Today we woke up early in Florence to begin our day with a company tour of the Scuola del Cuoio. I was particularly excited about today’s site visit since this was the company that our group did research on before we traveled to Italy. I was interested in hearing more about the Florentine leather school and how it operated.
The Scuola del Cuoio is somewhere in between horizontally and vertically integrated because they are receiving materials from around the world to create their products, yet they also produce them and make individual one of a kind products for customers on site. The woman at the leather school explained more about the history of the school, noting that it was opened to help orphans earn money after World War 2 under the the guidance of local monks. The school is still in operation today, where students from places like America and China take lessons to acquire skills to become true leather artisans. She noted that even the actor Daniel Day Lewis stayed at the leather school to learn how to make shoes for ten months!
It was explained that Scuola del Cuoio gets their hides from around the world at varying costs. Goat hides are imported from Greece and Italy at a cost of 20 Euros for about 2.5 feet. Soft lambskins from South Africa and New Zealand are purchased for about 68 Euros per square foot. Deerskin from Virginia, in the USA is purchased for 12 Euros per square foot. Interestingly enough, ostrich skin prices are high as a result of bird flu and are purchased for 30 Euros per square foot. In addition to animal hides, reptile skins such as Polynesian python are purchased for 28 Euros per meter. They import crocodile from Louisiana, USA, or a supplier in Egypt. Therefore, they are getting their leathers from around the world, yet they come into Italy as raw skins and are produced into functional hides at their tannery near the school itself. However, it was noted that their Texom, a cardboard product used to support the bags and absorb humidity, comes from Italy.
Their primary products are bangles, wallets, purses, wristlets, bags, clothing, and housing décor. Though the leather school produces a wide variety of merchandise based products, their most significant product might be their students. Keeping the artisan skills of the trade alive in the modern world of mass production and automated manufacturing is priceless. This point was emphasized by our guide when she noted that Francesco was the only one in the leather school that could do the gold embossing of products. Many of these skills require intensive training to do it properly.
I was interested in learning that they really do not have many scraps at their shop. They try to use the cutting edges and lesser quality scraps to make bangles. Although there are many leather shops in Florence, it would be hard to find a direct competitor for the Scuola del Cuoio, especially since it is designed as a trade school, not just a leather retail store. A direct competitor would have to create high quality customized products. She kept mentioning that a “cheap handbag” is not a “real handbag” because there is no way to produce a product of amazing quality and only sell it at low-end prices. This company could try and sell their products in more retail stores, however many of the bags are custom ordered for the customers and are not allowed to be replicated. A record book is kept containing documentation of customized/individualized bags never be recreated again.
I agree with the Scuola’s approach to how they do business, since I believe they have found a niche in today’s marketplace based on their production practices. They are small, artisan, and hard-working. They are dedicated to their craft. I also love the fact that they try to limit waste and train their students to create products using the same techniques as the generations of artisans before them. They care enough to educate their customers regarding the best kind of hides for their desired product to ensure quality, durability, and and customer satisfaction.
When doing an industry analysis, I realized that the Scuola del Cuoio does not necessarily dominate the leather industry or market. Their major product categories were clothing, bags/wallets, small gifts, notebooks, and miscellaneous items. Major competitors in their price range would be any expensive leather company. However, they most likely run into trouble with the vendors selling counterfeit products throughout Florence. The tents throughout the city sell fake leather bags at a much cheaper price, yet they strongly resemble the real leather bags (nothing that a novice would be able to point out). It is a true challenge for people who are looking for something simple because the tents’ prices will be much lower which potentially entices more frugal customers. Yet, if you want quality artisan work, it is best to go to Scuola del Cuoio since their leather hides are real and craftsmanship is at its finest. I found it interesting that since they are known for their quality work, they have been asked to make fine luggage sets for many princesses, customized for their needs. Scuola del Cuoio has the ability to custom design a product for specific clients which is a great marketing tool.
After our company tour we visited the Museum, Boboli Gardens, and the the Ponte Vecchio bridge! Although we leave Florence tomorrow, I can not wait to go to Verona!
|| Alaina All’Estero – “Alaina Abroad” ||