Helping others succeed through hard work
As soon as you walk in the shop, the smell of leather is evident. Saddles, boots and purses line the walls. In the back of the shop sits Dan Flower, working on a pair of old cowboy boots. He is replacing the soles, and skillfully nails on a heel.
This shop is Bluffs Shoe Service of America, located in Gering, Neb. Flower has been a saddle maker and leather repairman almost his entire life.
He grew up in the professional quarter horse world, and showed horses across the country. “Every other year we ordered new equipment, and it was very interesting how they fitted, shaped and tooled the leather. I decided before I graduated that is what I wanted to do,” said Flower.
He originally tried to go to work for Porter’s Saddle Shop in Arizona, and they wouldn’t hire him because he didn’t know the trade. So he found a man in Wyoming to help him.
After learning how to build saddles, Flower then made a career of just that. He went back to Porter’s and was hired as a saddlemaker, and spent his time there. Eventually he retired, and thought he would be out of the business.
Then things changed. Flower began helping out at Bluffs Shoe Service, and when the owner passed away, he bought the business and was suddenly back in the leather repair industry. He runs the business with his wife, Jo, and they have been there over a year now.
However, now his focus is not on making saddles. He repairs leather products, and has recently started a program to help others learn the craft, and open their own business.
“For 20-25 years, no one was learning how to repair these products. Now most of the people who did now are out of business, and there are very few leather repair shops,” said Flower, owner of the business.
He continued, “It’s always been in the back of my mind to help people. I want to help people set up a business of their own. We believe you can make money at it, and it’s a great opportunity for someone who wants to own their own business.”
The program is set up as a trade school, and those who enter the program can learn how to repair shoes and saddles, as well as learn how to run a business.
The business model is simple. First, a person needs to want to own his or her own business. If there is interest, than that person will go through Flower’s courses. By the time they have completed both courses, they will have enough knowledge and skill to be able to open their own business.
This is where the Flower’s will help out. “Once you are through, we will go and open up a shop for you, and you will run the shop for three to five years. During that time, if you see you want to be more involved, we have a program where you can go through a bank and borrow money to purchase the business,” said Flower.
The cost of the boot and shoe repair course is $4,500, and the saddle repair course is $1,500. Flower estimates it takes roughly $60,000 to set up a shop. However, once the business is established, the new owner can pay back the money for the business over many years, and at whatever rate he or she can afford while still being able to support a family.
“We know that the bank probably won’t loan someone the money up front to start this. However, after three to five years, the bank will know if it is a viable business or not. People can get in position to own a franchised business, then take time to pay it off to outright own it. It allows people to get into business for themselves without a lot of capital expense. We do the training and support work for them,” said Flower.
It is the goal of Jo and Dan Flower to open up 10-15 shops across the country, where people can eventually buy out the business and run it full time. “Even if we can just help five families, that would mean a lot of to us,” Flower said.
Flower believes that shops like these can really help someone out, and is a great business because there are so few shops that do what his does.
“This type of business is more necessary and more needed than ever before. People are in the throw-away mode now. Before, people used to repair everything to make it last. Now, once it seems worn out, they throw it out. I think this also happens because the quality of products is not what it used to be. Things are made by machines, instead of by hand,” said Flower.
He continued, “You can wear a pair of boots for a long time if you take care of them and have them repaired as necessary. There is no substitute for a quality, hand-made product.”
Due to the rarity of what Flower does, he always has more work than he has time for. However, part of that is because he takes time to do good work for people. “I stand behind everything I do, and will help people to get the most out of their products. If you maintain the tops of the boots, we will maintain the bottom,” he said.
This attitude towards work is something that Flower hopes to instill in any student that he has that goes through the program. “One of the things I hope to do is to teach people to treat others how they deserve to be treated. It’s not just a job here; we work. A lot of people were not taught how to work hard, but how to go a job and not really care about customers,” he said.
He added, “They don’t know how to treat people right, and I want to help fix that. What we teach people here they will take home with them, and it will help them to be better people.”
Teaching those who go through his school about good business is also a topic that is important to Flower. “We want to help put these people through the local business school so they know how to manage their businesses. We also want to teach them to treat people fairly, and charge people honestly. I believe if you do that you will be successful,” he said.
He continued, “People really appreciate honestly and integrity. It is up to each of us to uphold those values, and treat each other better.”