The Leather Doctor is one of Australia’s leading leather cleaning and maintenance franchises. Originally known as The Vinyl Doctor, Founder Darryl Binch established the company in 1989 in Brisbane as a repair service for vinyl car interiors. Leather soon became predominant in the furniture industry, and Darryl quickly expanded his operation to include the new market in addition to his vehicle focus. The first franchise, located in northern Brisbane, was granted in 1995 to Mr Binch’s twin brother, Jeff. The business was later purchased by Geoff Reid, his son, Dean, and his business partner, Darren Prior, and began franchising on a national scale in 2005. The Leather Doctor underwent a series of transformations, including the issuing of branded vehicles and uniforms to franchisees, a shift in focus away from car interiors and towards furniture, and the systemisation of the company’s approach. The business has since grown to boast 56 franchise owners and 64 technicians within the country, with master franchises in both New Zealand and Dubai, providing a wide variety services within the sector, including leather, upholstery, and frame repair. The Fabric and Timber Doctor brands were also recently established as additional franchise opportunities.
The mainstay service provided by The Leather Doctor is the repair of ripped, cut, scratched and discoloured leather surfaces, with cleaning also playing a major part in the company model. Other upholstery work is available as well, including framework and foam repair, stitching, and re-covering. In addition to indoor furniture, The Leather Doctor has also been known to service car seats, boat interiors, and even, on rare occasions, expensive leather handbags. “We’ve found that our business is a very niche service,” Dean says, “and a lot of times, the inquiries that we get are out of curiosity as to what it is that we do. We find we have to do a fair bit of education to inquiries about how sustainable the work is in our industry, and they’re often very surprised when they learn how big a demand there is in our space.”
The Leather Doctor’s franchisee team has a number of opportunities available to grow their business in addition to their customer base. “As head office, we provide a lot of support and job referrals to franchisees through our relationships with national clients,” says Dean, who mentions that franchisees are also given an opportunity to expand into the company’s Timber or Fabric Doctor brands. The additional franchised, while each a separate business and contract, would mirror the area of operation their Leather Doctor territory. “It provides them with a new range of skill sets that they can then provide to the marketplace.” Franchisees may also purchase additional leather doctor territories, operating it through the employment of a contractor.
As the sector’s only truly national franchise, The Leather Doctor has developed service agreements with many large furniture chains within Australia, ensuring the business as their only repair service. The company has also developed custom software for its franchisees, allowing customers to send service requests and receive real time updates on the status of the repair. “This has been a crucial advancement for us;” says Mr Reid, “we’re providing our clients with data on all of the things that we service for them, and that helps them in their manufacturing and buying decisions to know what type of furniture is prone to problems, and how to adjust manufacturing process to reduce repairs. It helps them service their own customers better.”
Dean views The Leather Doctor’s relationship with the Franchise Council of Australia as an invaluable aspect of the business, particularly due to the industry information, education, and insight to support networks provided by the organisation. While running the company, Mr Reid also mentors with many developing franchise businesses. “I love to share the knowledge I’ve gained with up-and-coming franchisors,” he says. “It’s just a way of giving back to the industry that’s helped me.”
Looking to the future, Dean feels that the greatest challenge facing The Leather Doctor is attracting new franchisees with the drive to be business owners, as opposed to simply workers. “We find that that type of mentality tends to have more success in our industry; they can grow their business, and they’re very proactive,” he says. In observation of the decrease in activity within the mining sector, Mr Reid foresees the coming year as a significant opportunity for franchise businesses to grow their numbers. “It has to be done in the right way, so that we don’t say yes to anyone who comes along with the money,” he says. “It’s about being the right fit for the business. We’ve realised over the years that it’s more important to get the right fit both for us as a company and the person coming in. It does nobody any favours if we say yes to a potential franchisee if we know he’s not the right fit; he’s not going to be happy down the track, and we’re not going to be happy either.”
Dean’s father, Geoff, was a personal friend of Mr Binch, and first bought a franchise in 1997. “I got involved in 2002 after seeing dad run the business for a while,” says Dean, who has a background is marketing and information systems. “Back then, The Leather Doctor was just a cottage industry; no branding, no systems in place, but it was a great service in high demand.” Soon after, Dean and his father purchased the franchise rights for Victoria from Darryl, and eventually purchased the company outright. Dean is the oldest of 5 boys, 2 more of which are currently involved in the company; one as franchise sales manager, sand the other as a trainer. “I look at this as a family run business,” says Mr Reid. “My journey was led by watching my father get involved, and seeing the satisfaction he was getting out of running his own business, which was the first time for him. Seeing an opportunity there in the marketplace, it was this little piece of coal that I knew if we polished, it would become a diamond.”