by Lou Dzierzak
Tom the Tailor believes in what he does. When we start talking, the first points he makes aren’t about his great work, but his philosophy of business.
“People still appreciate quality, and that validates what I’m doing. My customers understand what they are getting from me and pass my name along to their friends,” Tom says rising from his chair, emotion in his words.
Most of his time is spent working on three services: Zip-r-strip, alterations, and custom work.
Tom made the first Zip-r-strip to solve a common customer problem. A rider gets older and, focusing on family and business, may put on a few pounds. Spring comes with the itch to ride, but the jacket is tighter than when he put it away in the fall. The options are straightforward: lose weight, buy a new jacket or make the old one fit. Weight doesn’t just come off overnight, and in Minnesota the season is short. New jacket prices have gone up, so, ultimately, keeping the old jacket is probably best. The Zip-r-strip makes it fit by zipping a strip of leather between the jacket’s original zipper.
When Tom began to explore the idea, he realized the real challenge wasn’t matching leather, but matching the zipper. If he couldn’t match the size, length, color, materials and tooth spacing of the original jacket the Zip-r-strip concept would stay a concept. Fortunately, the military had standardized zippers for all possible G.I. Joe equipment. That and years of competition had narrowed the number of zipper suppliers to two major manufacturers, YYK and Talon. When presented with the Zip-r-strip idea, both companies gave Tom the same lofty advice: “It will never work.” Since Tom wasn’t interested in their opinion, the Zip-r-strip lives on.
Sales of the Zip-r-strip have grown dramatically in the past three years. With little budget for advertising, most of the orders he receives are referrals Riders tend to show off the strip to fellow riders over a cold beverage. An 800 number is printed on the back of the strip to make it real easy to find out how to order your own. Fine quality, an ingenuous solution to a problem and word of mouth is all the publicity Tom needs to keep busy.
For Tom the Tailor, the best measure of success is the comments customers leave on his voice mail. Watching him listen to the messages, it’s clear the pride he takes in his work. Many of the calls are made within 24 hours of receiving their Zip-r-strip.
“Fits like a glove. Perfect,” says Stan of Yuma AZ.
“The fit is fantastic, Feel free to give my name out to anyone who wants an opinion,” says Dale.
“I was hoping for something nice, but this exceeded all my expectations. I’m amazed at how you matched everything. Thanks,” says William.
“Beautifully done. This is the most innovative and ingenuous piece of gear I’ve seen in a long time. Send me some brochures to pass out at local bike shops,” says Victor.
The tape runs out, and Tom’s smile fades. He makes notes in a tattered, spiral notebook and gets back to work. Tom the Tailor’s philosophy has been vindicated. By taking a good jacket and extending it’s life span, every customer wins.
Plans are in the works for a ventilated Zip-r-strip constructed with a fine mesh and attached the same way as a regular Zip-r-strip. Riders won’t have to give up their leather jackets when the temperature rises in waves off the asphalt. My order is in the mail.
Alterations are also part of the Tom the Tailor’s everyday business. Old jackets that have become friends live on with new pockets and cuffs, repaired seams and replaced zippers. Because of the Tom the Tailor work ethic, any repair will probably outlast the jacket.
Although alterations and Zip-r-strip consume most of Tom’s time, custom work stretches his creativity and craftsmanship. One example of one-of-a-kind leathers took a few years to accomplish. The customer had a clear vision of what he wanted. He bought a Scottish Highlander calf, raised it to full size, butchered it, put the meat in the freezer and handed the hide to Tom.
The hide of Scottish Highlands has long thick reddish hair. Tom tanned the hide without removing the hair. Once prepared, Tom meticulously laid out the jacket to match the natural growth patterns of the hair. Side panels of dark brown leather finished the layout. Hand-cut and carefully hand-sewn, the final jacket is a unique piece of art.
When the rider hit the road, Tom’s expertise showed through. When hit by the wind the hair flattened the same way it did when it was still part of the cow. The jacket turned more heads than a high-buck chromed Harley-Davidson.
Tom the Tailor has been around for over 20 years. If you are interested in a Zip-r-strip brochure, alterations or custom apparel, he can be reached at 379-1723 or on the internet at http://www.pobox.com/~zip-r-strip.