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Custom Leather Manufacturer and Repairer

Did your favorite shoe just bite the dust? No need to deposit this pair in the trash. For a fee, you can give tattered footwear a new makeover by using the services of a leather repair shop.

The days of using thread and needle to fix a dilapidated pair of shoes are over. A successful business is stocked with state-of-the-art equipment, such as finishing machines for making heels, commercial sewing machines, harness stitchers, sole stitchers, cutters and patchers.

The manual dexterity and the mechanical aptitude to work with machinery are important for a prospective entrepreneur in this business. In addition, service with a smile is essential: only customer-driven owners will rise to the top.

They must be self-motivated to produce quality products. And the means to get there -- working in a cramped workspace, long hours of being alone, and the ongoing aroma of shoe repair glue -- doesn't faze them. In fact, the grind of machinery at work is music to the ears of the successful custom leather and shoe repair professional.

Location Matters

Location is key to the success of any business, and in this field it is particularly tricky. A leather repair shop might do poorly in a city where inexpensive shoes are only a hop, skip and jump away from the nearest mall.

However, other shops, especially those offering custom-made boots and saddles, may thrive in larger areas where horseback riding and rodeos are a popular source of entertainment.

According to shoe repairer Jim Kirton, you can increase your revenue by offering custom-made leather products in addition to repair services. Kirton points out that making custom saddles, in particular, can be a lucrative venture. "A new saddle can bring in $2,500 to $4,000," states Kirton, "but you want to be in a big demand area, such as Oklahoma or Wyoming."

A Successful Business is a Used Business

Larry Dombrowski, of Rifle Boot and Saddle Repair in Rifle, Colorado, explains that start-up costs can be very high. He suggests consider purchasing used machinery to keep costs down.

Kirton agrees. "If I bought all new equipment, I couldn't make it in this business. The total cost of new machinery can run you $70,000. But used, it runs about $30,000."

Even buying used equipment, you can expect start-up costs to equal a full year's salary.

Earnings are variable, however, and no two businesses are alike. For Dombrowski, business has been booming. He credits some of his success to a desirable location.

"We have a lot of cowboys and wannabes," he laughs.

Dombrowski points out that Rifle residents will spend up to $500 for a quality pair of boots. "The heels wear out fast, so they need shoe repairers."

Dombrowski also creates custom gun holsters, but finds that repair work takes up most of his day. He'd like to expand his custom line of products, but hasn't had the time to devote to it. "Just in the last 30 days, I've repaired 70 saddles," he explains.

Kirton has had a difficult time making ends meet. Because of competition from stores that offer consumers inexpensive, factory-made footwear, Kirton has seen his own revenue decline. To compensate, he expanded his shop to offer western-style products, such as clothing and miscellaneous gear. But money isn't everything.

"I like coming to work every day," Kirton says. "But I don't live high off the hog."

Learning From the Masters

Studying as an apprentice for six months to a year is a common way to gain entry to the custom and leather repair business. Both Kirton and Dombrowski started out by purchasing established businesses. Kirton not only bought a piece of property that came with all the essential equipment, but was also able to apprentice with the previous owners before he took over.

Although a college degree is not required, business courses, or a business background, can increase the chance of success in this field. Most important are qualities like good eye-hand coordination, knowing how to use and care for equipment, having the ability to work long hours, and demonstrating a dedication to quality work.

"If someone gives me something to fix, I'll give it my best shot," says Dombrowski. "You can't just say, I can't do it. You have to do what the public wants." Dombrowski proves his commitment to service with each 70-hour workweek that he completes.

"I like coming to work every day," says Kirton. "Many people can't say that they do."

Dombrowski echoes the sentiment. "I enjoy my work. It's a challenge." He pauses and then gets to the root of the motivation that has made him a success: "If I can do it well, I have satisfied my own self."


How to Repair a Tear in Leather
A step-by-step guide

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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.