When Cardell does his daily factory inspection, he takes time to chat with the female staff – around 90 per cent of the workforce. Cardell: “Experience tells me that women bring me more sales commissions than men. They work harder and negotiate more tenaciously.“ It’s perhaps not surprising that 70 per cent of Tony Mora western boots are bought by women.
The building housing Tolo Cardell´s company doesn´t look like the headquarters of one of Mallorca´s prestige businesses. Driving along the Carretera de Alaró one has to be alert not to miss the entrance to the Tony Mora Factory Store at Km 4,19. Only the discreet signboard “Tony Mora Apache Cowboy S.L.“ on the modest whitewashed building reveals that one has found the place. In the foyer stands an aged wine-red sofa, but there’s no reception point. Go through the shop door on the left side and a bell rings like in a Mom-and-Pop store.
Inside, magnificent leather boots are displayed in glass cases and on shelves. There’s time to touch them and breath in the aroma of leather before sales director Tolo Salom arrives. You can even open the back door and enter the factory: “Openness is part of our business policy. We want the customers to get to know our production methods,” says Cardell.
The entrepreneur shuns superficiality: “The product counts. We don´t need palaces. The people who come here know exactly why.” Everything about Tony Mora is shirtsleeve Mallorcan understatement. The factory store is the only place in Mallorca where Tony Mora boots are available. Local fashion dealers are expressly not supplied. Cardell relies on online sales (“Tienda Virtual”) and export trade. The brand has an excellent market position in the Benelux, with a factory store in Almere (Netherlands). Distributors are all over the world: many are British and German but, for example, there’s also the Brazilian luxury chain “Daslu”. Production is limited: no more than 50,000 pairs of boots a year leave the Alaró factory.
Cardell: “We choose these dealers ourselves, if they fit with our image.” Distributors have to pre-pay for their orders. There´s no stock production – “to minimize the entrepreneurial risk,“ Cardell explains.
The best service is available to clients who travel to Alaró and try on the western boots, thus ensuring the perfect fit. The customer gets what he – or she – wants: Eagle wings instead of snake embroidery, red stripes instead of black, higher or lower heels – or fully individual boots. Prices vary between 200 and 2,300 euros for a top-of-the-range pair of crocodile leather boots. Forty per cent of the boots sold by Tony Mora are custom-made and sent by air-mail to the client´s home address – taking around five weeks from pre-paid order to receipt.
The production method justifies the price. Most of the bootmakers have been with the company for more than 25 years, and many of the tool and machines in use for 80 years.
Before a skilled worker retires he passes on his knowledge to his successor. Every pair of boots requires 100 handcrafted steps. Modern leather-cutting machines provide perfectly-fitting puzzle parts. The soles are made strictly by the Goodyear method, stitched twice and cramped. They are filled with cork balls. Tolo Salom: “Even when the exterior stitching becomes worn after many years, the sole maintains stability thanks to the inner stitching.”
Another quality feature of Tony Mora is the composition of a separate inner and exterior leather layer, providing a breathable surrounding for the feet. This also has thermal benefits: feet remain cool in midsummer and warm in winter, because the inner leather skin absorbs the body heat.
The stylish design and exotic materials give a touch of machismo: leather from ostrich, python, crocodile, iguana. Cardell buys the leather from the Spanish peninsula; it originates from Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam. “We have certificates proving that the leather is from reptiles reared in species-appropriate farms.” The inner boot skin, however, is always made of good old calf leather.
Are Tony Mora western boots really the best in the world? Tolo Cardell: “I think we are outstanding in the ´Cowboy Fashion” segment. Other producers cover different types, such as biker and rodeo boots.”
The crisis is “zero“ for Tony Mora, says Tolo Cardell. The strong man puts a smile on his face and leans forward – revealing a massive gold neck chain under his white shirt: “2009 is our record year. Those who haven’t done their homework in recent years are now in danger. Some members of the once famous Mallorcan shoe industry, who faced insolvency, made two serious mistakes, according to Cardell: depending too much on sales in “El Corte Inglés”, and neglecting their marketing. Cardell: “The quality of manufacture is one thing. But I know exactly that my mission is to present Tony Mora to international marketplaces and fashion shows, giving us a broad range of prospective purchasers.”
The man who gave his name to the brand actually exists. Antonio Mora is a Mallorcan shoe dealer, now almost 80 years old. He began trading in western boots, which his father, a traditional Mallorcan shoemaker, had produced experimentally. They proved to be a market success and a family business was born, which Tolo Cardell joined in 1988. Originally, visitors from the USA taught the Mallorcans the secrets of western boots – now the Mallorcans set the benchmark for “Vaqueros”.