“Dave Tandy (1889-1966) was a man of vigor and vision, but above all, he was a salesman. The art of selling and merchandising was a game he loved and played his entire life. Dave inspired his son Charles to share his enthusiasm for selling, and their merchandising innovations have been among the most important factors of our success.” – James L. West, Start on a Shoe String
Dave Tandy grew up working on his father’s farm in the Rio Grande Valley and disliked the long hours and backbreaking work. After graduating high school, he decided to take a job as a salesmen at a shoe store in Temple, Texas and enjoyed the opportunity to influence his own income. In 1914, he took another job in the shoe-findings department of a business in Dallas, Texas, where his immediate supervisor was a gentleman named Norton Hinckley. The two went on to begin their own shoe-findings business in Fort Worth, TX as the Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company in 1919.
Hinckley and Tandy were a good pair. Hinckley was quiet and methodical, overseeing most of the internal operations, whereas Tandy was charming and ambitious, championing the sales end of the operation. To help get the business’ name in the community, Tandy became an advocate for Fort Worth and was elected the Vice President and Director of the Chamber of Commerce. He was also one of the organizers and first presidents of the Fort Worth Sales Executive Club. Despite his community activism, times were still tough in the shoe findings business.
The company continued to struggle up until outbreak of World War II. Leather became a vital part of the war effort, most of which was being purchased by the government. Dave received a letter from his son Charles who was in the Navy and stationing in Hawaii at the time. He mentioned how leathercrafts were being used in the base hospitals and that it might be venture for the business to consider. Always one to find opportunity in challenge, Dave found that he could get priority for selling specialty leathers to the armed forces for therapeutic leathercraft programs. These specialty leathers worked well for tooling handbags, belts, billfolds, and other piece goods, and that element of their business grew and became very profitable.
When Charles Tandy returned from service in 1947, the Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company opened two pilot stores specializing in leathercraft. The began to go into two different directions and eventually split in 1950, with Norton Hinckley taking the shoe supply business and the Tandy family aggressively pursuing the leathercraft business. Dave Tandy became the president of the fledgling Tandy Leather Company; his first vice presidents were Charles Tandy and Jim West.
The father and son duo worked quite well as a team. Dave had 30 years of experience in the business and knew the merchandise whereas Charles was more keenly aware of what was happening in the marketplace and focused on expanding the leathercraft industry. To help market the business, they developed a catalog and grew their mailing list by placing small ads in Popular Science magazine.
By 1954, the Tandy brand had extended to 67 stores in 36 states. As Dave’s health began to become a concern and the chain continuing to grow more rapidly than he could have imagined, he began to relinquish more and more of the running of the business to Charles. In 1956, Dave Tandy retired as president, leaving the future of the leathercraft industry in the capable hands of his son Charles.