There are factors that make leather a unique material. They are often taken for granted. Often, unfortunately, they are not known or, worse, are deliberately and instrumentally ignored. Sometimes interviews like this one remind us of them. Speaking is Gordian Tork, President of Uniters Group (left photo). What does Uniters do? It doesn’t sell leathers, but solutions and services to take care of all the products that use them as reference materials. Upholstered furniture and sofas, in particular. Services and solutions that enhance not only quality, but also a fundamental concept of the green dimension of leather: durability.
Uniters, in short
Why was Uniters created?
Uniters was born out of the desire to offer a product that is not just a material, but that becomes a service, an act of care. I have worked as a production manager in a number of tanneries and, during my time there, I felt a sincere regret. The hides, once sold, were left to their own fate. There was no opportunity to give information and advice on their maintenance and use. And I regretted not having the opportunity to do so, suggesting possible ways to care for the product. Leather must be preserved, it is a precious asset that must be constantly cared for. The spirit of Leather Master, which later became Uniters, was born from this vision, which was sustainable and daring for the times.
Service above all, then?
Uniters is a company that believes in innovation and research to be and become a service. Service in the sense of caring for materials, customers, their needs and the environment. In concrete terms, Uniters was born more than 35 years ago, thanks above all to the planning of my father (Leo Tork, chemist and manager of important projects at Bayer). We started by developing a series of effective products for the care and maintenance of leather.
In 1993, we started offering the market after-sales service contracts along with the products. The first markets sensitive to this proposal, which was sustainable in its own way, were England and America. Today, we sell 2,000,000 of these contracts every year via FSN (Furniture Solutions Network, ed), a company within our group that also handles interventions in the customer’s home. This is a complete service that focuses on the consumer and all his needs, and has propelled us into the international market.
What is Uniters’ current horizon?
Uniters Group’s total turnover exceeds 100 million dollars per year. It breaks down as follows: 65% service contracts, 20% Furniture Solutions Network, 15% products. We offer services in more than 100 countries, have over 300 employees and offer an assortment of 350 products for the furniture, automotive, aviation and fashion industries. Our main markets are the USA (where our headquarters are also located), England, Japan, Europe and Australia.
This is how we enhance the durability of leather
How is your production network organised?
The centrepiece is the Research and Development Centre in Montecchio Maggiore, in the province of Vicenza, which is made up of a team of cutting-edge researchers. Our aim is to create new solutions and innovative strategies. Production is in Italy, but we have packaging facilities in Slovakia. And we have distribution partners in Japan, Finland, Germany, Holland, England, Australia and Dubai. In the USA, we have organised an assistance network that covers the whole country. With more than 300 technicians in fully equipped vans, supported by the logistical management of our call centre, we guarantee service within a few days throughout the USA.
How much in the range of your services is the production of leather care products worth?
Leather care products account for 60 per cent, with the remainder going to the care of textiles, wood and other natural materials. If we look at our Group as a whole, 70% of our turnover comes from service contracts.
Do you also serve brands for whom you make customised kits?
Most of our customers ask us to brand their kits according to their specific requirements. For us, this is a prestige and marketing aspect: it is a vital, mutual exchange. Major brands have believed in us and have chosen to supply their customers with our cleaning and care products for both leather and fabric.
Attention to leather
Which of the target sectors of leather is most demanding and attentive to leather care?
We also know that leather, depending on its use and destination, requires specific attention. The purchase of a leather product often raises as a first question: “How can I clean it or take care of it?”. Increasingly, consumers are looking for specific products, because what is available in supermarkets is ineffective. To sum up, I would say that furniture customers are the most sensitive customers, precisely because the value of their product is important. The pandemic, restrictions on socialising and smart working have certainly increased the need for domestic spaces.
To what extent?
Since 2020, everything related to furniture has seen an increase in demand, which in Italy has been over 15% (Federlegno data, ed.). This is astounding for a market that had been virtually stagnant for over 10 years. Then there are luxury leather goods customers. This is a target group that has invested in purchasing, and is therefore particularly demanding. Lastly, footwear. Sensitivity and attention depend on the investment the customer has made.
Which countries’ consumers pay more attention to leather care?
I would say that the Anglo-Saxon markets are very sensitive and attentive. In particular, consumers in Northern European countries prefer leather sofas, preferring aniline, semi-aniline and nubuck. These types of leather are less resistant to dirt and stains. The fact that more time is spent indoors in these latitudes means that there is a greater need to clean and maintain leather furniture. In fact, good periodic maintenance allows the removal of dirt, grease and acids from the body’s perspiration, which would otherwise stratify, leading to cracking over time.
So the value of leather durability is at the heart of it all?
For us, a product is important for its practical function, for use, and for its, let’s call it affective, function, for the emotional dimension experienced by the customer. If this product is protected and maintained, these two functions are enhanced: the product endures and is cared for, in all its components. Conveying this value, this mood to consumers is a bit of our mission and the Anglo-Saxon and Northern European markets have always been receptive from this point of view. Today, we are witnessing a further evolution, resulting from a greater focus on sustainability and an increasing diffusion of leather in all sectors. There is a greater demand for specific products in all major markets and a greater focus on the care of the goods themselves, to ensure greater durability and maintenance.
The Caravaggio of leather
How do you manage the after-sales service in Italy and worldwide?
In some markets, we have created structures that, through the use of digital platforms and technical staff, allow us to provide manufacturers, retailers and end consumers with technical assistance directly on site. For example, in Italy, where 70 technicians are operational. But also in the United States, France, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Spain, Slovenia, Australia, Japan and China. Operations can range from touching up a transport abrasion to reupholstering the entire upholstery, from repairing relaxation mechanisms to repairing padding or stitching. In addition, we offer consumers protection plans that allow them to claim free assistance for 5 years in case of stains and accidental damage.
Do you have any significant anecdotes to tell about the service requests you have received?
We were contacted 10 years ago by the staff of a well-known entrepreneur (CEO of a major sofa chain) to repair a vintage 70s upholstery, a rare piece in his collection. We were asked not to distort the original upholstery and to give it a new lease of life. The entrepreneur, who wanted to see some of the phases of the repair process, was so satisfied with the result that he nicknamed our technician “the Caravaggio of leather”. He still calls him that today.