Success Stories

My Place: Buckaroo Leatherworks

Tiffany Loh
Smarter Writer

Tiffany Loh is the Smarter Business™ & News and Digital Editor, with varied writing experience always looking for a unique story

Tiffany Loh
Smarter Writer

Tiffany Loh is the Smarter Business™ & News and Digital Editor, with varied writing experience always looking for a unique story

Buckaroo Leatherworks is a small business that takes family and imported goods to a whole new level.

woman smiling in leather factory

Briefing: Buckaroo Leatherworks   

  1. Established in Wollongong in 1971 in Kenneth (Ken) Van Der Water’s backyard shed where he crafted accessories for men and women.
  2. When cheap imports began to flood the market in the late ’90s, the business almost closed, so Ken began manufacturing a range for professional tradespeople.
  3. In 2000, Ken’s daughter Tanya Van Der Water joined the business aged 18. Her first task was to sell their now-signature tool belt. Buckaroo currently sells 25,000 units each year.
  4. After battling cancer, Ken sadly passed in 2013. Tanya took over the reins and is now the owner and managing director.

A desire to keep the business going for her own children and to honour the family’s success story is what keeps Tanya going.

“I love being a part of the history of Buckaroo and it’s even more special when I think that my migrant family created it from absolute scratch. My young children are starting to understand what it means to have a family business and to them they don’t see dollar signs – they see the family of staff, the special machines, the finished products, the pictures of my dad around the place – and that wows them.”

Marketing Leather 101

Being daddy’s little girl didn’t mean Tanya had it easy. In fact she recalls her early days of guerrilla marketing; turning up to building sites unannounced for live product demonstrations in the hope of shifting product “a hard slog”.

“I was female entering a real blokes world. I was young and naïve – all the guys liked the idea of me measuring them up for belts! The tool belt concept [where customers could buy tool-specific pouches for their trade] that we are now known for was so unique that tradies thought it was too radical and didn’t want it." 

“But before you knew it, sales went up 200 per cent in 12 months and we couldn’t keep up with demand. Looking back, I can’t believe it, my dad used to leave me with our trailer full of gear at the building site and go to the pub until I was finished selling!”

Tanya likes to use Australian materials where possible. For instance, the leather to make trade tool belts and the 12 styles of casual tool belts Buckaroo produce are bought directly from Tasman Tanning in New Zealand and Packer Leather in Queensland, with the buckles and rivets coming from New Zealand.

One of the biggest selling points for customers is that Buckaroo products are 100 per cent Australian made, and tradies can rely on their leather to mould to their bodies and keep them for a good many years before having to replace it. 

When you work in a family business you can’t quit – you join for life. That was a scary prospect, but now it’s something I greatly value and I can’t wait for my kids to be a part of the story.

Tanya Van Der Water, Buckaroo Leatherworks

 "When consumers buy Buckaroo we try to make sure they understand they are supporting the bigger picture – the Australian economy, safely made goods, quality and ethical approaches to sustainable manufacturing and another family-run business that are the heart and soul of this country."

“You pay for what you get and if the price attached is considered by the market to be a premium one, then that’s the way it is. We don’t rip people off, our products are cost effective and above all, you don’t have to contact Asia to make a complaint."

Every step of the manufacturing process is a quality control point for Buckaroo, says Tanya, who explains that is the reason why her staff tan leather hides themselves. 

“Colour and consistent quality are both very important to us. For example, the brown has to be a beautiful rich brown otherwise the premium look is lost.”

Tanya's bold decision

Her commitment to being “Australian Made” costs Tanya more than if she were to go offshore, but to help level out the playing field she’s invested in machinery to help make production easier for staff – not with any intention of replacing the handmade craftsmanship of the products. 

Winning over her father took six months but he finally saw the light and their first investment was in an oscillating cutting machine, which allowed better cutting precision, a reduction in cutting knife costs, and the added benefit of upskilling staff in computer aided design (CAD) drawing programs.

“At the time, our machine was one of only two in Australia. This [machine] took traditional leather craft as we knew it and thrust it into the 21st century. We did away with cutting knives, used traditionally to cut shapes from the leather and used a CAD drawing system to recreate how we used knives."

It’s been so effective it frees up time for the team to work on product testing to help diversify into other industries – equestrian being one of them. Also it allowed Buckaroo to focus on custom design and manufacture services, this area of the business supplies to organisations including BHP Billition, the Royal Australian Navy, Australian Federal Police, Qantas and Caltex.

Her commitment to being “Australian Made” costs Tanya more than if she were to go offshore, but to help level out the playing field she’s invested in machinery to help make production easier for staff – not with any intention of replacing the handmade craftsmanship of the products. 

Winning over her father took six months but he finally saw the light and their first investment was in an oscillating cutting machine, which allowed better cutting precision, a reduction in cutting knife costs, and the added benefit of upskilling staff in computer aided design (CAD) drawing programs.

“At the time, our machine was one of only two in Australia. This [machine] took traditional leather craft as we knew it and thrust it into the 21st century. We did away with cutting knives, used traditionally to cut shapes from the leather and used a CAD drawing system to recreate how we used knives.”

It’s been so effective it frees up time for the team to work on product testing to help diversify into other industries – equestrian being one of them. Also it allowed Buckaroo to focus on custom design and manufacture services, this area of the business supplies to organisations including BHP Billition, the Royal Australian Navy, Australian Federal Police, Qantas and Caltex.

Three years ago, Buckaroo started using a comprehensive inventory system for both inward and outward goods – previously they used to count stock by sight, a tedious task for a business with 600 retailers Australia-wide and distribution in South East Asia and New Zealand.

“The move has resulted in greater autonomy in our dispatch department and far fewer packing discrepancies, saving us money and helps us to get an average of 100 orders out a day,” explains Tanya.

Her commitment to being “Australian Made” costs Tanya more than if she were to go offshore, but to help level out the playing field she’s invested in machinery to help make production easier for staff – not with any intention of replacing the handmade craftsmanship of the products. 

Winning over her father took six months but he finally saw the light and their first investment was in an oscillating cutting machine, which allowed better cutting precision, a reduction in cutting knife costs, and the added benefit of upskilling staff in computer aided design (CAD) drawing programs.

“At the time, our machine was one of only two in Australia. This [machine] took traditional leather craft as we knew it and thrust it into the 21st century. We did away with cutting knives, used traditionally to cut shapes from the leather and used a CAD drawing system to recreate how we used knives.”

It’s been so effective it frees up time for the team to work on product testing to help diversify into other industries – equestrian being one of them. Also it allowed Buckaroo to focus on custom design and manufacture services, this area of the business supplies to organisations including BHP Billition, the Royal Australian Navy, Australian Federal Police, Qantas and Caltex.

Three years ago, Buckaroo started using a comprehensive inventory system for both inward and outward goods – previously they used to count stock by sight, a tedious task for a business with 600 retailers Australia-wide and distribution in South East Asia and New Zealand.

“The move has resulted in greater autonomy in our dispatch department and far fewer packing discrepancies, saving us money and helps us to get an average of 100 orders out a day,” explains Tanya.

Her commitment to being “Australian Made” costs Tanya more than if she were to go offshore, but to help level out the playing field she’s invested in machinery to help make production easier for staff – not with any intention of replacing the handmade craftsmanship of the products. 

Winning over her father took six months but he finally saw the light and their first investment was in an oscillating cutting machine, which allowed better cutting precision, a reduction in cutting knife costs, and the added benefit of upskilling staff in computer aided design (CAD) drawing programs.

“At the time, our machine was one of only two in Australia. This [machine] took traditional leather craft as we knew it and thrust it into the 21st century. We did away with cutting knives, used traditionally to cut shapes from the leather and used a CAD drawing system to recreate how we used knives.”

It’s been so effective it frees up time for the team to work on product testing to help diversify into other industries – equestrian being one of them. Also it allowed Buckaroo to focus on custom design and manufacture services, this area of the business supplies to organisations including BHP Billition, the Royal Australian Navy, Australian Federal Police, Qantas and Caltex.

Three years ago, Buckaroo started using a comprehensive inventory system for both inward and outward goods – previously they used to count stock by sight, a tedious task for a business with 600 retailers Australia-wide and distribution in South East Asia and New Zealand.

“The move has resulted in greater autonomy in our dispatch department and far fewer packing discrepancies, saving us money and helps us to get an average of 100 orders out a day,” explains Tanya.

Her commitment to being “Australian Made” costs Tanya more than if she were to go offshore, but to help level out the playing field she’s invested in machinery to help make production easier for staff – not with any intention of replacing the handmade craftsmanship of the products. 

Winning over her father took six months but he finally saw the light and their first investment was in an oscillating cutting machine, which allowed better cutting precision, a reduction in cutting knife costs, and the added benefit of upskilling staff in computer aided design (CAD) drawing programs.

“At the time, our machine was one of only two in Australia. This [machine] took traditional leather craft as we knew it and thrust it into the 21st century. We did away with cutting knives, used traditionally to cut shapes from the leather and used a CAD drawing system to recreate how we used knives.”

It’s been so effective it frees up time for the team to work on product testing to help diversify into other industries – equestrian being one of them. Also it allowed Buckaroo to focus on custom design and manufacture services, this area of the business supplies to organisations including BHP Billition, the Royal Australian Navy, Australian Federal Police, Qantas and Caltex.

Three years ago, Buckaroo started using a comprehensive inventory system for both inward and outward goods – previously they used to count stock by sight, a tedious task for a business with 600 retailers Australia-wide and distribution in South East Asia and New Zealand.

“The move has resulted in greater autonomy in our dispatch department and far fewer packing discrepancies, saving us money and helps us to get an average of 100 orders out a day,” explains Tanya.

“I’m very much like my dad and seeing his hardships and how he overcame them, both in business and in life, he inspires me to stay focussed and committed to something that is now just second nature."

“I promised my dad that I would one day make him famous. The USA and the Europe, particularly the UK, are showing strong support for our product. We just sent a large shipment of miner’s belts to Belgium, so the demand is coming from all parts of the world. Our next step is to export and partner with international distributors. This would be great for us as an Aussie manufacturer as we can fly the flag high.”

Related News

GenWise co-founders, Dr Sebastian Rees and Dr Troye Wallett.
Success Stories
Success Stories
Innovative online GP platform named 25th Telstra Australian Business of the Year

GenWise Health, a micro business using technology to improve how general practitioners provide aged care, is the 2017 Telstra Australian Business of the Year. GenWise Health,...

Two people looking at a tablet device
Success Stories
Success Stories
How winning businesses are using tech

Every year, the Telstra Business Awards celebrates small businesses that choose to innovative, to be curious, to be agile. This year’s entrants are no different, with many blen...

iSimulate at the 2016 Telstra Business Awards
Success Stories
Success Stories
Rise and shine: Winning advice from 2016 Telstra Business Awards alumni

As the 2017 finalists prepare their acceptance speeches in the hope they might win at Australia’s biggest business Awards program, a few of 2016’s winners reflect on their achi...

Woman working at laptop sticking address labels to boxes.
Tech Solutions
Tech Solutions
Pass the parcel: How to integrate postage services into your website

Incorporating automatic postage calculators into your online store might be the critical step you need to turn casual browsers into dedicated shoppers.