You are looking at the premises of Santa Fe Saddlers S.A. de C.V. in Guadalajara. That door next to the row of windows is the visitors' entrance. Actually, it's the only entrance.
No sign identifies this business. You just have to know it's here.
The three-phase transformer and circuit breakers lend a gritty look. A huge fan serves as air conditioning. The façade doesn't look particularly inviting.
Nor does the lobby—industrial chic: fiberboard receptionist's desk bearing an old-fashioned monitor, cpu on the floor. Looks like my office. Except for the crucifix next to the fire extinguisher. Fire extinguisher!
A window behind her desk admits a glimpse of Javier Delgadillo Alvarado, Gerente (manager).
I'm tagging along with Clint, who is contracting with Sr. Delgadillo for the manufacture of leather bands used on western hats. Clint seems to have an unending list of items for trade. I'm guessing he struck up a conversation with a supplier of western gear on his last trip to Texas and found a niche he could fill: high-quality handmade leather hatbands at low prices. These would be a new line for him—he's always experimenting. But he has an uncanny knack for knowing what will sell.
In the conference room, Sr. Delgadillo has a wide variety of hatbands to show Clint. They interest me for about fourteen seconds. Then I sneak off into the back to check out the factory.
Now this is more like it. I hate conference rooms. I spent 35 years in them watching harried managers blowing out their antiperspirants and dampening the armpits of their white shirts. We used to call the phenomenon "pitting out."
But factories! I have been fascinated by them ever since my seventh-grade science teacher, Miss McManus, took me to a copper smelter.
Santa Fe Saddlers has a great factory. Unadorned concrete floors beneath, chain-hung fluorescent lighting fixtures above, grimy machines in between. My kind of place.
I immediately see that Sr. Delgadillo is one of a new breed of Mexican manufacturers. Floors are painted with yellow and black striping to warn away passers-by from work areas so hands won't get stabbed with sharp tools or sleeves caught in spinning pulleys. And wonder of wonders, another fire extinguisher hangs on the wall to the right. I checked the gauge: the charge is full and the date is current. These are the first overt signs of industrial safety I've seen in Mexico.
A worker punches holes, another sprays dye on leather bracelets under a vent hood.
Ascending a perforated steel catwalk, I line up a shot of people assembling leather wastebaskets. My presence provokes laughter. "What's that crazy gringo doing, taking our picture?"
The panels of these leather wastebaskets and laundry hampers are being sewn together with thongs—part of a large order for a new hotel in Cabo San Lucas. Sr. Delgadillo says this order is unusual because almost 100% of his output gets exported to the United States.
Shelves hold remaindered material...
... hanks of horsehair...
... and scraps.
The latter will be ground up to make "corkboard."
Negotiations successfully completed, Sr. Delgadillo offers Clint a gift of a beautiful handmade belt.
If you call, the receptionist answers the phone in polished syllables: "Buenos Dias, Santa Fe Saddlers." One imagines her sitting at a granite desk in a glass and steel high rise.
Reality is this scene of the executive suite. Sr. Delgadillo runs his empire from a small table flanked by a rolling cart bearing a printer and a fax machine.
Santa Fe Saddlers is an honest business run by a no-nonsense guy. He doesn't worry about images. There's no talk of branding. Sr. Delgadillo probably doesn't use "leverage" and "dialog" as verbs. He doesn't have an MBA.
What he does—he makes artisanal leather items. He hires craftsmen, types his own correspondence, and fixes broken punch presses. If you are a potential customer, he'll drive over to your hotel and pick you up. Personally.
He's also the complaint department. You got a problem with your briefcase? Talk to Mr. Delgadillo. He'll come to the phone if you ask for him. If something is wrong, he'll make it right.
It's a business model increasingly scarce north of the border.