Each Friday, Furniture News puts five questions to a selected industry professional to explore their background and approach to business. Today, it's the turn of Tony Clayton, MD, Crest JMT Leather

How did you get into the trade?

Forty-four years ago I joined one of the largest hide and skin trading companies in Europe as a shipping manager, and over the next 22 years worked my way up to become a trader. On the way I learnt everything there is to know about leather in its various forms.

What was the turning point in your career?

1990 was a turning point for me as the company I was working for went into administration having suffered huge losses – along with many of the other large trading companies – when the market collapsed. This gave me the opportunity to start my own business, and Universal Trading Ltd was born.

Still trading today, it soon became a very successful and highly regarded company. In 1992 we formed an association with an Italian tanner and started to manufacture upholstery leather for the UK market under the banner of JMT Leather. We were very well received at that time, and quickly built up a reputation for quality and reliability.

Another notable date was March 2010, when JMT united with Crest Leather to become the largest and most important supplier of leather to the UK market, and since that date we have gone from strength to strength. Crest Leather Ltd is a very large organisation with tanneries worldwide, and as I head towards retirement I can look back, safe in the knowledge that the business which has been such an important part of my life is in safe hands.

How will the industry evolve?

The leather industry has gone through some very turbulent times in recent years and left many casualties along the way. BSE and foot-and-mouth caused many problems, but they were small compared to the explosive effect of the rapid rise of Chinese manufacturers, which not only caused the demise of many tanneries but also devastated the UK furniture industry. Thankfully we are now at a point where once again UK-manufactured furniture is being recognised for its quality and workmanship, and we are witnessing a resurgence in the industry.

What are you doing to become more competitive?

We appreciate that to enable our customers to succeed we need to be able to supply quality leather at very competitive prices, and we have invested heavily in new technology – and we employ skilled technicians – to enable us to do so. We are continually striving to produce new and exciting leathers to give our customers an advantage in a very competitive market.

Do you have an amusing tale to share?

Over the years there have been many memorable occasions, but one that always brings a smile to my face when I think about it was when we were visited by an Italian on his way home from a fashion show at the NEC. Rather than go to the trouble of carting his leather jacket samples back to Italy, he was willing to offer them to us at half price.

Yes, of course they were not quite leather, but I must admit they were a very good imitation. Feigning interest, I then suggested he came into our warehouse to show his wares. Greeted by the sight of two million sqft of leather, the look on his face was a picture, and the shock caused his Italian accent to disappear!

This is an extract from an article published previously in Furniture News magazine. For more stories like this, you can subscribe to receive a regular physical copy of the magazine, or sign up to have a free digital issue delivered to your inbox each month.