The guitar straps Terry Misner creates for musicians worldwide are the canvas for his artwork.
In his specialty, though, the tapestry is really soft leather he uses to combine comfort and custom designs for performers such as Jimmy Buffett and Keith Urban.
"It's like sewing silk rather than sewing canvas," he said. "You can rip through canvas in a hurry, but what would you rather feel?"
The 56-year-old Misner operates Action Custom Straps with wife, Dena, and daughter Nikki O'Neal. From the basement of the couple's Wanamaker home, Misner and his daughter cut the leather and assemble the straps while his wife sews them. Together, they produce a few hundred straps a year ranging in cost from $125 for a standard black model to $500 for a handpainted python, for instance.
The amount hardly is enough to sustain a comfortable living; Misner works part-time at Federal Express to take advantage of the health insurance. Yet the work is more rewarding than anything he's ever done, he said. More important, though, Misner thinks the company is poised to grow. The reason in part is due to the Internet and accompanying online sales.
Misner launched Action Custom Straps in 1984 after he couldn't find a strap he liked for his new camera. Most contained metal that could scratch the surface and were "ugly", he said. So Misner made his own and began producing the accessory for cameras.
Sustaining the business proved difficult, however. Customers had to wade through the cumbersome process of requesting information about his products and mailing their orders back to Misner. A lack of sales caused him to close in the 1980s.
Following various entrepreneurial endeavors, including one in which he furnished and stocked more than 50 gumball machines for Don Pablo's restaurants in several states, Misner reopened Action Custom Straps in 2000.
This time, he added guitar straps to his repertoire and a Web site that has registered more than 200,000 hits. Misner is in discussions with guitar makers PRS Guitars in Maryland and C.F. Martin & Co. in Pennsylvania to feature his products on their sites.
He's talking to the folks at Margaritaville, the outlet for Buffett news and merchandise, in hopes of getting his straps on that site as well. Misner's link to the legendary singer sprang from a friend who knew Buffett's guitar technician.
Misner since has added Urban to his client list. He met the country crooner at the 2003 Academy of Country Music Awards, where his straps were included in the gift bags given to nominees. Misner also displayed his merchandise at last year's National Association of Music Merchants convention in Indianapolis.
Guitar sales are on the rise, according to the California-based NAMM. About 3.5 million units were sold in 2005 at a retail value of nearly $1.2 billion, a 13.3-percent increase from the previous year.
Canadian-based Levy Leathers is the "800-pound gorilla" of leather strap manufacturers, as sales in Canadian dollars totaled $5 million last year.
Misner, who remains undaunted, said: "We're in it for the long haul."
Jimmy Buffett sports an Action Custom Strap, Hoosier-made in Wanamaker.