By Gregory Daurer | Jun 08, 2021
Boots and other leather products
A man of many skills, Roundy can make cowboy boots -- or business shoes -- for people. Or he can repair those same types of footwear.
Roundy also crafts hiking boots, horse saddles, and sandals (with styles named Wasatch and Deep Creek). And, when all is said and done, he's been known to recite his own take on cowboy poetry to customers.
Back when he had a shop in Taylorsville (maintained as a Salt Lake City mailing address), he used to share his hard-earned knowledge with students at Salt Lake Community College. When it comes to bootmaking, Roundy would tell them, there are some things you have to be exact about and there are others you can just "free-flow on" in a creative way. "You have to know the difference between the science and the art," he says. However, as he puts it, the artistry only comes after learning the basic science.
Around 1974, Roundy began learning shoe repair as a trade. He'd previously worked for Sears Automotive, just before and after his LDS mission to Japan, as well as for a cardboard box company. Then he mowed lawns as a business. But in bootmaking, he found his calling. "I had so much business, I couldn't handle it in Salt Lake," says Roundy.
The business has two distinct types of customers. "One is the working cowboy [who] wants a good saddle or a good solid pair of boots and they're willing to pay the price for the 'tool,' so to speak," says Roundy. The other group includes successful folks who sometimes reflect their status in life by the boots they wear on their feet. His clients have included such notables as Utah Governor Norman H. Bangerter, Senator Orrin Hatch, basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, members of the Osmond musical family, cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, and Hal Cannon, the folklorist and musician who founded the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.
The Roundys made the move to Toquerville in November 2019, relishing the opportunity to be just a short drive from Zion National Park. But that doesn't mean Roundy, 68, rests easy in his newfound location. "My life is about my shop," he says. When reached by CompanyWeek, Roundy was at work on a saddle, and he had eight boot orders in the queue. A sign of the times? He's also been making a number of gun rigs and holsters, recently. "Business has been good down here," says Roundy.
Roundy works out of a 1,000-square-foot building near his house, zoned for both work and storage. It's where he keeps the tools of his trade: his hammers, knives, needles, awls, and pliers, his sewing machine and belt sander.
Step one in the bootmaking process is measuring a customer's feet -- and, no, it can't be done remotely. "I'll say, 'Well, if you can send your feet here, I can do it,'" says Roundy. "I've never got feet in the mail yet." From those measurements, Roundy will prepare a last that the material will fit around like a coat of paint. Roundy draws patterns, using geometrical formulas. He cuts out leather. Roundy does the stitching, the inlays.
A pair of boots costs a minimum of $800, but can go up from there depending on the materials used. In addition to cow leather, there are legally sourced hides from alligators, elephants, ostriches, turkeys, and even carp. And then there's the degree of customization, say, if someone wants the image of a rose -- or a cartoon duck -- on the boot. Customers can choose from eight different styles of heels, and 13 different types of toes, from squared to rounded to pointy. And Roundy will make a genuine leather insole -- not a compressed type of cardboard-like paper which some large commercial brands utilize, which will wear out much quicker than one of Roundy's custom creations. "[My boots] will last 30 years of hard use," he says.
"It all comes down to craftsmanship," says Roundy. "My business makes them the quality that they used to in the '20s, '30s, and '40s."
He derives satisfaction from seeing customers' faces after they slip on a pair of boots and are clearly pleased with the results. And, occasionally, from reciting cowboy poetry-inspired verse about his craft:
Leather's the thing that defines me
It's all I can show for my life
Proud work one can use, wear, and see
I find joy in the awl and knife.
Challenges: "Keeping up -- and keeping everybody happy," says Roundy .
Opportunities: Roundy says he would consider selling his business to someone who wants to expand its reach and take on more employees. "If somebody wanted to come in, buy me out, and have me there for a year or two, I could show them how to [gross] a million dollars a year off of the business," he says.
Needs: "I need more recreational time," Roundy admits. As a result of word-of-mouth about his business, he says, "I'm stuck in my shop."