A Chat With May’s Profile, Suzanne Vlietstra, president of Hobby Horse Clothing Co.
Catalog Success: Where’s the company headquartered?
Suzanne Vlietstra: Chino, California. That’s about 30 miles east of Los Angeles.
CS: What are your catalog’s customer demographics?
SV: Our customer is female; 30 to 50 [years of age]; college-educated; hundred thousand dollar household income, or greater; owns two horses; and horses are her passion.
CS: When was the company established? When did you begin mailing catalogs?
SV: I started the company when I was in junior high school. It was incorporated in 1987 while I was in high school. I didn’t mail a catalog until 1991. I always wanted to. When I was eight-years-old I set some little goals for myself: I wanted to have a horse-related business, a supply-type business, and I wanted to have our own building. And I wanted to have a catalog, because when I was a little kid there were some horse catalogs. And to me, they were like the Sears Wish Book. So that was inspiring. And I wanted a million dollars in sales. And basically all that happened in about 1994.
CS: So the idea for the company was formed in middle school?
SV: I started it when I was in junior high school … I guess I was about 14. I was a horse girl. If you’ve ever known any of them, this isn’t a passing fancy for most of us. It becomes a passion and a lifestyle. My mom was a sewing teacher and a single parent, and I always wanted to buy all this stuff that I saw in the catalog, and she’d say, “Well, let’s make it.” So I learned to sew from her and started making products for the horse, like blankets. Instead of sewing for a Barbie, I’d sew for my pony and my horse. So instead of being real small it was real big. And my mom was a real do-it-yourselfer, so she helped me buy a big sewing machine and source the materials — which used to be a lot harder before the Internet, to find the canvases and nylons and things that you used to make the equipment. It kind of kept going from there. I made stuff at home, sewed in my attic. Had a little shop.
Then went to college and got a degree in English and another degree in history, and should have taken a lot more small-business classes. Then after I got out of college I started renting a shop. Moved out of the attic and rented a shop. And I’ve been plugging away ever since. The biggest change is we went from making stuff for horses to making stuff for riders, primarily.