BRUNNER’S METALWEAR FOUNDED ON SIGNATURE CRAFTSMANSHIP
George Brunner Boettcher learned a lot about the right way to do things from his mother. Growing up in a place that barely qualified as a small town, big city influences were almost entirely absent from the well water. Clean, honest living and a strong work ethic were the law of the land. Whether it was in songwriting, playing the fiddle, or working with his hands, Brunner learned that the right way to do things often involved a long, tedious process. He could scratch out a song, haphazardly play a tune, or slap some materials together and create something he wasn’t proud to put his name on; or, he could take his father’s advice and write it, play it, or make it better than anyone else. Quality is not easily duplicated if your character is stamped into the process. Finding some of his most creative moments in the middle of the night, Brunner time stamped and signed his original work, first in songwriting and later in metalwork. If it has Brunner Boettcher’s name on it, it is guaranteed to have been cast from a mold of a higher standard. Whether audibly or visually, the craftsmanship is his signature.
Brunner was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, but grew up across the state line in the small farming town of East Cape Girardeau, Illinois. His father had a business in St. Louis, and he, too, played music and did some songwriting. His mother taught him a lot about work ethic and discipline. Growing up in a farming community, he was around horses and learned a little about blacksmithing and leathermaking, skills that would eventually serve him well in his current trade. While in high school, Brunner played on a cheap guitar and dabbled on the fiddle, playing old time fiddle songs. His graduating class was 34 students, to give you an idea of the scope of his surroundings. After high school, he was ready for a change of scenery, city life, and warmer weather. Those aspirations sent him to Florida.
For the first time in his life, he was living in a city, Fort Lauderdale. He took some leisure time for a bit and soaked up a much different lifestyle. Brunner then enrolled in Career City College and went to work for private investigator, Roy McMahon. When he got burnt out on that work, he enrolled in Miami University for a few semesters, but eventually went back to what he knew, country living in Loxahatchee. There, he lived at Casperey Stables, a horse ranch just 15 minutes from the beach. Settling into his new home, he started to play music again. His previous girlfriend, Sonya, had given him a guitar for Christmas, so he learned to play it. Simultaneously, he picked up the fiddle and taught himself more fiddle songs. He started writing again and worked on getting better at it. His father’s advice had been to just keep doing it, and he warned him, it may take 200 songs before you get one on the radio. Soon, he began sending some of his songs to Nashville and had a lot of prospects with publishers. He’d been working with concert promoter, Randy Carillo, in Florida, helping him with country acts, and he’d met a lot of musicians. Everyone was encouraging him to make the move to Nashville. Brunner said he’d been coming up for CMA Fest for seven years and had made a lot of friends in Nashville. It was always a bit of a shock from what he was used to in Florida. He found the people to be very friendly in Tennessee and they all seemed to have a happy life. The only downside was the weather. He loved the Florida temperatures and hated the idea of ever seeing winter again. However, he’d spent 15 years in Florida and his future as a songwriter seemed to be in Nashville. In 2005, he left the Sunshine State for the neon lights of Music City.
Brunner immersed himself in the Nashville scene, playing fiddle as a guest up and down Broadway and singer/songwriter rounds all over the city. He continued writing songs and had some success doing it. He had one top Billboard 100 hit and some album cuts with locals and minor artists. He said he fell in love with Nashville and it’s been his home ever since. His move from songwriting and playing to designing metalwear may seem like a strange leap, but as they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In October, 2013, Brunner was out with his best friend, Mark Burch, keys player for Billy Currington, looking for accessories they could wear on stage. They’d been to some of the local boutiques and likely places they’d hope to find something but came up empty. Frustrated, Brunner went home and put his skills, the materials he had on hand, and his design ideas together. He had some leather lying around and some metal pieces on his workbench, including license plates. He had a lot of ideas and said he just started putting things together. Between 4am and 1pm the following afternoon, his single idea turned into 17 pieces. Donning his new creations, he wore a different one every week when he went out. Soon, people started asking where he got them. He gave a few away in the beginning, but soon realized he could start selling them. How and where to market was new territory for him.
Initially, he sold them for $50-$60 per piece. As luck would have it, he was working with Tim Galloway at the time, who was doing some of Brunner’s songs in the studio. Tim is a guitarist with Gary Allan. He put Brunner in touch with Monica, who works at Gary’s designer store, The Label. She loved the pieces and agreed to put them in the store. The only issue was the pricing. She thought they were drastically underpriced and had him bump the price up to $150-$200 per piece. The deal was struck, and within just two months of having made the first pieces, Brunner’s original designs were being sold at The Label. The very next day, on a whim, Brunner walked into the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville and asked if they’d be interested in putting his pieces in their boutique store located within the hotel. They were equally impressed by Brunner’s work and agreed to a consignment deal in January, 2014. Through this agreement, he’s allowed to bring in anything he wants and swap in and out what sells and what doesn’t. His goal is to make stuff that’s movable. He now has a similar arrangement with the Hermitage Hotel to rotate pieces in and out.
So what does it take to wow some of the hippest boutiques in Nashville, get people to literally buy things off your wrist, and make your pieces go-to stage wear for musicians? Quality. Style. Affordability. Signature Craftsmanship. Those are the four things visible to the naked eye when you look at a Brunner’s Metalwear piece. Brunner has his own favorite designers that he’s followed for years. He appreciates their work and the quality that goes into it. A few are not affordable for the average person. Brunner was intent on making affordable pieces that still had that rock star status. How he got there was by starting with uncompromised quality in each component, trusted suppliers, expert techniques, hand-crafted details, and unique designs. Brunner refuses to cut corners and sacrifice even the smallest of details on his pieces. In fact, he’s always looking for ways to dial in those details even further.
The genesis of each piece starts with quality leather. Brunner uses cowhide and carefully inspects each piece himself. He’s looking for uniformity in the thickness all the way through. He’s not a fan of flimsy leather and it wouldn’t support his adornments. Thick leather is one of the things that makes his pieces instantly recognizable. He buys the cowhide in big sheets and cuts them down into strips of different sizes to suit his unique designs. Some of the strips are then sent to a print shop for individual stamping. He uses a gentleman in Ohio to dye the strips, a process that takes a full day to dry once applied. The dyer is, most notably, an expert in attaining a purity in the white dye. Brunner said there is no good white dye available as most turn pinkish when applied. After the first application dries, it’s often necessary to apply a second coat to ensure there are no blemishes or streaks in the color. Having even the smallest design flaw is unacceptable to Brunner. After the second coat dries, he applies a solution to give the leather its shine and a waterproofing element.
Every aspect of Brunner’s pieces carries the weight of his experience and dedication to his craft. There’s a little something in each step that exposes the honesty and integrity in his work ethic, a little something from his formative years in the Heartland. He had experience in working with leather coming into this venture, and had spent enough time around a horse ranch to understand the relationship between leather and metal. Done right, there’s a unique way they come to depend on each other for strength of purpose. In adding metals to the leather strip, Brunner referred to the locking mechanism he’d seen in saddle pieces. Put together precisely, one will not separate from the other. It’s an inspired process he uses in the ornamentation of his cuffs.
The hallmark addition to Brunner’s pieces are the metals he uses. Their importance to the designs was such that he named the business after them. Brunner’s Metalwear indicates the type of accessory he’s selling. Getting the metals onto that leather strip is often an arduous task. He starts with quality metals. On the horse ranch, Brunner befriended a guy who did foundry work and blacksmithing. He learned a lot about metals from him. What was available from Hobby Lobby or Michaels was often blemished and had a tendency to tarnish. Instead, Brunner uses only top grade metals he gets from a reputable jewelry supplier. This eliminates the occurrence of blemishes and sharp edges that were a concern in his earlier prototype pieces. The metals stay shinier overall. The objects you’ll find on his pieces are rarely whimsical. They tend to represent things that have withstood the test of time and have meaning in their identity – crosses, skulls, weapons, horseshoes, animals, gears, watch faces, license plates, etc. The possibilities are endless and provide the spark Brunner uses to inspire his continued creativity in design.
The evolution in Brunner’s design process opens doors of opportunity at every turn. Though custom pieces are a small portion of his business, what he learns from each request allows him to pay it forward into future designs. Occasionally, customers give him personal items they want attached to his leather cuffs. A particularly memorable piece made use of dog tags and a broach. He also gets requests for specific items to be used on a piece and turned into a one-of-a-kind, custom made gift. The problems he sometimes encounters in fulfilling these requests have turned into learning opportunities. He gets the chance to further his expertise and learn what works and what doesn’t. His custom pieces have inspired a market niche and will soon be available in a specifically themed line for professional huntress, Larysa Switlyk. Her unique offerings will be sold as Larysa Unleashed.
With each step in his craftsmanship, Brunner has a specific process, tool, or technique to ensure the quality he demands. The emblem that signifies his brand was a personal creation. He is German in origin and was looking for something modeled after the family crest. Finding it to be too busy, he simplified it with the use of a bird on a custom shaped shield. It’s turned out to be an excellent branding mark for the business and a reflection of the history he brings to his work ethic. Stamping it on his pieces has transitioned from a tedious, tool-driven task to one a machine can now handle with guaranteed precision every time. His rivets are all textured, adding a small detail that most may overlook. Not Brunner. He enjoys these hints of signature craftsmanship because it sets his work apart from others. Many have told him they think he puts too much work into each piece. He smiles and says he does that purposely. The more he details, the less likely someone will try and copy his designs. It requires patience and time most people aren’t willing to give. Not bending to current trends in the marketplace also sets him apart from the factory driven merchandise you find at the mall. It’s cheap, disposable, and repetitive, none of which you’ll get in a Brunner’s Metalwear piece.
Brunner has resisted the offers he’s had to go the route of commercial marketing. His leap to that volume and exposure would cheapen his brand and that’s not something he’s willing to compromise on. He prefers to market his pieces using the word of mouth method and take advantage of the exposure he can get through social media outlets. He’s sold a lot of his pieces to musicians and big name artists, including, Brantley Gilbert, Tim “The Ripper” Owens, Craig Morgan, and rock legends, the members of Aerosmith. Their repping his brand is a good thing for business. What often sells and brings him repeat business is his commitment to customer service. At a time when ‘customer service’ is becoming an old-fashioned term, Brunner still believes in it. He says he often gets calls from the Omni Hotel with requests from their guests to create a custom piece based on something they’ve seen in the gift shop there. He’ll go there for a custom fitting and can most often deliver the original request before they leave the hotel. That’s not a service you’re likely to find anywhere else in the marketplace and find the quality that’s guaranteed in a Brunner’s Metalwear piece at an affordable cost to you. It’s a combination of attractive attributes that tends to result in repeat business and widening recommendations.
As his reputation grows and the demand for his products increases, Brunner has already taken steps to handle the volume and the issues inherent in growth. It’s been a transitionary process and one he adjusts to day by day. He started with just a small work area in a corner of a garage and soon had to add on to it to accommodate his needs. The shop he’s in now is attached to the garage and used to be a writer’s room. Overflowing with the tools of the trade and completed merchandise, he is now looking for a bigger spot to move his shop to. He’s likely to stay in Nashville because he likes it there and it’s convenient to his marketplace, but he wants a property that suits his expansion needs. Eventually, he’d like to add a foundry to his work site so he can make his own metal pieces. It’s a big step towards keeping the bulk of the design process within reach. He’s also looking to add machinery to his shop area that would handle such tasks as leather splicing and sewing, adding a new marketable detail to his designs. One thing he won’t do is allow meeting demand to overshadow the commitment to quality he founded the company on. He said he will never turn his hand-crafted pieces into impersonal, factory output. He would much rather hire employees to take over some of the tasks on-site than ever compromise the integrity of the product.
To test his readiness for increased volume, Brunner recently fulfilled a large order on short notice. He was asked to sponsor the Tico Torres Celebrity Golf Tournament, a charitable event, by supplying over a hundred cuffs for the gift bags with less than two weeks notice. Not only did he fulfill the order several days ahead of the event, he packaged the individual pieces as he would an individual sale. His pieces are delivered in a gift box, attractively wrapped inside with an enclosure that identifies it as a signature Brunner’s Metalware piece. There is a note made of parchment paper that includes a wax seal with Brunner’s monogram on it. It’s an elegant, yet simple addition that says care and quality went into the making of that piece. His typical time frame for fulfilling larger orders is two weeks, but his organization is such that he can often handle the job in less time without sacrificing quality in the process.
Brunner’s commitment and enthusiasm for what he does was evident when I met him. His desire to be creative and put his past experience in his present work was as ingrained in the pieces he showed me as the history in his work ethic. He said he never gets exhausted by the work and is constantly inspired to make the products better and create new designs. His character was as flawless as the piece I held in my hand. As they say, “The proof is in the pudding.” One look at a Brunner’s Metalwear piece and it is instantly recognizable by the quality, regardless of the emblem. The first thing I said to him was, “This obviously has no “Made in China” label.” He casts his signature on the very foundation America’s work ethic once stood. “Made in America” meant something – innovation, quality, integrity. American workers were invested in the process and the product. Customer service was a given. Brunner would like to see a return to that ideal commitment and is ready to lead by example. The symbiotic relationship between leather and metal is on par with that between ancestry and craftsmanship. Families were often defined by the trade they were in, apprenticed to the quality of what they made. Tools and machinery were utilized sparingly, never replacing the expertise handed down from generation to generation. They were used in the interest of saving time, not cutting corners. What you put your name on was a source of pride, never risking the family honor with an inferior product.
Brunner’s Metalwear is a rare find in the 21st century. It’s largely a local business gaining a national reputation in the eyes of the consumer and the design community. For the cost, you will not find this quality anywhere else. The commitment to customer service is unmatched. If you’re looking for leather/metal accessories, you will not find anything better in the marketplace. Whether it’s a stage look you need, something stylish to accessorize with, or a custom piece that signifies your individuality, Brunner’s Metalwear has something for you. Stand on quality. Thrive on commitment. Take pride in what you put your name on. That is signature Brunner Boettcher.
Visit Brunner’s website: http://www.brunnersmetalwear.com/
Follow Brunner’s Metalware on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brunnersmetalwear?fref=ts
Follow Brunner’s Metalware on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BMetalwear
All of the photos, except those of the celebrities, are courtesy of Bill McClintic of 90 East Photography.
Craig Morgan photo courtesy of PNJ.com.
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