Haven’t heard of Lund Saddlery yet? Oh don’t worry you will…and very soon. I expect in another year’s time, this brand will be one of the most popular brands on the market. This relatively new company is producing stunningly beautiful (and high quality) strap goods for a very weak middle market filled with overpriced and poor quality items. And guess what…they won’t break the bank! Want to know more? Read our interview with Rob Jensen, the founder of Lund Saddlery and test rider Elaine Hanscom. Lund is dedicated to fit and performance, so they have a large test rider group also including Erica Allen, Amy Jo Magee, Taryn Nolte and Kaitlyn Dziewanowski.
How did Lund Saddlery come into existence? What inspired you to start the business? What year did you open?
Rob: The first thing you should know is that I am not really a horse person, I did follow my daughter Taylor around showjumping in South Calgary for about 10 years so I have a barn/show dad’s perspective of the hunter/jumper world, a few scars, stripes and t-shirts.
The inspiration goes back awhile. In the process of having a number of horses run through our lives I got pretty frustrated with the lack of any kind of quality in strap goods unless you visited the upper price points. I found that regardless of the brand you had to part with $350 to $400 CDN (unless a sale item) for a decent bridle/girth/breastplate that would last and maybe have some resale value. There was and still is a huge hole in the middle of the market crying out for good design/fit/quality strap goods at reasonable pricing.
I did a ton of background research and for most part everything I was seeing solidified my gut feel and I decided to take a run at it, at about the same time I met Elaine.
The goal was to establish a domestic company (we are Canadian), sell as direct to the customer as possible, provide high quality strap goods that fit, are true to chart and show absolute value for money at the middle of the market price points.
Given the nature of market we were going to be selling into and the price/quality product claims that we were going to make and back up, I felt that we had just one shot to get it right.
In order to move forward I knew that we had to figure out a business model that would enable us to take advantage of what I was seeing in the market and at the same time hold on to control of all aspects of how the brand was being marketed and priced out, we could not put ourselves in the same boat as other brands and be price point handcuffed in any way by distributors/wholesalers/retailers (the supply chain).
To begin with, Elaine and I discussed this quite a bit, she and I are like thinkers in terms of marketing, where we think bricks and mortar might be heading and the future of how most tack will be sold. It seemed obvious that we had to be in the driver’s seat in terms of how we brought our brand to market now and in the future. The decision was made to sell into the supply chain as little as possible (we jump right over it), keep full control and go it alone. With the exception of a few re-sellers at the retail level we are 100% online in terms of sales and brand creation.
During this time Elaine recruited Amy, Erica and Taryn to come on board as test riders and the product development side of things started via a wild and crazy private facebook page that Erica set up called “Lund Saddlery Girls” with me as the token male :). My daughter Taylor was also a member of the original group until University studies got in the way. Kaitlyn is the newest member of the Lund team and joined us over the last number of months, she is an active eventer/trainer and a like thinker in terms of marketing and social media.
Hard to believe but Jan 12, 2018 marks our website’s 1 year anniversary.
What is your background and how did that help develop the business?
Rob: I have a pretty diverse background in project management (construction/manufacturing), as well as a fairly strong resume in sales and marketing. Believe it or not my building and construction background lines up with designing and developing things like leather tack and tack trunks perfectly. I have always been a quality first kind of person and a believer in using the best materials, machinery and manufacturing possible within budget. I try to be a “build it once” kind of person. Also, there is also a proper sequence to the design/construction/assembly of these items that I understand.
When I saw my first set of working AutoCAD drawings of a bridle I knew I could do this, and that my skills and training would fit in quite well. In the background, pretty much all of things we do are in my wheelhouse, how I ended up here is a true irony of fate/circumstance.
The odd combination of my skills, the equine experience and talent within our group, our trio of excellent manufacturers and our “system” has proven pretty effective…I believe that myself, one or two members of the group along with one of our suppliers could now put together a substantial line of tack in less than 9 months, on spec and ready for market.
Elaine: I’ve been riding horses for over 30 years, starting out doing H/J as a Junior, then discovered the ways of Tom & Bill Dorrance and Ray Hunt, and finally combining those roots into what I focus on today, which is low-level Eventing for fun, Hunter Trials & Paces and lots of horse camping too! I am obsessed with well-fitting, ergonomic, high-quality, well-made tack that is functional and looks great and will last a long time! This background helped develop the product line because I am super picky about fit and quality and have a good feel for what riders want in their tack and how it should fit.
What makes Lund Saddlery different than other companies on the market?
Rob: I think there are a number of things; the way that we have chosen to bring our product to market for sure.
We have an absolute dedication to fit and quality. Regardless of how it affects margin we will not cut corners on anything with the Lund name on it, I think our product return record speaks volumes of this.
Through the development process we use test riders, not a single product has been brought forward to market without being on a horse tested and fit to true cob, horse and OS by someone within our group. Product reviewers and even some Facebook followers have also been a part of our testing/feedback process.
We thrive on input from others and love constructive critics.
Elaine: Lund is truly different in how the founder sought input from real riders to evaluate and help design the right fit, material and style. The attention to detail is unparalleled! You would not believe how many hours were spent testing and providing feedback on everything from fit to color to stitching, padding, hardware and overall aesthetic! The products were stress-tested by multiple riders on many different sized horses to ensure that they would work for the average horses out there! I can’t look at another bridle or breastplate in the market without noticing and comparing how well-fitting the Lund is! I’m proud of the input I provided, as I’m sure the other test riders are as well.
What was your first product?
Rob: We had a whole bunch on the go at the same time but I would say the Snaffle bridle.
How do you decide what products to develop? What is your development process?
Rob: To begin with the group did things by committee, the endgame was always to bring forward a complete collection of around 25 to 30 different items, perfect all of it bit by bit, and then run with it.
Since deciding on the material specifications the development process has gotten easier, it also really helped getting the charts zoned in. Getting there was a ton of work, samples, leather coming to me from all over the world, hardware samples, padding samples, thread samples, prototypes, fitting to the horse, testing, developing charts…we are completely hands on.
Elaine, as one of the equestrians on the team, how did your experience inspire changes to the design for horse comfort and product fit/design? What did you bring to the team?
Elaine: Having a background in Hunters with a very traditional obsession for perfect fit and function and style, along with now the Eventing scene, has helped with knowing what works for the horse (comfort and fit) along with what is in style and would be popular. I’ve also been a Marketer in High Tech (Silicon Valley) my whole career so I know you have to build what the customer wants, deliver a product that fills a gap, and is differentiated. Knowing our target audience (people like me, and the other Test Riders) has helped with design and fit and style feedback.
Do you plan to add any more products to Lund Saddlery‘s line up?
Rob: We are adding a complete eventer line up, pretty much the same product as the current hunter/jumper series but with all brown stitching and no fancy stitch anywhere.
Girths have become my new bane but we will get it and they will also hit the market ASAP. We might bring back the old Antares-style pig grain for part of the girth line. Dressage bridles, looking at Dressage girths, the group has some great ideas for half chaps and we have a great source of supply…we might take a real run at that down the road a bit. The professional series tack trunks/lockers are in the design phase.
Elaine, were there any particular horses that inspired the dedication to fit for Lund products?
Elaine: My own horse, who has been my partner for 15 years, inspired me. She is an 18 yr old, 15.3 hd flaxen liver Morgan mare named Fancy. I started her myself and we enjoy everything from Eventing to Trail Trials! I only buy the best tack and equipment for her and I’m super picky about quality, comfort and fit for Fancy. She is my heart horse and only the best will do! I truly believe that when a horse is comfortable, it will perform better. Even the little things, like the browband on a bridle not being too small. Or a breastplate not restricting the shoulders and rubbing the chest. These “little things” matter to my horse and to me.
Where do you see Lund Saddlery in 5 years?
Rob: I see Lund Saddlery selling strap goods in the UK, Europe, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand within 3 years and a product line up of close to 40 items across 3 disciplines.
There is a strong possibility of Lund getting involved with Amazon Prime and using their fulfillment program as a cost effective means of expanding into other markets.
What are some of your biggest challenges as a business?
Rob: We seem to have a real problem with the “it sounds too good to be true syndrome.” Given the market this is probably not surprising, right or wrong there are lots of tack stories out there.
We do make all kinds of claims to do with our product, “what you see is exactly what you get”, “zoom in to the stitch”, “value for money”, “equal to or better than” and at our price points those statements can seem pretty bold. In our case everything that we claim rings true right to the way our keepers are made and to why there is a double layer of leather at our rein bit ends. In the end our Lund believes that our product and method of bringing our strap goods to the customer will stand on it’s own two feet. If anything, the product is only going to get better as we progress and continue to zero in at the manufacturing level.
The whole on-line thing and dealing with people of technology was and still is extremely frustrating (for me).
Cash flow is always a challenge, finding our way with inventory, and doing all that we can to find that elusive “tipping point.”
What are some of the most rewarding things about your business?
Rob: The entire process has been a real challenge, the ups and downs and all-arounds of a start up. For quite awhile it was two steps forward and then three steps back and I really had to dig in, thankfully those days are now numbered, I consider this a reward.
I am still amazed by the chemistry of the group that helped put all of this together, I am really proud of what has been accomplished thus far and thankful for their help, support and putting up with my anal side.
The feedback we get from customers sharing their thoughts right from opening the box to initial fit to breaking in the Sedgwick is just awesome, it’s pretty cool to have those that may have had reservations or doubts end up sending us still or action photos and kind words/reviews.
Working with the IHSA/NCAA crowd has been fantastic, like most programs these school teams are under budget constraints and I would suggest to anyone or company to get behind them if possible. We are looking forward to adding 3 more teams by the 2019 season.
Being asked to develop product lines for others shows me that we are completely heading in the right direction.
Is there anything else you would like to speak on?
Rob: At this point the group and I have a common goal, we want to be the best in the middle of the market with second place distant, I believe that we have it in us to do just that and that we are well on our way to doing a very difficult thing in a difficult market…creating a brand that is going to stick.
If you’re curious about learning more and purchasing the beautiful leather goods from Lund Saddlery you can visit their website and follow them on Facebook or Instagram.
Keep an eye out for a review on their new dressage bridle soon! That review will include a link to their new Kickstarter, which will start in early December! Time to do some holiday shopping for your horse!