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Larry Thomas

EuroLeather offers variety with hand-rubbed line

A finished hide is trimmedA finished hide is trimmed before it is packed and shipped to a furniture manufacturer.
NEWTON, N.C. - A hand rubbed leather cover can add a deep, rich color to a piece of upholstered furniture, and one North Carolina-based leather supplier is out to prove that buyers don't have to go to Asia or South America to obtain such upper-end features.
     EuroLeather has been quietly producing hand-rubbed leathers in its factory here for more than a decade, and company officials believe their ability to develop a variety of finishes and ship the hides quickly have enabled them to outlast all but one or two domestic competitors.
     "This has been a big part of our recent success," said EuroLeather President Giovanni Guidi.
     "We're doing about 1,000 hides a week now, and we could double that in our existing space."
     The company relaunched its hand-rubbed product line at last month's Showtime fabric fair under the brand name American Heritage, and he said reaction from leather buyers was overwhelmingly positive.
     "People tell us they're looking for more ‘made in USA' products, and we can help them tell that story," Guidi said.
     To be clear, EuroLeather isn't operating a tannery in North Carolina. The company takes partially finished hides called crusts and applies a variety of coatings and colors to attain the finished product.
     The crusts, which come from tanneries in Brazil and Italy, are first sent though a spray booth where a base coat is applied.
A EuroLeather worker hand-appliesA EuroLeather worker hand-applies a dark brown finish to a hide.

     After several hours of drying, workers then apply another coating by hand to achieve the rich, deep color that is a trademark of hand rubbed leathers. The look typically is achieved by dipping a brush in the coating and applying it with a swirling motion, Guidi said.
     After that dries, some hides are then sent back to the spray booth for a top coat, depending on the type of finish needed by the manufacturer.
     Clearly, all that additional labor is figured into to the final cost of the hide (a worker typically completes about 40 hand-rubbed hides a day), but Guidi said furniture producers are willing to pay the price for their upper- end goods because it can differentiate them from more promotionally priced products. Plus, it allows them to offer more color choices.
     "We have 32 colors, but it's still dominated by brown," he said. "Retailers will show it in another color, but the consumer usually wants it in brown."
     Guidi said EuroLeather started doing hand-rubbed finishes in 2002, about two years after supplier Lackawanna Leather went out of business. He said Lackawanna was best known for its domestic hand-rubbed finishes, so he hoped to fill that void in the marketplace.
Some semi-finished hidesSome semi-finished hides, known as crusts, are put in a staking machine before finish coats are applied.

     The hand-rubbing operation now has about 25 employees - including some who used to work for Lackawanna and Guidi said he's ready to add to that number once he's convinced the furniture industry recession-induced slump is finally over.
     "There's no consistency at retail," he said. "Business is picking up, but we're not out of the woods just yet."
     Including the finished goods EuroLeather imports from Italy and Brazil, the company now has about 600 SKUs in stock in its North Carolina warehouse, which is separated by a parking lot from its hand-finishing operation.
     The SKU count was boosted significantly by the recent addition of the high end Pronto line from Italian leather producer Gruppo Mastrotto.
     Guidi hopes to place that line primarily in the contract, hospitality and designer markets, but said he's also targeting companies that customize private jets and yachts.
     "This is a whole new customer base for us," he said. "We're very excited about its potential."

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