Little known Calgary business among top destinations for local designers and DIYers.

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Buckskin Leather Owner: Michael Schluessel

Walking into the Buckskin Leather Company isn’t just an awe-inspiring experience (for those of us who love leather), but it can also be an education and a history lesson.

The guy who runs it, Michael Schluessel, has been a partner and owner in the business for 30 years and he knows his business. His grandfather learned the tannery trade in post-war Germany and his father forged a new life for his wife and young son in Canada when tanneries still dotted the countryside.

It’s where the tradition and commitment to quality was born. You can feel it — and smell it — the moment you walk through their doors.

But breathe deeply when you enter the showroom, lined with row upon row of fine leather, and enjoy it.

Inside Buckskin Leather Co.“It’s the only thing that’s free,” Michael will tell you with a friendly laugh.

This Calgary gem isn’t widely known outside the circle of interior designers, fashion designers, movie prop makers, upholsterers, leather-craft manufacturers and other craftspeople who know about Buckskin Leather’s commitment to quality and superior customer service.

That’s a bit of a surprise, considering Michael and his family have been running the business for three decades and he was an online retail trailblazer, getting up on the World Wide Web (back when we still called it that) in 1994.

“People will walk in and go, ‘Wow, I never knew you were here.’ We were the best-kept secret in town,” Michael recalls.

But an international importer and worldwide distributor of quality tannery products can remain a secret only for long. Along with his professional trades customers — which includes the never-ending string of Hollywood blockbusters that shoot in Alberta — Michael is seeing a burgeoning business with hobbyists and DIYers.

It’s not the core of his business, but it’s helping get the word out.

“We’re still a very unknown business, so we’re new to people who find us,” he says. “They have no idea this kind of supply exists.”

Yes, the supply. That, along with Michael’s deep understanding of what makes quality leather supply, is the cornerstone of this successful business. The leather, sheepskins and cowhide rugs . . . the volume of leather for sale is overwhelming.

Keeping an inventory like that to satisfy the demands of his customers in no small feat and may be the thing that has led to such long-lived success. Other tannery distributors have fallen by the wayside as Buckskin Leather Company has persevered and carved out a burgeoning market in Western Canada and throughout North America.

And there’s a lot to know about leather. For instance, you may discover that dairy cattle hides produce better leather because they live longer than beef cattle, are fed grass instead of grain (which creates wrinkles), and since they don’t spend so much time roaming the range, there are fewer imperfections caused by things such as barbed wire.

Your education will also include an explanation of natural-grain leather and how to select the best, and even the new, high-tech way hides are tanned without destroying the environment. There’s lots to know about the process and the history and it’s all fascinating.

But there’s one way to recognize quality leather that even the layperson can understand.

You just have to touch it. Soft and supple, quality leather has no substitute.

You can buy cheap leather and cheap leather products. Go into a large, high-volume furniture store and check it out. Flyers come in the mail every day, offering leather sofas for $599.

But it won’t last. It won’t feel right.

“If it’s good LEATHER, you’ll have it forever,” Michael says. “Our marketplace caters to people who appreciate that.”

You can find Buckskin Leather Company online at buckskinleather.com. You’ll find links to the inventory and the incredible selection of colours. You’ll find specials on the website and a link to a very cool virtual tour of the warehouse.

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