Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Florida is not only an elderly retirement center - Florida Horse Park

According to the Star Banner, the current 500 acre public Horse Park in Ocola, Florida had a $13,000,000 impact to the local area last year. The local governing board seems interested in stepping up the development of this Horse Park, hoping to increase the local impact to close to $63,000,000 having about 40 events a year.
Looks like grandpa and grandma are exchanging their cues and pucks for chaps and spurs on their yearly retreat south. By the number of saddles we send to Florida, they are a serious contender in the arena.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

How to succeed at selling saddles.

There are many different definitions of success in business. My personal favorite quote on success is by Thomas Edison which said "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." With that out of the way, let me give the real reasons for HorseSaddleShop.com's success: the crew from HorseSaddleShop.com.

Dale, who is about to celebrate his 80th birthday has the work ethic that is considerably absent from our comfortable society. This 79 year old man promptly opens the shop up at 0830 hrs and works diligently until 1700 hrs(Can you tell I was in the Air Force). Dale does this Monday through Friday, including all minor holidays. On Saturday, he does reduce his hours from about 0900 hrs to 1600 hrs. Yes, he is 79 (just a few days away from 80), wealthy enough to retire and yet puts in around 50 hours a week. This leads to another winning quality. Dale is frugal in his spending but quite generous in his giving. Some may not equate this to success, but God does.

Karen is also a big contributor to our success. When we started, the first several months, I was the sole photographer and editor of pictures. I need to find a few of the photos I took - they were not pretty. I bought the most expensive camera my conscious would allow (wasn't much) and labor away in MS PhotoDraw. Our first employee/contractor was Karen and what a blessing her talents have brought us. Her quality is excellent. In fact, to the shame of many of our dealers, I have had to protect our pictures from being copied from our competitors. The pictures we had on our site were so much better in quality than the product photos our manufacturers supplied.

Our most recent addition and furthering our reason for success is Stephanie. I don't know if there is anything I have asked her to do that she hasn't done with the hallmark of quality. A few of the notables she performs are writing the press releases, writing new copy for the whole site, adding new items with HTML, putting together web graphics and making magazine ads. I am able to ask Stephanie to perform a task, then remove it from my mind, knowing it will be completed.

Each of these three would quickly and appropriately give God all credit for their talents and abilities. So, the final analysis is that God is the reason for any success we encounter. We thank Him for His goodness!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Return Policy: An important factor

The statement Dale and I hear most from our customers is "I have a hard to fit horse." and the most asked question is "What is your return policy?", usually asked after the most used statement. This points to two very important aspects you need to consider when purchasing a saddle. One is finding a saddle that fits, and we address that at our saddle fitting page. The second important factor when purchasing an expensive saddle is the store's return policy.

You may not initially realize the importance of the return policy of a store, but it can have a significant affect on your after purchase emotions. More so than the amount spent or saved on your initial purchase. A store that you fell in love with because of the extraordinary low prices, you may end up cursing in the end because of the very high return policy. Many online stores need a high costing return policy likely for two reasons.

The first reason is the store does not want you to return the saddle you purchased. I've found that most saddle dealers only have a few saddles in inventory, yet they put the whole catalog of the available saddles from the manufacturer on their website. They are looking for a quick profit without touching any merchandise. They are wanting a no risk business. This works well, except when the customer needs to return the merchandise. Suddenly, they not only have to give the manufacturer the money for the saddle, but they also have to give the money back to the customer. So, they have an inordinately high return fee. I've noticed several prominent online saddle dealers have a return fee of 20%. If you return a $1000 saddle, you would stand to lose $200 on top of shipping charges. I'm sure many people think twice about having to pay $200 to return a saddle.

The second reason is tied to the first reason. There is a cost to processing credit cards. We pay around 2% for every transaction. So, if we charge $1000, we pay the credit card company around $20. This money is not refunded if we issue a credit to the customer for a return. We have a low return fee because we know we will sell the saddle that is returned, usually in a short time. Most tack dealers sell only a few saddles a month. If they get a saddle back, one that they had to have the manufacturer ship for them, because they never had it in stock the first time, well, their money is tied up into that saddle. With the high return fee, they make their profit on the saddle return, so that when they have to sell the saddle at cost(the 2nd time) to get rid of it, they will still have a profit from the return.

When purchasing your next saddle, please be aware of the return fee. This gives great insight into the company you are dealing with. We work hard to make sure when you purchase your saddle from us that you are making a very informed decision on quality and fit. If you happen to purchase a saddle that does not fit, we have a very accommodating return fee. One that we do not profit from. Our average saddle sells for around $1000 and we offer free shipping. Our return fee is 5%. When you factor in the $20 bank fee we pay, on top of the around $30 shipping fee to get the saddle to you, you realize that on average we break even on returns. But, we have an excellent exchange policy. If you purchase a saddle and need to exchange it, there is no return fee and you only have to pay shipping for the 2nd saddle (actual shipping cost from our discounted rates rather than inflated shipping cost).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Defense of our Manufacturers: Part 2 Dakota Saddlery

Do a quick Google on "Saddles Ider Alabama" and you will see that this may very well be the saddle capital of the world. There are some very well known saddle makers in Yoakum, TX. We'll call these the tier 1 manufactured saddle makers. Stop by Ider, AL and you can find a town full of talented tier 2 saddle manufacturers. This is where we found Dakota Saddlery, one of the better know saddle makers in Ider, Alabama.

It's the inside that matters. When comparing saddles, I think it is best to start at the tree. This is what determines the ultimate comfort to the horse and rider. Many trees manufactured in India and Mexico will often leave you with a horse that is sore and many times injured. So, with the Dakota saddle you need to know that the tree comes from the Steele Tree Co. Notice that often times the same tree you find in Crates, Reinsman, Big Horn, Gaits of Gold and others are also found in the Dakota saddle. I just named off some saddles that sell nearly twice the amount as a Dakota will sell. Dakota saddles have the insides of a well made saddle, so we know the foundation is solid.

The leather used in the Dakota saddle is a thick American cow hide. I would not call the leather supple, but given a little use and regular treatments of Lexol, you'll have a leather nice and soft to the touch. I would say the major difference between a Dakota and a higher priced saddle such as a Reinsman is the tooling detail. The Dakota tooling is not as deep and intricate as the higher price saddles and the difference of patterns is limited. I would not think this would justify the cost difference, but it is a difference that does save Dakota money in the building process.

The Dakota after sales support is excellent. Whenever we have a warranty issue, Dakota is quick to resolve it to the satisfaction of the customer. Trust me, all saddle manufacturers have warranty issues, but not all of them are nearly as amiable as Dakota is.

Another advantage to purchasing a Dakota is the ability to to make changes to your saddle. If you would like a thicker seat, not problem. Want saddle strings? Coming right up. Larger fenders? Easy to do. Their changes do not incur an immediate 25% price increase such as Circle Y often does, but are very affordable. I would say the average change is $5 to $10.

To sum up the Dakota saddle, I would describe them as cost efficient. They are a bargain for their price - so much so, that we have one sitting on a saddle rack in our barn.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Defense of our Manufacturers: Part 1 Crates-Leather Company

I suppose this is more of an explanation than a defense.

Often when my wife takes one our children to the doctor, dentist or other very expensive professional I am treated to her summary of that professional. Krista, my wife, relies heavily on a person's bedside manners in determining if that person is worthy of us hiring them. I, on the other hand look more into financial and practical traits. So, after taking one of our kids to the eye doctor, our conversation may go something like this:

Krista: We found a new eye doctor today, his name is Doctor Jon and he was very nice. He really listened to me when I was looking for the glasses that matches my purse. They also have hot coffee in the waiting room and he was really nice to Jorgi (our daughter) as said that we look like sisters. I think we found or family eye doctor.

Me: That's nice, but do you see better and how much did this cost?

Crates Leather Company headed by Mr. Dan Crates is one of those companies that not only produces a quality saddle with much detail and workmanship, but he is simply a very nice and genuinely good guy. We have a Q & A session with him that reveals much about his character. I have a little more info that reveals his character much better.

We ship many saddles to Sweden, and we have one particular customer that is also our single best customer of all customers. I firmly feel that Crates is a big reason for this. Several years ago, and I believe the first saddle this Swedish customer bought was a Crates saddle. It was mid priced between $1,000 and $1,700. This customer had a special shipping arrangement with a friend that was flying from the States to Sweden, saving a few hundred $ in shipping and customs fees. Crates had a deadline to ship this saddle, and agreed to it before we put the order through. There were unexpected delays, so the saddle was not made in time. It therefor was not shipped in time. We were a bit upset with Crates, and our customer was also a bit upset with us.

What happened next was amazing! A few days later Crates finished the saddle and shipped it directly to the customer. You would think "good free shipping - that was nice", but no, Mr. Crates shipped the saddle, paying for the shipping himself, and not charging for the saddle at all. Our customer got a saddle free of charge.

So yes, I am greatly impressed with the quality of the hand crafted Crates saddles, but I am also on my wife's side being more impressed with the genuine nice guy Mr. Crates.


Friday, June 22, 2007

..more blessed to give than to receive: Horse Charities

You see them on you local tack store bulletin board, you hear about them on your local country station, and you see them on the Internet. There are many horse lovers across this nation, but strikingly there are also many neglected horses across this nation as well. Some big hearted Americans have addressed this problem and are sacrificing much personal time and resources in caring for abandoned and neglected horses.

Dale (owner of The Saddle Shop in Bremen, IN and partner with me in HorseSaddleShop.com) every year makes it a point to help support a local rescue. That is great for his local store, but we too have a national website and thus a call to action. We have instituted a "Give 5% to Charities" program at http://www.horsesaddleshop.com/rescuehelp.html Essentially, you the customer get to direct which charity the 5% of your online purchase will receive the 5% donation. We have a list of accepted horse charities and welcome many more to sign up. But, don't let a lack of purchasing from us prevent you from giving to local equine rescue programs. Please find a rescue close to you and see if they have a need that you could meet. After all, it is more blessed to give than to receive.


Thursday, June 7, 2007

Know your enemy... er..competition. Wait make that manufacturer.

I love to sell saddles. I've been blessed to not only be successful in selling saddles, but to have a business partner who has the same christian faith as me. There are many discouragements in this business, which I'll get to later, but to have my father-in-law as a business partner has been a great blessing and encouragement.

Dale and I have taken many actions to be sure that we know as much about saddles as we can, and that we stock those saddles in our store. We want to be able present the best saddle for any one of the many situations our customers are in. As of today, we have 462 saddles in our warehouses. In selling saddles, we are very careful to be respectful of our competition. We feel that though they are competition, it is our job to be the best at what we do, regardless of what our competitors do. In other words, we do not bash or talk down our competition. We feel it is rather unseemly.

So we are baffled by not our competition from another retail store, but the competition from one of our manufacturers. For brevity sake, we will call our un-named manufacturer/competition as Company A. Among other manufacturers, we happened to be Company A's top dealer in 2006. That is, we sold more of their merchandise than any other single store in 2006. We are continuing to have very strong sales in 2007 for Company A. In the past week or two, Company A started selling saddles directly from their website. It is generally a bad idea for a company to start competing with their dealers, but this is what Company A has started doing. But, they weren't satisfied with a fair, although very odd, competition in selling their saddles to the customer, Company A decided on their website to take a little swipe at their online dealers.

In essence Company A is saying "Don't waste your time with our dealers that have an online store." HorseSaddleShop alone has 96 of Company A's saddles in stock. Hey, Company A, I have over $100,000 of your products in my inventory and you are telling customers to not buy from me!?! It is not just HorseSaddleShop but also the other fine retail stores of Teskey's, Pards, Rod's, Country Supply, State Line Tack, Stage Coach West, FM Brown, Holtz Saddle Co., Outfitters Supply and others.

It appears that Company A is not performing so well these past few years, and rather than attack the problem they have decided to attack their retailers. You may ask, "What is Company A's problem?" Well, when I visit the Internet Archive of HorseSaddleShop for January of 2004 one of Company A's saddle that sold for $1,162.50 now has to be sold for $1,499.00. That is a 29% price increase in a short 3 years. I believe inflation has only risen 9% in the same amount of time. That means Company A has increased prices 21% over inflation adjustments.

I don't know how this is all going to pan out, but I do hope that Company A will start putting more effort in manufacturing so that we retailers can put more effort is selling their saddles. As it is, we continue to sell their product, but it does leave a nasty taste in our mouth, knowing our manufacturer would rather make the sale that the retailer. As I said, it is an encouragement to work with Dale as we remind one another that there is a God that not only knows, but gives me all that I need, whether pleasant or painful.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Saddle pads are imortant too.

I gleam a good deal of information from equine related magazines. our forums though, have been my greatest source of reliable and beneficial information. Interaction with our customer, giving and receiving knowledge, troubleshooting fitting problems and issues, has also been an excellent generator of useful knowledge.

An obvious fact is that the saddle tree dimensions are important factors in getting a good fitting saddle. Similarly, finding the right pad is also very important in obtaining your goal of having a comfortable saddle fit. Just as there are different types and sizes of saddles, there too are different types and sizes of saddle pads. A quote from trailBLAZER magazine May 2007 issue states “Contour saddle pads are designed for the horse with a slight dip in their back or those with more prominent withers. The normal or straight saddle pad is used on horses with a normal conformation….” ironically I mentioned the exact thing when I explained the different applications for different saddle pads. Throughout this article I found the author and I, not only have the exact same thoughts but we also expressed them with the same words. Although, I expressed mine before she expressed hers.

I do recommend a study on which saddle pad would be best for your horse. It is an important factor in getting your horse the comfortable saddle fit. You can spend your money to purchase trailBLAZER magazine with the insightful article on the different saddle pads, or you can go to the non-cited source at http://www.horsesaddleshop.com/about-saddle-pads.html


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Helmet Safety

I am totally, absolutely; convinced that everyone should wear a helmet when riding horses.

It's like a seat belt, sometime it WILL be a matter of life & death.

Among the daily equine forum members I am not alone. In a recent poll an overwhelming percentage of members wear helmets. How do we convince the general public that helmets are cool?

Poll results:
I use an approved helmet every time I ride [57%] 41 votes
I use a helmet occasionally when I ride [7%] 5votes
I own a helmet but almost never use it [10%] 7 votes
I do not own a helmet but am considering getting one [17%] 12 votes
I do not own a helmet and have no interest in getting one [8%]6 votes
Helmets are only for kids [0%]0 votes
Helmets are for sissies [0%]0 votes
Real horse people do not wear helmets [1%]1 votes
Poll Status: Open »»
Total Votes: 72 counted »»

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day, Troops and Horses

The unofficial start of the summer is one of the most anticipated holidays on the calendar, mainly by adults. By the number of requests to have their saddles ordered last week to be delivered by last Friday, this is a start to the trail riding season for many equine enthusiasts. As a side note, if you purchase an item using 3-Day Select on a Wednesday, don't expect to receive it on Friday. That would require 2nd Day Air. Despite a few disheartened riders getting their new saddles after the holiday there are many horse riders on trails as I write this. They are taking in the sights and smells of the great God given nature scenes found on many trails across the country. In my neck of the woods, the weather is extremely pleasant and I am anxious to get outside myself.

I dare not do this until I pause for today to remember the many that have died for this great country and those that are currently putting their lives on the line for us even today, another day I'm about to enjoy. My thoughts are drifting to the soldiers in Afghanistan, in particular those that are patrolling the land on horseback. There is a little concise write up on the history of horses in warfare at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horses_in_warfare A few years ago, I was able to correspond with them as we shipped them 10 Billy Cook saddles . I admit to occasionally fantasizing of the valor found in mounting your horse, with modern day gear going off to battle like the brave troops are doing on a daily basis. I'm sure that as the bullets are buzzing by their heads, they are desiring of being some place other than in battle, possibly spending a a nice day on the trails. We need to pray for these soldiers. Let's make a conscious effort to seek an old veteran out and express our gratitude for serving this great country.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Kudos to the Revere, MA Police

Occasionally I do lack due diligence in vetting large purchases. I experienced one of those times this week. We sold one of our excellent Billy Cook show saddles to a fellow in NY, NY and he had us ship to a fellow in Revere, MA. This all happened online and we did verify that the NY, NY fellow's credit card billing address matched with what American Express had on record. It all was good, so we shipped the saddle on Monday.

On Wednesday, we received yet another order for an expensive Reinsman Show Saddle. We did not have this saddle in stock, and were starting to wonder of the legitimacy of the whole order. After talking to the fellow in NY, we soon realized that he did not make any purchase. In short, someone in Revere, MA just stole a $2600 saddle from us.

I immediately looked up the UPS Tracking Number for the saddle sent out on Monday, and unfortunately I saw the saddle was delivered earlier on Wednesday (right before the purchase of the 2nd saddle). I then called the Revere, MA Police to see if they could help. Initially I was told that I needed to file a complaint locally and work through my local sheriff's department. I explained that the saddle was just delivered a few hours ago and that working locally would take too long.

God gave me yet another mercy when the operator told me that he would pass this on to be checked out and I would receive a call very shortly. I then hung up and called UPS to see if they could send the driver back to retrieve the package. We sent the saddle insured and the UPS driver left the insured for $2400 package on the front porch with no signature. That little act would have made UPS responsible if they could not prove the saddle was delivered, which they couldn't.

Detective Sgt Pisano from the Revere Police Department called me to ask the details of my complaint. I explained all I could and he said that I should have filed locally, but since it was a down day "because we usually are investigating rapes and murders." he would drive out to the Lynnway Rd address the saddle was shipped to.

The Revere, MA UPS driver called me back and said that he would go back to retrieve the saddle in an hour. Right after the UPS call, Sgt Pisano called again. He was at the address and from what I could guess, had a set of older parents that did not speak English and a younger adult son, that spoke very little English. Sgt Pisano was carrying on a a three way conversation with us. Revere is in the Boston suburbs, so Sgt Pisano had this excellent Boston accent and attitude. He let me know privately that he did believe they had the saddle because "I can see it in their eyes.", but it was doubtful he could get the saddle without a search warrant. I was listening as he was giving a very persuasive argument to the young man and his parents as to why it would be to their benefit to give up the saddle now, rather than later. Sgt Pisano then told me he would call me back and hung up the phone.

Half an hour later I received a call from Sgt Pisano who said that they were able to get my saddle and it was sitting in the police station - UPS then went there and picked it up for delivery back to me. He didn't think much could be done to the guy that stole it, but they were definitely going to pursue the case. He said that they were going to get with UPS to see what else had been delivered to the house for further prosecutions.

I need to find a good legal way to express my thanks and gratitude to Mike Dellorusso(sp?) and Steven Pisano from the Revere Police Department. They could have had me stick to normal procedure, which would have guaranteed the saddle being offloaded before anyone could show up. Rather than that, they acted expeditiously.

I'm also thankful for the last Sunday message of "Do not worry about anything."