By Matt Bisbee, NFIB
His aging pick-up truck is parked outside a metal commercial building that houses a half-dozen small businesses. Inside his rented unit there are large makeshift tables, several homemade shelves line the walls, and many unpacked boxes are strewn about. Noticeably upon most every fixture are sheets of raw leather, or fragments thereof. A centerpiece in the large room is a 100-year-old sewing machine that stands higher than everything else. Welcome to Sam Andrews’ small business since 1981: Andrews Custom Leather in St. Augustine.
For 41 years, Andrews has been crafting leather products by hand. His specialty is gun holsters. Long before the emergence of the Internet, Andrews said that commerce among gun enthusiasts took place around the globe the old-fashioned way: phone calls, the USPS, and travelling to various events and meetings. Over the years, he established a rich network of clients and like-minded friends.
One of them is Thell Reed, three-time World Fast Draw Champion. Reed lends his talents to the performing arts and frequently works as a ‘gun coach’ to actors. Early in its production, producers of the 2016 Hollywood blockbuster “The Magnificent Seven” retained Reed’s services to develop gun handling skills for the movie’s stars, including Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt. While the film was in development, producers also asked Reed if he could assist them in obtaining gun-oriented props. He immediately contacted his longtime friend Sam Andrews. Thanks to the recommendation from Thell Reed, Andrews was tasked with outfitting the production with hand-crafted leather gun holsters and accessories in early 2014.
Developing the different patterns while maintaining true-to-period styles was the most time-consuming aspect of the opportunity, he says. After achieving a final, unique pattern for all of the main characters, he hand-crafted a double set of accessories for each actor and his double. Many of the pieces required additional detail work, such as silver ornamentation. With deadlines looming, the mild-mannered North Floridian politely recalls March and April of 2014 as ‘intense.’
“The Magnificent Seven” debuted in movie theaters in September 2016. Andrews was excited to see his handiwork in action on the big screen and watched the movie at an IMAX theater on opening weekend, giving it two leather-clad thumbs up.
Despite having Hollywood success under his belt, Andrews maintains a modest, utilitarian approach to his craft. His gentle demeanor and caring personality predispose him to excel in his detail-oriented work. He admittedly ‘hates to waste’ and over time has used leftover leather to develop different product lines, including wallets and cell phone holders.
Sam Andrews is a proud American, a successful entrepreneur, a strong believer in free enterprise, and as of 2016, a voting member of the National Federation of Independent Business. Check out his small business at www.AndrewsLeather.com.