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Skin in the game

Posted: 10am 17 Aug 2020

According to Packer Leather’s Lindsay Packer, constantly evolving is the key to business survival even in a global pandemic. It’s something this family business has done since 1891.

These days, Lindsay’s the chairman of the board, and three of his children take care of the day-to-day running of Packer Leather. He’s the fourth generation Packer to work in the business – there’s now six.

The family employs about 100 staff at its Narangba plant, producing high-performance leather for some local customers but exporting the bulk of it.

“We take raw material, whether it’s kangaroo or bovine, sometimes sheep, all the way through to finished leather,” Lindsay explains.

Their leather is used in Sherrin footballs, Kookaburra cricket balls, Akubra hats, RM Williams products, high-end football boots and many other products.

Packer Leather is recognised worldwide for its high-performance kangaroo leather and creating custom-made solutions for global brands’ specific needs.

“It’s something sitting out at Narangba and people don’t realise where our tentacles get to,” Lindsay says. “We work with Adidas, Nike, Azuma, Asics, Puma and others.”

Always looking ahead

Lindsay has a passion for finding technology and machinery that will improve the quality, efficiency and environmental impact of what they do. And he’s always looking for the next opportunity to diversify.

“I started travelling overseas in 1979 to see what it was all about. You looked at what was going on and looked back home and you’d cringe at what you had. But, it opened my eyes to what the possibilities were,” he explains.

“By the time it got to 1988, we’d put in the first computerised and controlled tanning in Australia. At that time, there were only seven or eight big systems in the world that I saw. It was the start of a thing, I said no more second-hand machinery – we’re going to buy new, the latest technology.”

He’s keen to add digital printing to the operation, so they can create a range of patterns on the leather, and he wants to have the ability to cut components for clients eliminating the need to ship larger pieces of leather, of which some is essentially waste.

“OK, it’s another issue here because you’ve got get rid of the waste, but as far as your customer’s concerned (it’s better) and by doing these things you’re meshing in a lot tighter with the manufacturer,” he explains.

Part of his plan is to expand research and development onsite, taking the business to the next level.

“We have a fully-fledged lab, where we do all our testing. You can’t do these things unless you’ve got these sorts of facilities,” Lindsay explains.

“It will probably take 12 months. Two years ago, we did a lot of work on digital – it’s not just the digital printing it’s how the leather – the surface of the leather, or the finishes of the leather - will take the dye.

“We’d done a lot of that earlier, so now it’s about refining that, getting some printing machines here. We’ll do full sheets of leather to start with and the next one after that will be components.

“People look at this industry and that it’s old-hat and the ideas are 50-60 years old, it’s not. It’s driven by the digital age in a whole range of things.”

A desire to reduce their environmental footprint has also driven change in the chemicals they use, the solar power they generate and the energy they use.

Impact of COVID-19

Lindsay’s a man of faith – in God and his business. The past few months have been challenging, he’s had to cut casual staff and rely on Job Keeper to keep things running but he remains positive.

“It’s different to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). We went down for three months and came out of it. This one, there’s no kind of light at the end of the tunnel and you’ve got both – a financial crisis and this health issue to live with.

“Everyone’s guessing and we’ve got no idea where we’re going. But, look at the good side … it could change supply chains, (and get) governments rethinking certain things and manufacturing is probably one … the policies they make, making it easier to establish and survive here.”

“These old industries are using the digital outcomes … things are changing. That’s why you feel optimistic when everything’s pessimistic.”

‘Not done yet’

Lindsay started working in the business in 1960, when it was still based at Chermside, as a 17-year-old.

He’s now 76 and laughs as he says he’s got no plans to clock off any time soon.

“I’m not finished yet. David’s the MD now. They made me the chairman. I’m mainly doing projects. Susan does logistics, Mark’s doing planning, Willie’s in the paint shop making mixes up,” Lindsay says.

“I can think about what’s the next thing we should be doing. They bring an idea or something else and I work on that.

“We’ve started doing some value-added on our leather, so we’re making cut lace. I’m about to start plaiting and hopefully towards the end of next year, I want to be making woven mesh for shoes, handbags, whatever.

“You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and if the dollars aren’t any good, so be it. It comes and changes. If you’re driven by that alone, you’re in the wrong business. You’ve got to have a passion for what you do.”

Want to know more about Packer Leather? Visit the website.

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