Bethany Emond Storm and Danielle Dockery of Drifltess Tannery are blazing new trails. They are one of a handful of tanneries in the United States that are producing high quality hides without the traditional harmful chemicals. Learn about their vision and their challenges in their Driftless grown success story.


Bethany Emond Storm and Danielle Dockery of Driftless Tannery are blazing new trails. They are one of a handful of tanneries in the United States that are producing high quality hides without the traditional harmful chemicals. Learn about their vision and their challenges in their Driftless grown success story.


[Koziol]: Welcome to the Driftless Makers Podcast. Today we have the honor of speaking to two of the founding members of the Driftless Tannery, located in beautiful Argyle, Wisconsin, Danielle Dockery and Bethany Emond Storm. Driftless Tannery. Tell me a little bit about, I think people understand what a tannery is, but how is your tannery unique in its approach? 

[Dockery]: Our Tannery is unique in its approach because we do not use harsh chemicals. We use products that are environmentally safe and friendly for our staff, our farmer clients, our retail clients and the water reclamation plant that's literally right next to our building. So everything we use is safe for the environment and for human use, very different than the chemical tanners. We do not use harsh chemicals like chromium and all of those really scary things that we don't want in our lives. The other thing that makes us unique that I think is very important to sheep farmers is we treat each hide individually and we do our best to preserve the original locks that particular breed was bred for. So most people who send their hides off to traditional tannery, they all come back beautifully tanned. However, they all look exactly the same. They've been brushed into fluffy clouds and we do our best to keep the locks intact. We do not brush them out. We want the farmer to get that hide back, looking as if it did when it was on the animal, and clean. 

[Koziol]: Tell me a little bit about the products, the sheepskin products that you sell. I've taken a look through and you have like, specific names. Tell me more. 

[Storm]: We just know that they're all absolutely individual and we like to call that out in either naming it what the farmer had named it because a lot of our hides that are on consignment were named by the farmers. So if they were, then we share that with our audience. These are legacy textiles. They're going to live on beyond me on this earth. The way that they're preserved and we hope that they're passed down from generation to generation and that they continue to bring comfort. And joy to people. 

[Koziol]: So you talked a little bit about why you started it and looking back. You started in 2020. Is that correct? 

[Storm]: Yes.

[Koziol]: So three years in, that's a milestone right there. What's the biggest pivot that you've had to make? Have there been any places where you're like, oh my gosh, we need to make this adjustment…we weren't seeing it, but now we do. What's the biggest pivot that you've had to make in the last three years? 

[Storm]: Most recently we changed our process for tanning from [? ] to bark tanning. We feel that bark tanning does a really superior product. It is a machine washable product. It finishes very consistently, whereas the allen tanning there was a little bit more of an art to making it work, whereas the Mimosa bark tan is a little bit more of a consistent finish. We had shied away from it at first because people had, in the natural tanning community had said, well, it changes the color of the hide and the fiber and we didn't want that. We took a class with a friend of ours out in Oregon. He taught us how to change that and make that color variation pretty much not noticeable on the fiber side. So anyway, we perfected that tan type and we decided to run with that. And so that was a pretty big pivot for us because it changes the Day to day operation and how each step looks. 

[Koziol]: What drew you to doing the tanning? Are there many tanneries in southwestern Wisconsin? 

[Storm]: No, I think we're the only. Well, there's one in southeastern Wisconsin. There's a tannery that's been around for years. They do the chromium process. There aren't many natural tanneries. There's maybe three in the country right now. I don't think anybody that's doing the scale of service that we do. We're definitely not alone, but we're one of very, very few doing it in the country. So I mean you got to the point like we were raising these animals, we were sending them off to slaughter, we were wanting to tan the hides, We sent them off to the chemical factories and they came back smelling and literally tasting of the chemicals. We didn't want that. That wasn't that wasn't the end that we wanted. That wasn't the legacy that we wanted for these animals. So sort of like our farming, we just decided to figure out a way to do it ourselves. Honestly, I think we maybe started this thinking we'd be a little Etsy shop and now we're seven employees and a 7500 square foot facility.

[Koziol]: That's a lot bigger than, you know, your shed out back or corner of a barn? It's interesting. And I think there's other businesses that are out there that are starting maybe, well, maybe I'll run this out of my garage or maybe put it up on Etsy and see what happens. And you've really taken this concept and grown it. Apparently, there's obvious demand for it. Product you're putting out is beautiful and it does have a sustaining healthy legacy to it. So let's think back a couple of years, three years ago, you're just starting to kick around some ideas about this. What would you tell others as they're sitting around the campfire or leaning over the kitchen table when you're starting a business? What's one or two tips that you might share with them? 

[Dockery]: I can tell you that in the last three years I've started two different businesses and I can say with total conviction, the most important thing that I would tell anyone is to know your business partners that you're going into business with. Know them well. Don't know them casually. This is a marriage. It's literally like choosing a spouse. Bethany and I are literally married to each other. We have to manage our relationship as much as we do our relationships at home and it's just as challenging because we're both passionate. You want the business to work and if you don't know the person really well, that can get pretty, that can get pretty dicey. 

[Storm]: And if you put the time in, you will get results. It takes a lot more money than you're going to think it's going to take. You don't really, really know your market and be willing to sacrifice personally a little bit. It's just like having a baby. You know, you're giving up a lot to make it happen and you're pushing every step of the way. 

[Koziol]: But how exciting to see where you are? You're blazing trails. Would you say the tannery business, is it male dominated? Female dominated out west? What are the characteristics of a typical tannery business? 

[Dockery]: My personal observation is that the natural tanning world invites more women than the chemical tanning world. I can say since we've been in business, I've met two women that are chemical tanners here in Wisconsin, and they have since stopped. Now they're just taxidermists. In the natural tanning world. In the traditional tanning world, there are loads of women that are doing it, but not not for a living. It's more of a lifestyle. 

[Koziol]: You're doing quantity and delivering services and delivering custom pieces, and you said you worked with the SBDC and I work with the SBDC on a regular basis. They've got a great crew. What would you say about your work with them or your or your thoughts on people reaching out to the SBDC if they, if they do have some ideas, they want to kick around?

[Storm]: I say do it, do it, do it. We've had two advisors over the course of the three years and they have been absolutely amazing. Anytime you can check into one of their workshops, check in. We just recently had our online marketing and our social media all went through by professional marketer, which we are not. That's another thing about starting your business. Recognize that there's a marketing component that somebody has to deal with, but know that there's help out there. SBDC has so many great resources for new businesses. We also worked with FFI, which is Farm Finance Institute and had some great advice from them. There's a lot of places that offer free advice too, which is big when you're starting a new business. We work with Compeer Financial. They help us navigate the financial world. So I'd say there's a lot of help out there. You just have to find it and be willing to go to their workshops and listen to what they have to say. 

[Koziol]: Absolutely, excellent points. And I think oftentimes in starting a business and I've seen this across many years, business owners are often outstanding at two or three areas of the business, but not all areas. So finding your finance partner, finding your marketing partner, whoever that is and you're right, there are lots of resources. I couldn't speak more highly of the SBDC operations. WWBIC also is a great resource, and of course if you're anywhere in Southwest Wisconsin, the Platteville Business Incubator, UW Platteville, the Idea Hub, Southwest Cap. We're all here to help businesses be more successful. So there's funding through great commercial partners. As you mentioned, Compeer is terrific. There's also revolving loan funds at low interest rates. So reach out to one of your network partners and we’ll connect to who you don't already know. I won't turn this into a complete commercial for Southwest Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission revolving loan fund is available to you now. In all frankness, it is available. It is low interest loans. There are other loan funds in the region. So I suggest anyone who's listening to this, who's also going, oh my gosh, you're right. I just could use a little working capital or I want to make a jump here. Who do I turn to? I would suggest that yet you can reach out to us at the Southwest Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and we'd be happy to either take care of you directly or hook you up to somebody who'd be able to lend a hand. I'm going to pause for just a quick commercial break. I want to remind everyone that we're talking to Danielle Dockery and Bethany Edmond Storm and they are two of the founders of Driftless Tannery and beautiful Argyle, Wisconsin. So stay with us. 

[Koziol Commercial]: Please join us at the Driftless Makers Market coming up Wednesday, September 27th. There'll be dozens of businesses, food trucks, bounce houses and a band. You won't want to miss it. It's from 4:00 until 7:00 PM and all the public is invited, so be sure to join us. If you're a vendor and want to display, please contact the Platteville Business Incubator. We'd love to have you. We've already signed UpDraft Brewery, Jo's Cupcakes, Moons Food Crew, Boss Cow Coffee, Myson's Tacos, Franny's BBQ, That one Place. And those are just the food trucks. Inside we'll have the Kickapoo Joy Juice Band and dozens of interesting businesses from large to one person operations, artists, industry, manufacturing, everything you could think of. So join us on Wednesday, September 27th from 4:00 until 7:00 PM. The public is invited and your business is invited as well. To demonstrate your services, join us at the Driftless Makers Market at the Platteville Business Incubator. 52 Drive in Platteville, WI on Wednesday, September 27th. Doors open for the public at 4:00 PM. 

[Koziol]: So we talked a little bit about this already. Danielle and Bethany, what did you want to be when you were little? Like, did you just think if I could only be a Tanner?

[Storm]: Well, let's see. When I was little, I always wanted to work with wildlife. I wanted to work with animals in one form or another. I was going to study wolves in Spain. That was my goal when I went off to college. And I've been many things since then, but I haven't been to Spain to study to wolves yet. 

[Koziol]: There's time.

[Dockery]: I honestly thought I was going to be a vet. That was the path I was leading all through school, college. I was working in every capacity I could for all my experience at the vet, at the zoo, and I just didn't finish that. So I wanted to work with animals. So you can kind of see we are very passionate about the animals and you know it's a little bit weird to say as a Tanner, but I mean that's why we do it, because we love them and cherish them so much. 

[Koziol]: And I love that. It's a fresh approach, right? It's not a commodity, it's not a that's moving this through and it's let's make it faster. And no, you're really looking holistically at it. If there's anyone listening that you're dreamed of being an artist or a vet or working more closely with animals, whatever it is, harken back to those roots and see what speaks to you. And maybe there's a business that is not the exact path that you thought, but you can kind of feed to those younger dreams. So of your many varied careers and your success at Driftless Tannery and other and other entities, what are you each most proud of? 

[Dockery]: I can confidently say I am most proud of the fact that when we walk into this building we have an operation that is self-sufficient. It runs without us. These people here have all taken ownership of their corner of the building and they're here happily. We brought jobs to Argyle. We have a great team. I mean, I come in here, I just can't believe that we did. This blows my mind. 

[Storm]: I would fully agree with what Danielle said. It's all about the fact that we were able to bring jobs and to have such passionate employees that really do take ownership of the business. They believe in what it is and they work hard for that. The mission that, you know, Danielle and I set out a long time ago and it's pretty amazing. 

[Koziol]: So tell me, Danielle, some sufficient employees. That is huge. Now we know entrepreneurs can be a little bit driven. They can be a little bit focused. They had a way to do things. How do you empower your employees and support them and celebrate them? Can you give us a couple of tips? 

[Dockery]: Well, first of all, there's so much work here. We could not physically do it ourselves. So if we wanted to keep the high standards, we had to take the time to train them from the ground up. Because this is not a career or a job anyone walks into with experience. Seriously, it's you're starting from scratch. 

[Storm]: Yeah. And it's just continually, you know, to appreciate your employees and to thank them and to be real with them and to include them in in some of the decision making because they're, you know, they have seen a lot and they have, they have expertise now and we, you know, hats off to them. We listen when they have suggestions. 

[Koziol]: I think in any operation, whether it's two people or people or people, no one person has every perspective and every viewpoint that it really does sometimes take a collective, and it takes some very smart owners and operators to hand off a little bit of that collaborative decision making to the rest of the team. 

[Dockery]: We treat our employees like they're our friends and our family. We try to do special things for them in our own way since we can't financially give big bonuses and have enormous parties. But we do what we can. We're raising turkeys for them this year. We bring in anything we can from our homesteads to share with them. We try to make them feel like they're important to us. 

[Koziol]: What is it about Argyle? I just love the town, I love the community. There are so many marvelous, unique businesses that are springing up in and around Argyle. How would you describe Argyle to someone who's never been there? 

[Storm]: I would say it's in the community. We've been before a couple of different plan commissions in different communities when we tried to set up our shop, and Argyle is the most welcoming, the most encouraging, The people that were sitting on the board, people that will just kind of pop in to see what we're up to. There's just a sense of community here that you don't have everywhere. It's a we're all in it together kind of attitude. 

[Koziol]: I completely agree. Now that you're in this business and it's growing, what do you think is the next step? Where do you see yourself in, let's say, five years from now? 

[Dockery]: Five years from now, I think we're going to still be in the same building doing our bus to keep everything from rusting and corroding. We just purchased a pelletizer and a wool shredder and we're going to be offering pelletizing services. 

[Koziol]: What's pelletizing? I'm not familiar with that. 

[Storm]: So what we do is we take wool like Danielle said, right now farmers are getting about two cents a pound for their wool. We hope to, well, we will pay them quite a bit more than that to buy their wool. Then we shred it and we put it through a pelletizer and the pellets are used in horticulture for horticultural uses, home gardens, larger landscape facilities. What it does is it replaces peat moss and which in our world is a very unsustainable product that is often used to hold moisture in the soil and to create, you know, it's just an amendment that goes into the soil. So the wool pellets, what they do is they release, they slowly release fertilizer, which they have in them just naturally. A lot of nutrients, micronutrients, a lot of nitrogen, they release those into the soil. They also hold water. They hold 20 times their amount of water in the soil so that the water is available for the root structures. As they decompose, they open and aerate your soil. So they have a lot of different functions. We've been working with shepherds across the country for a long time now, and we hear their struggles. You know, they can make money off their hides, but they can't make money off their wool, and a lot of them are wool farmers. 

[Koziol]: I already want some. I took some wool scraps from one of our friends and I used it to kind of weed block and tuck into the corner of my raised beds. And it worked for like several years. It was, luckily. So yes, I'm in for some pellets when that business is up and running. Add me to your customer list. I'm signing up. It's been an absolute delight talking today to Danielle Dockery and Bethany Emond Storm from Driftless Tannery and if you want to go check out their gorgeous products, I would suggest you go over to Any other contact information that you would like to offer up. Or is the website the best place to see your products and reach out to you as needed? 

[Guest]: The website's the best place. Unless you're going to be at the Jefferson Sheep and Wolf Festival in a couple weeks, we'll be there. We're also going to be up at Inga Witscher’s place for a market up at her farm, Around the Farm Table in Osseo, if you're driving through Argyle, or if you live in Argyle, just pop in. We like to visit with people and show them what we're up to. 

[Koziol]: Check them out on social media. Check out the website. I'll invite the Driftless Tannery and any of our other listeners to another event which is going to be the Driftless Makers Market celebrating all the many varied businesses that we have in the Driftless region. And that's going to take place at the Platteville Business Incubator on Wednesday, September 27th from 4:00 until 7:00. And we'll have local breweries and I don't know five or eight food trucks and a band and bounce houses and amazing entrepreneurs. So join us there and thanks again to Bethany and Danielle for sharing their thoughts and insights too for starting up the Driftless Tannery, a sustainable eco friendly tanning operation in beautiful Southwest Wisconsin in Argyle. And we welcome others to join the Driftless region and join the community of sustainable businesses and just a very welcoming collaborative community. So thanks again for listening to the Driftless Makers podcast. This is Kate Koziol, Executive Director of the Platteville Business Incubator, and we're here to share the hacks and horror stories and some of the humor of working on your own business.

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