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.
CS: What’s the primary merchandise offered in the catalog?
SV: It’s show apparel for women who compete in Western-style shows. So it’s kind of like glorified cowgirl apparel. The style these days is very dressy and fancy. It’s kind of performance apparel, or almost like costumes, because the people are judged on their appearance. So we tend to dress them somewhat theatrically, with lots of rhinestones on the garments and bright colors.
Which also ties into another little project of my mother. When I was a kid she also, in her spare time besides teaching, started a theatrical costume rental company. And you always laugh and say you’re never going to do what your parents do, but I’m kind of in the costume business now.
CS: Besides your catalog, what other channels are your products available in?
SV: We’ve actually had a Web site, believe it or not, since 1994. I believe we were the very first in what we call the “tack ‘n togs” industry, the “horsey” stuff. We have an annual directory for the industry and the very first year, 1994, I put my Web address in my advertisement. An editor or proofer called and said, “You have a big typo in your ad.” I said, “Oh, what’s that?” He replied, “You have this gobbly-goop that says www.” I said, “That’s a Web address.” They had never seen one before.
We didn’t have a great one, and it still is far from perfect. But it’s been very, very important to us. And because we had it so early, at this point we haven’t bought keywords or anything and we tend to come up real high on the searching. We’ve done a lot of consumer advertising over the years. So we kind of got in a little early on that. That’s been helpful for us. Another happy accident.
CS: What’s the average SKU count in your catalog?
SV: About 1,200.
CS: Overall SKUs?
SV: It’s probably about 1,500 or 1,600. There’s a few other styles. There’s some stuff we stick online that’s not always in the print catalog. But our print catalogs are kind of weird. It’s kind of “magalogy.” And so is our Web site. We’re real interactive with our customers. This is such a specialty niche. There’s a lot of newcomers in it that are a little overwhelmed with, “What do they need?” “How do they get it?” “What color do they wear?” They’re very excited about this. It’s very important to them. Like I said, it’s their passion. And yet a lot of them just don’t know really what to do. So we really try and hold their hand and help them.
Therefore in the catalog it’s quite “magalogy.” Every spread in the catalog has a sidebar that talks about some aspect of what they’re going to need to compete and be successful competitors utilizing our products or our product categories. I always say, “I don’t really care if they buy it from us, as long as they feel confident in their purchase.” Eventually they’ll buy something from us. And we’ll create a good impression by helping these people succeed in their sport.
CS: What’s the current number of employees at the company?
CS: What are your annual sales?
SV: Two million-plus. Depending on what we’re doing, it’s two to three million.
CS: How did you break into the catalog business?
SV: When I was working at home in junior high and high school we moved towards doing more apparel. I started as a custom business, where I was sort of a studio and the customers would come in and meet with me, like a designer. And I’d measure every little part of them and design some stuff. And I worked with a wonderful gentleman who’s a tailor. He and I would draft patterns for each and every person. Every outfit was custom — sort of like having a wedding dress made. Every one was one-of-a-kind custom. I call that my apprenticeship. I learned a lot. But I also learned I was never going to make any money. It was very customer service intensive.
So after a while, and after people from outside the area wanted our products but couldn’t get personally measured, I looked around and I saw very few naked people. Then I figured out it must be possible to standardize clothing. And if it works for mainstream apparel, why wouldn’t it work for this specialty niche that we were involved in — Western show apparel. So we averaged a lot of the custom patterns and came up with certain categories of fit that seemed to be the more common ones. Of course this was long before we had Excel to do it for us, so there’s lots of paper and pencils. And we came up with a kind of standardized, graded set of patterns, base patterns, we call them blocks, that seem to work for our clientèle. And our clientèle was younger then of course. Our clientèle has been aging with us. It used to be like 20 to 40 [years of age] would be our age group, or 15 to 35, but we’re all getting older. So we came up with these kind of standardized groupings and I started to figure out, “Well, maybe I can do something that isn’t custom. Maybe we can be more things to more people.”
That’s when my concept of “Ready-to-Win, instead of Ready-to-Wear, Show Apparel” was born. So I started doing that, started wholesaling a little bit. And we still wholesale and retail. Some stores contacted me and I thought, “I really have to have a catalog.” So the first catalog I did was actually buying full-page ads in a horse magazine and binding the catalog into the horse magazine. So it got mailed to their readership. That was my first accidental stumble into cataloging.
CS: What was your biggest challenge upon entering the catalog business?
SV: The biggest challenge for me has always been nuts-and-bolts business stuff. I’m a creative person. I’m better at the financial and forecasting end of things, but by no means “shiny” at it. So I’ve always, like a lot a small-business people, been fearful about cash flow, fearful about employee issues. Stuff that’s common to almost all businesses, not unique to cataloging. These have always been the most vexing things for me, because that’s where I’m weakest. I don’t have a problem with product. And I can market the heck out of my stuff because I believe in it and I really know my marketplace, being a consumer of this type of product myself. But just things like, “How do you get people paid?” “Are you going to have enough money at the right time?” “What’s going to happen if you do this and that?” Just the nuts and bolts. Which is why I say I wish had taken more business classes in college. Or heaven forbid an accounting class.
CS: How did you overcome this lack of business knowledge?
SV: It’s still my biggest concern, to be very honest. I’ve had some really important mentors over the years, including a business partner who bought an interest in the company and was just a terrific nuts-and-bolts businessman who tried hard to get me to to learn. But I had to learn. But I’d say in hindsight, I took a long, long, long time to build my business, and I think I missed a tremendous amount of opportunity by being cautious out of ignorance. I wish I would have searched harder, worked harder to force myself to go for some outside consulting. I could’ve built this thing a lot bigger and a lot faster. I chose the cautious and safe route, which is also OK, but I think I missed a lot of opportunities by doing that. And it would still be my goal.
We’re in the catalog business, but we’re really in the manufacturing business because about 90 percent of the products we sell we manufacture ourselves. Which is somewhat unique. And it’s a whole different thing. We manufacture, we wholesale, we retail, we catalog, we play the Internet … what don’t we do. And by doing all of those things at such a small company, I think we’ve hobbled ourselves in all aspects by not being experts at any of them.
My goal to help my company face challenges now would be to partner with an established cataloger who knows the cataloging ropes and needs our fresh and unique product mix. Our income is derived about 50/50 between retail and wholesale. We use the same catalog for business-to-business and retail because the catalog with retail prices printed in it helps our little stores, our mom-and-pop stores that buy our things. They can show it to their customers and special orders. So the catalog works at two levels.
But like most industries, the equestrian industry has fewer independent merchants and our buyer-base is changing. So we need to become more serious catalogers. There’s simply not that many independent tack shops anymore. Or that are sophisticated enough or have the resources to carry a specialty line like ours. Our Internet growth continues to be tremendous without us doing a lot to foster it. Like a lot of people, we’re there and it’s working. I need to become a lot smarter cataloger rather than reinventing the wheel myself. And I think this is something that will apply to a lot of your readers that have small little weirdo specialty niche businesses like this. If you can’t beat em, join em. Find somebody to partner with who’s already either a customer of yours or a competitor of yours or peripherally involved in what you’re doing. Like co-mailing and all this kind of stuff; there’s people out there that are much better at this than I’ll ever be. And yet we have fresh and unique product and an incredibly strong brand name recognition and reputation. That’s an obvious opportunity for an alliance with somebody who’s operations-oriented, where we’re product-oriented.
CS: What’s your biggest current day challenge in the catalog industry?
SV: Benjamin Franklin once said, apparently, “If we don’t hang together, we will most assuredly hang separately.” And I’m looking high and low and hard to find businesses that we should hang together with. And whether that’s co-mailing or whether that’s somebody that’s smart on the cataloging and operations end of things, that’s what I’m looking for. We’ve survived a very long time as a very small, “nichey” catalog or manufacturer, whichever way you want to look at it. And there’s a lot of challenges out there. I think more so probably, or maybe I’m more aware of them, than any other time in the history of my business. It’s very important for me at this point to seek some alliances, beneficial alliances, that are going to help us to stay competitive.
CS: Could you give examples of what some of these challenges may be (e.g., the rising costs of mailing a catalog, downturn in the economy, etc.)?
SV: We have lots more than just the catalog end, of course, because we’re manufacturing stuff. Challenges for us start at manufacturing. We’re too small to have most of our stuff made overseas. You know we’re not making much in China. So we’re still having to source manufacturing for the garment industry in the United States. Ninety seven percent, I heard a figure, of all apparel is imported in the United States. So we got to find the 3 percent that’s still doing it here and work with those contractors and so forth. And our exchange rates are affecting our raw materials. Like you wouldn’t think the price of zippers, brass zippers, would triple. How much does a zipper and a pair of pants cost? Well, three times more than it did a couple of years ago. It starts to add up.
We’re having more and more trouble sourcing things. Because so much garment manufacturing doesn’t take place in the United States anymore, we can’t afford to buy a complete mill run of fabric. So we have to buy more and more from jobbers. Then that means that we can’t replenish the fabric. And to accommodate that, it’s a weird thing in cataloging, we’ve gone to making what we call “limited editions” on a tremendous amount of our garments. We buy a batch of fabric, cut it, make it and be done with it. That’s presented some huge challenges from a cataloging end of things.
For example, almost half of our “limited editions” planned for the ’08 catalog sold out at our first wholesale trade show in January. So I had my catalog ready to go on press and suddenly realized, “I’d sold out of a huge number of items that were going to be printed in that catalog that’s supposed to last us the year.” That doesn’t happen to people too often. What do you do when your catalog’s just about to go on press and you find out that, let’s say a third of the products are suddenly not available? You can’t just go buy more, you’ve got to invent them.
So there we are, pushed by our own success on these “limited editions” that our dealers bought up like crazy. We can’t replenish them. So we’re almost doing semi-custom work in a broad-base catalog. That’s my biggest challenge right now — how to balance that. We can make more profit on the limited editions, we can definitely sell them for more, but when they’re gone, they’re gone. And you got a black hole in your catalog.
CS: How many times a year is the catalog mailed?
SV: Once. We’re missing so many obvious things we should be doing in the catalog business, and yet it has worked for us. But I think there’s a time on the table to pick up with a partner or an advisor who can show us what we need to be doing.
CS: What time do you generally drop the book?
SV: Early spring is our best time, but we still don’t have our book out [at press time] because we had to stop and make 30 new styles of garments, photograph them, fill them up and now the catalog will come out pretty quick. This hasn’t happened before, by the way. This had to do with the limited editions. Which is due to changes in the marketplace and changes in our material availability going to this limited edition program. It’s more profitable, but it’s almost like having to invent a new business.
CS: When will the catalog be mailed this year?
SV: End of April. And it should’ve been the beginning of March. That’s like a giant fumble for somebody who’s been cataloging a long time, and yet I didn’t anticipate it and our product makes it change so much. I figured it was better to send out a catalog with products that exist than black holes in it.
We’re not mailing millions of catalogs. We’re not analyzing one-tenth of 1 percent response. I think a lot of small catalogs, that have food stuff, the creative products that changes often, you find yourself reinventing yourself all the time. After all these years in business, I’m having to seriously reinvent myself this year. And I didn’t anticipate that.
CS: What are the factors that have made Hobby Horse successful?
SV: I really know the market, because I am my own customer. And for whatever reason, there’s never been much serious competition to us. We pretty much occupy this niche by ourselves. There’s a lot of women who have custom shops, and the Internet has really allowed them to proliferate. Like the lady you hire to make a prom dress kind of lady. They tend to be a lot more expensive than we are. And then there’s a lot of nasty, made in Sri Lanka Western wear. And there we are in the middle.
We do three things really, really well: style, value and convenience. It’s fairly obvious to me, but nobody else has mounted a significant challenge to that. Our universe of customers is maybe a million people around the world let’s say. Nobody really knows, but we’ll call it a million people. And they either buy the schlocky Western wear, which isn’t appropriate except for beginner level, or they go to custom, that can cost three, four, five times what ours does. Or they always sit in the middle with this really “nichey” marketshare.
We’ve had a great run. We do what we do really quite well and people like us for it. We allow a lot of people of moderate means to dress and play their sport on a reasonable budget. For example, almost all of the garments that we sell, blouses is our biggest category now, we don’t have any blouses that retail for more than $200. And on the custom ladies, there are people paying well over a $1,000 for a blouse to ride around in circles in a horse show. And then there’s a lot of people thinking that they can buy a $29 cotton shirt from Myanmar. So there we sit in the middle. To me it’s a really obvious niche, but nobody else has really challenged us in it. And the stuff that we make is well made, it’s appropriate for the sport, the styling is current. You can call us and generally, let’s say you had a daughter that wanted to show a horse and she has to show this weekend and it’s Tuesday, you can call me and the girls on our customer service lines are horse people and very experienced, they’ll talk you through it and the measurements. You can have a box of stuff on your doorstep tomorrow. And if it doesn’t work send it back.
CS: What’s the catalog’s circulation?
SV: About 130,000. But remember those catalogs really drive sales into our stores, too. We have about 130 stores. We have this dealer network that we do a lot of marketing for them. A lot of consumers get our catalog and then go trotting into their local retailer to buy it. So compared to a pure-play cataloger that mails catalogs and gets the orders, we know that we drive a ton of sales into our stores. But we can’t prove it. One thing we’ve done when you talk about cataloging creativity … we have a clever little thing that we’re trying to do to prove that we’re driving those sales in. All of our garments that we sell have hang tags, all those things you rip off the sleeves. We have a contest [done online] on our hang tags that says, “Register the garment to win a $250 dollar gift certificate every month.” We don’t get a lot of entries, but it’s proving we can now close that loop and prove that we mailed a catalog to Jane Doe, Jane Doe went to Bobby’s Western wear and bought the shirt. And then Jane Doe registered the shirt she bought at Bobby’s Western wear, registers it with us, we can prove that our catalog mailing drove that sale.
CS: In essence, a matchback process?
SV: Yes, but it’s like a physical one out of a store. It’s a tiny sampling, but it’s a start. And again, for a company our size, we could’ve never done stuff like that before the Internet. It’s so automated for us. I mean, we’ve got eight people. We don’t have people asking or taking phone calls on where you bought your shirt?
CS: What do you like most about the catalog business?
SV: Well, I’m pretty much flabbergasted that it works. To me it’s fun. Because I do kind of feel like Lillian Vernon sometimes. When I was a little kid I’d always send off for stuff from Boxtops and it was so exciting to get something. And I still mail checks out for stuff. I’m not that digital. And for me it’s a fun way to do commerce. We get a ton of consumer feedback — we call them “Hobby Love Letters.” I get them almost every single day with somebody saying, “Thank you for offering this product,” “Thank you for making plus-size show apparel.” Remember those demographics I gave you for our clients, not only are they getting older and richer, but they’re getting bigger. We do a pretty good job of accommodating that larger woman and helping her feel stylish in her sport.
We get a ton of consumer feedback. I’m very hooked in to what people are saying about us, even when they yell at me. And I find that it’s a lot of stimulation and verification. It’s really enjoyable. It’s very different than if you were just sending your stuff out to the stores. The consumers talk to us a ton. I love seeing our products help people compete in their sport. That’s really enjoyable.
And in fact I have a little fable on that. People ask me sometimes, like on an airplane or something, “What do you do?” And I look at them and I say, “I sell magic feathers.” And they go “Oh,” and kind of move away. Then usually people say, “Well, what do you mean?” And I say, “Well, I have a little manufacturing business and we make Western wear for people that compete in horse shows.” And it’s kind of like the Disney classic movie “Dumbo” where we know elephants can’t fly but Dumbo believes that if he held the magic feather that Timothy the Mouse gave him, if he held that magic feather he could fly. And the products that we make help the people that use them believe they can really compete and fly in their sport. And it’s very, very rewarding.
CS: What has Hobby Horse Clothing done to offset the rising costs associated with mailing a catalog today?
SV: We kind of have to mail those catalogs. I’d say the main thing we’ve done to counteract the kind of random, slapshot increases is try and make a better catalog, to be very honest. We have a beautiful catalog. Because we mail so few of them and because people keep it, it’s kind of, they treat it a little more like a book than a catalog. We use really heavy paper, we have a beautiful coated cover. And with that “magalogish” format, people hang on to it and value it different than, “Oh, I already got this one,” and flip it into the trash. There’s a bit of a “boutiquey” kind of approach to it. Which is again another random happy accident. But honestly, in terms of operations, there’s not a lot you can do about the cost of postage. We try and analyze our list and try and mail to our best prospects, but because we know we’re supporting the stores, we’re much more generous in who we continue to mail to than most catalogers would be. Because we don’t have a great way to analyze it.
CS: You believe the catalog is driving prospects to buy in the store?
SV: We know it is, but how much and who? These are the questions that everybody faces. Ours kind of have an additional wrinkle in them. But honestly, the best thing that you can do in all these business challenges is send a better product. And that’s both the physical catalog itself and the contents of the catalog. Which of course we have total control over because we make all that stuff.
CS: Who are some of the mentors you’ve had in the business?
SV: Gosh, so many people have helped me. The first one was a guy that owned the magazine, remember I said we used to print in the magazine. His name was Nat Gorham. And he owned a magazine called Arabian Horse World. He was the one who printed our first catalogs; a really colorful fella. But he told me, “You know, pretty soon you’re going to be making these catalogs yourself. You’re going to be doing your own desktop publishing.” I was like, “You’re nuts.” He taught me a lot. He took a real shine to what we were trying to do and was super helpful. I’ve had a lot of stores that buy stuff from us that have been super important for feedback and helpful.
My business partner, Dick Naulty, is the guy that tried to teach me to be businesslike. I think I probably gave him a lot of his gray hair. But we had a really good partnership. And its come and gone and changed. I’d advise a lot of little dinky catalogers, if you don’t know the business nuts and bolts end of it, try and find somebody. This fella, Dick Naulty, he’d run a lot of small businesses and done a lot of bank assistance — helping businesses in trouble and stuff. And he just came along at the right time for me. If you can find a mentor, and I’ve never used like SCORE or any of those guys, but boy, if you find somebody that understands how to run a 7-11 that will help you, latch onto him and don’t let go. Or whatever the appropriate business is. There’s so much more in common in small businesses than different. And so many of us get into this from a creative or product angle, and we’re just dim about the nuts and bolts of business. And you got to have it. Like I say, being so slow on the uptake on that has kept our business growing, but growing just a teency bit. So many other business people with this business would have just blasted it to the moon. And maybe it’s OK I didn’t.
CS: What’s done to keep a fun and light environment at Hobby Horse?
SV: Lots of pizza. I think a business is kind of like a pirate ship. Hopefully you have continuity in your captain, but your pirates change. Your crewman change. And sometimes you have this magical time where everybody is just totally in sync, and great, wonderful and magical things happen. Sometimes you have mutiny. And sometimes you’re becalmed, without much wind in your sails. You can never just keep on a total course with your merry band of pirates. But in general we have a good crew. A lot of them over the years have had an interest in horses, which makes it kind of a fun job for them.
And one thing that we’ve done that makes our company fairly unique is we have an incredible benefits program. We’ve always tended to have a lot of single moms working for us. And we offer complete medical, dental and vision at no cost to our employees. And their families at no cost. And we have a 401k with this tiny little group. And those are programs that Dick Naulty instituted, because in his opinion, and mine, there’s always some kind of implied partnership between a company and its employees. You need to take care of people. And I think that’s something that’s sadly missing in big business, obviously, and we’ve been able for a tiny company to do well by our employees. And I think they’re happy about it and we’ve tended to have good employees because of it.
CS: What career path would you have chosen if you hadn’t gotten involved in the catalog/multichannel business?
SV: A couple things in hindsight. I was a paramedic and I probably would’ve done something medically and/or gone to law school. I also do a lot of freelance journalism, which is lots of fun. I write for a lot of the horse magazines.
CS: Would your Web site, where you offer sidebars and information to the consumer more than just the product offerings, be an example of a forum where you like to write?
SV: It’s what I call “vegeducation,” the education of vegetables. Which means, “If you water things, they will grow.” So if you give people information, you empower them to make a purchasing decision. You empower them to make a buying decision. And whether or not it’s your product, you help educate them in a category and it makes them better customers for the entire business. So the more information that we can pitch out there the better. Plus I like to do it. It’s fun. I get hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of e-mails, and I answer every single one. Because I learn as much from them as I’m able to kind of guide them. And I type pretty fast.
CS: Is there a mistake that you made during your career that stands out to you?
SV: Not understanding the value of the right kind of consultants, the right kind of guidance at the time. And I wish I had perfect vision at the time. In hindsight I let so many opportunities go by because I was too cautious. At the time, probably overly cautious. I think our biggest missed opportunity probably in terms of product and stuff is we should have had a lot bigger catalog. More comprehensive products for the horse as well as the rider. We probably should have done that a long time ago. But I was just afraid to commit to the money and the infrastructure that that would take. But we’ve kept our catalog very “nichey” and probably shouldn’t have.
CS: Considering you only mail your catalog once a year, is it a really thick book with a lot of pages?
SV: No, it’s 40 pages. We don’t have any kind of economies of scale. I guess you could title this story, “We Do Everything Wrong.”
CS: What are some of your hobbies?
SV: Well, we live on a ranch with 50 boarded horses here. And I ride. One thing that I didn’t talk about in talking about the number of employees we have, we really are a dinky company, my husband, Mike Vlietstra. He and I together do all the production, he does all the Web site. I take every photo in the catalog, I write the copy. And he’s a graphic designer by trade, and he makes the catalog. So the two of us together do it all. It doesn’t take a team of 50 specialists to pull this stuff off. I wear lots and lots of hats. Sometimes I think us little guys feel unimportant, and we’re not. That would be my message for your readers: “Keep doing what you love and keep doing all this crazy stuff because you may never be big, but you may be happy.” I’ve had a great, great fun life with this. And those goals I set when I was eight-years-old, they’re admirable goals and I’m still kind of working on them. It’s been fun. We have one six-year-old son in the midst of all this. He came with us to photo shoots when he was a little baby. He thinks it’s normal to have a bunch of computers in the living room.
CS: What’s something that’s more secretive about you or your business that would surprise people?
SV: I think people would be surprised at how small our business really is. We’ve always cast a big shadow. When our current designer came to interview with us, she came to our little building — she’s actually from Munich, Germany and I met her on the Internet — she wanted to intern with us. I said, “We’re too small for interns.” But we struck up a communication and chatted about horses and a couple of years later she e-mailed me and said, “Hey, I graduated from design school, I’m out of design school in Munich.” She did her senior theses on Western wear, believe it or not, in Munich. She said, “I’m living in Southern California, what’s going on?” So I hired her. But when she came to interview with us she thought that she was just coming to the human resources building on our campus. Well, it’s the whole building. I think people would be very surprised to see how small our company really is. And that it, in its funky way, runs fairly efficiently. And has always been profitable. And that other little catalogers should be proud, not intimidated, by what they’re accomplishing and the world they live in.
CS: Where does the majority of your business come from? Is it mostly on the West Coast of the United States?
SV: It’s all over the United States and about 20 percent international. It’s fairly evenly distributed all over the U.S. There’s Western style horse shows all over the world. And there’s one specialty event that’s probably going to get included in the Olympics here pretty soon that our apparel is appropriate for. So it’s really becoming sort of an international sport. For example, there’s about 25,000 registered American quarter horses in Germany. So it’s not a big deal, I think there’s about 200,000 registered American quarter horses in Australia, for example. And lots of them in Canada and Mexico. The horse business is a lot bigger than a lot of people realize. But it’s very, very fractured. And that’s why we’re able to compete. It seems like it would be regional.
In fact, all the different breeds and types of horses offer classes that would use our products, use our apparel. And they’re all over the world. For example, you’d think Texas would be giant for us. It’s not. The biggest area for us, has a high horse population density, not for breeding but for competitions, is the Midwest — Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois. According to the American Horse Council, there are 9.2 million horses in the United States; 4.6 million Americans involved in the industry; two million people own horses; the industry has a direct economic effect of, in the U.S., $39 billion; a $102 billion impact when the multiplier effect of spending by industry suppliers and employees is taken into account; 460,000 full-time equivalent jobs; if you add in suppliers and employees a total impact of 1.4 million full-time equivalent jobs; and 45 states out of the 50 have at least 20,000 horses in them. It’s very fragmented. The biggest single association is the American Quarter Horse Association, which has around 300,000 members. But you know, a club that uses your stuff with 300,000 members is a good thing. So you can tell mailing 130,000 catalogs, we’re really not reaching that far. But we’ve never prospected or bought names. All of our names are requested.
CS: Has there been any interest in acquiring names from a co-op database?
SV: You know what, that’s so far beyond our radar at this point. One of the problems that we have, because we think of ourselves primarily as manufacturers, the software we tend to run our company off of isn’t very computer-oriented. It’s more manufacturer-oriented. And that’s been a huge stumbling block for us … trying to integrate. You recommend me a software package that does garment manufacturing, distribution at wholesale and retail, cataloging, and Internet. It doesn’t exist. So we have several things pieced together. And we, in terms of analyzing our lists and results, are doing everything wrong. All I know is we mail catalogs and people buy stuff.
CS: Is there anything you’d like to add, last comments?
SV: Just that I’m the luckiest person ever born to be born when and where and who I was. Because you couldn’t do this any place else than this time and place in the United States.