BEHIND THE SCENES: Auburn Leathercrafters
The Auburn, N.Y.-based collar and leash maker focuses on just three things: quality, quality and quality
By Michael Ventre
|A true family affair from the beginning, Alan Dungey (right) works with his brother Walter (left) at a show.|
When he was 13, Alan Dungey swept the floor of Auburn Leathercrafters. Now he owns the floor.
Alan and his wife Anita run the company in much the same way Alan’s grandfather, Everett, did when he started the business in 1950. Whereas a real estate broker might chant, “Location, location, location” the mantra around Auburn is “Quality, quality, quality.”
Auburn Leathercrafters is celebrating its 60th anniversary, yet a look back is almost the same as a look ahead: The company, said Alan Dungey, was founded on the premise that a pet is a member of the family, and deserves a collar and leash that reflects that status. That belief holds true today.
“Although the pet market isn’t entirely recession-proof,” Alan observed, “dogs and cats and other live animals become family members. People take a liking to them as they would their children. They’ll always buy a new collar if their pet needs one, or a bag of food or a treat, because they don’t want their animals harmed by a lack of care.”
To visit the company, located in the sleepy upstate New York village of Auburn, is to study the family unit in action. Alan is the product designer and production manager. Anita is the company president. Alan’s brother is also in management, and the couple’s 20-year-old daughter Laura is involved in design aspects. And although Alan says their 16-year-old son Christopher’s involvement “is yet to be determined,” it’s a safe bet he’ll be doing some of the same chores his dad did and climbing the company ladder someday.
Auburn Leathercrafters treats its dozen employees like family as well. At least they seem to stick around like family members; Auburn’s oldest employee has been there for 18 years.
|The above is one of the original logos that Alan’s mom drew back in the ‘60s.|
“When we bring people in,” Alan said, “we try not to let them go, because no other business does what we do, so we train them to do everything on the shop floor. The majority of our staff not only knows how to rivet, but to sew, run the presses, apply edge dyes. With a small staff, they can cover for each other when one is on vacation.”
Auburn specializes in collars and leashes, but also offers harnesses as well as products for sporting and training purposes, and toys and accessories. An expansion into equestrian items is also being pondered. Auburn’s products are made of fine leather, despite temptations over the years—including these recessionary times—to cut corners.
“If you pick up one of our collars,” Alan said, “you’ll be able to feel the difference. It’s the quality of the leather. You smell it and it doesn’t smell like plastic or cheap chemicals or glue. Our leather is more like horse tack, high-quality leather, made to last a lifetime.”
When Auburn creates a product, it follows the same strict guidelines established 60 years ago.
“We try to smooth all the edges so it’s nice and comfortable for the dog and the handler,” he said. “We go the extra steps to make sure the product is quality constructed. In the past, we’ve considered maybe a less expensive buckle or snap or cut of leather. But in the end, we always basically stick to our guns and say, ‘Ah, we’ll let the other guys do that. We’ll keep our product like it is.’
“We’re not trying to make millions of collars,” he continued. “We’re trying to make the best living we can by making the best collars we can and not compromising.”
The Dungeys run monthly specials and also send out e-mail blasts to remind store owners to restock. Although Auburn’s products are offered in retail stores across the United States and Canada as well as online, Alan still pays visits to establishments in the region to make sure their collar displays haven’t been barren since 1950.
|At A Glance |
Auburn Leathercrafters Inc.
Location: Auburn, N.Y.
Owners: Anita M. Dungey, Alan G. Dungey and Walter E. Dungey
Number of Employees: 12
Years in Business: 60
Areas of Distribution/Business: USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, Asia
Company Mission: “At Auburn Leathercrafters, we are dedicated to supplying retail pet shops with products that sell. You will appreciate the quality craftsmanship of our handcrafted products, using the finest full grain leathers and materials. We believe our customers must be given the best possible service and the best quality products. Most importantly to us, our business ethics and conduct must be beyond reproach and consistent with our faith.”
“Sometimes you walk into their store and you’ll want to restock their collars,” Alan said, “and they say they don’t need any today, or they don’t have the cash on hand to pay for it. My answer is, ‘Let me take a moment, check out your stock. I’ll clean up your display.
“Inevitably I’ll find that they sold out all the popular collars and sizes, and because collars aren’t like a bag of food, a dog collar doesn’t fly off the shelf that fast, so they don’t recall selling that many, but they find out it’s because they’re out of all the popular sellers. We send out a blast to encourage them to check their stocks,” he added.
|The company’s current logo.|
Some of those displays may soon be showing off Auburn’s latest offering, the Tuscany line of collars and leashes, which were shown for the first time at SuperZoo this past September.
“We’ve had customers tell us that they’re looking for something soft and supple,” Anita said. “For years we’ve been looking for just the right combination of materials to bring that all together. Over the last five years that is the feedback we’ve gotten.”
And even though the Tuscany products are as soft as an Italian baby’s behind, they’re still rugged enough to get the job done, Alan said.
“Nine times out of 10, if you have something that is glove-soft right out of the box, it’s made soft by the tanning process,” he said. “Typically it’s not a strong piece of leather. It’ll have softness but not the strength.
“When you put a 20-inch collar on a lab, it needs to be strong when the dog lunges after a cat,” Alan continued. “I will not, in good conscience, sell a product that will not hold an animal it is meant to fit. There are companies out there that do that, that will manufacture something out of glove leather, and put a warning on it that says, ‘This is for decoration only.’ We won’t do that.”
|The company’s antique look never goes out of style.|
Auburn Leathercrafters has experienced a vibrant history, from the fire that once burned a nearby shoe factory but miraculously spared its own company, to Everett being interviewed on Arthur Godfrey’s national radio show about his collars made with genuine 3M Scotchlite reflective ribbon, to the many employees who watched their own kids grow up around the business.
What started as a passion for Everett Dungey, and then was passed on to his son Gordon, is still burning with Alan and his wife Anita. Then, who knows?
“I want to see them through college,” Alan said of his own kids. “Hopefully by that time my wife and my brother and our staff will have maintained a business that will be of interest. In a small family business, you never know.”
Given Auburn’s history, it’s a good bet the next generation will carry it forward. <HOME>
|The Dungeys have a history of helping out in times of need.|
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