand from sources within the industry that one of the main issues was a problem within the family owners of the business.

I am told from a reliable source that Felix Company Clols has now taken direct control of the tannery while other members of the family have taken more of a back seat. The business is now back fully trading and was exhibiting at the recent Cuir A Paris show. I emailed Felix Company and a colleague at M C Clols to find out more about how things are going, but I didn’t get a response from them but seems that the business is back from the brink.

Vic, the once famous tanning town in Catalonia, has been the location for much of the painful closures in the tanning industry in Spain in recent years. Today, there are three leather making companies in the town. One of which is Grupo Ledexport, part of The Colomer Group (not Colomer Moda) producing wet-blue bovine leathers. The other is a small artisan leather maker, Aesvic and the third, Serpelsa.

The recent history of the latter, Serpelsa is quite interesting. A few years ago Josep Costa who I believe was the founder of the company ran the business. Serpelsa specialised in a tanning fur skins and farmed rabbit skins (Orylag).

Since Costa retired the business has been managed by his son-in-law, Albert Roselló. Roselló is a proactive person who between 2010-012 was the President of the European Confederation of Tanning Associations, Cotance. Serpelsa grew rapidly and expanded into production of larger hides and skins through internal growth and the acquisition of other well-known tanners such as Genis Antel (ovine leather) and Curtidos Codina (bovine tanner).

However, recently the company has found life tough and they are currently in business administration (Chapter 11 as it is know in the US). One wonders if the rapid pace of expansion has overleveraged the company. Once again I did try to contact Albert Roselló but so far I did not receive a response.

But it appears that one of main issues that faced Serpelsa has been a lack of access to credit and financial support from the banks. I understand that the company has orders but they don’t have the cash flow to buy increasingly expensive raw materials and the banks are not prepared to provide further credit.

Clearly, I have no idea of the financial well being of Serpelsa or any of the tanners mentioned in this blog but it seems that since the banking crisis of 2008-09 many banks, a common theme around the world, have reduced credit lines and many SMEs across the whole economy and including tanners. Many leather makers have found it more difficult to obtain credit. In some cases it has made the difference between staying afloat or going under.

One final observation that I would like to mention is more general and not specific to Spanish tanners.

Over the many years that I have been writing about tanners and the tanning industry around the world. Many, many companies are still very reluctant to engage with the media (trade media or general media) and apart from a few exceptions, are very guarded when it comes to talking openly about their businesses. There is a common perception that “if I talk openly I will give my secrets away to the competition”. 

We are all competing in a global economy and I believe that those tanners that are able to market themselves and use the media to engage with their customers will have a competitive advantage even if the news maybe negative sometimes. Some have fantastic products and an interesting story to tell.