Leaders In Leathercraft - Charles Tandy

Charles Tandy (1918 – 1978) had an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit, and his ambition and determination transformed multiple industries forever. The perpetuation of leathercraft may not have existed without Charles Tandy’s vision of creating a successful and profitable leathercraft supply chain that could sustain growth and continue to make leathercraft widely available to this day.

Even from a young age, Charles Tandy was always an industrialist.  His father, Dave Tandy, ran a shoe findings business and Charles first displayed his aptitude for salesmanship around the age of 10, selling leather scraps from his father’s shop to teach other children how to make belts.  As a teenager, he partnered with John Justin, Jr. of the Justin Boot family and the two began manufacturing ladies’ belts out of scraps of leather from the family boot factory.  They had quite the small business, selling their belts to local department stores and specialty shops, profiting at least a dollar per belt.  By age 18, Charles had also begun a side business of regilding the boots of chorus girls from the new Casa Manana theatre at a rate of $5 per pair.

Charles studied business at TCU and graduated in 1940, shortly after joining the US Navy.  A consummate salesman, he set a record for war bond issuing offices nationwide while selling war bonds in Hawaii.  It was during his tour of duty that he became aware of the therapeutic and recreation applications of leathercraft taking place in the Navy hospitals.  He wrote to his father about what he had seen, noting that it might be an opportunity for an expansion in the family business.

Charles Tandy Young

After a tour of sea duty, Charles was selected to attend the Naval Accounting School at Harvard.  When he finally got out of active service in 1947, he was a man on a mission.  Now 29 years old, he began working full time for Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company and was drawn to the high profit margins of the leathercraft business and saw expansion possibilities of the hobby market.  This eventually led to the split of the business, with Charles and his father forming Tandy Leather Co., and Norton Hinckley maintaining the shoe findings division.

Charles was ambitious and sought out other market segments to complement their growing leathercraft empire.  In 1952, company acquired the American Handicrafts company, broadening the line of do-it-yourself handicraft items.  In 1955, the Tandy Leather Company became part of the American Hide and Leather Company of Boston (later General American Industries).  After his father’s retirement as president of Tandy Leather Co. in 1956, Charles was elected chairman of the board in 1959 and shortly gained managing control of General American Industries.

Charles Tandy Work

Following the change, Charles optimistically moved the corporate headquarters to Fort Worth, changed the company’s name to Tandy Corp., and began trading stock on the New York Stock Exchange by 1961.  That same year, he began building the Tandy Empire with the acquisition of the Craftool Company and Clark and Clark, which had Tandy Corp. entering the Canadian leathercraft market.

In 1963, the Boston-based RadioShack was near bankruptcy.  Tandy saw the wisdom of diversifying from leather into electronics merchandising, with many of the business principles overlapping with selling project components.  Tandy gained management control of Radio Shack and owned 85 percent of outstanding Radio Shack common stock by 1965.  He grew the business the same way they had developed Tandy Leather; by growing their mailing list, publishing catalogs, and teaching.

As the Tandy Corp. grew, so did the city of Fort Worth.  The company’s investment into developing the area was largely responsible for the revitalization of downtown Fort Worth.  Charles Tandy also further progressed the Fort Worth Sales Executive Club, giving prestige and honor to what he believed to be the backbone of any successful company.

By 1975, Tandy Corp. had become exclusively an electronics company, having spun off all other operations into Tandycrafts, Tandy Brands, and numerous other businesses.

Charles Tandy Painting

Fun Fact: In addition to Tandy Leather and Radio Shack, other companies that the Tandy brand was involved with included Wolfe Nursery, Joshua’s Christian Book Stores, Pier 1, Color Tile, Incredible Universe, Computer City, Merribee Art Embroidery Co., American Handicrafts, Stafford-Lowdon, Tex Tan Walhausen, Tex Tan Western, Hickok Manufacturing, J.M. Bucheimer, Western Sales, A&A International Trading Companies, Leonard’s Department Store, Tandy International Electronics, Tandy Electronics Manufacturing, and many others.