Not all saddles are made equal. That’s the message Ontario’s Schleese Saddlery is broadcasting around the globe.
Since it introduced a new breed of saddle 30 years ago – one that stands alone in the multitude of benefits it provides to both horses and riders – the Holland Landing-based company continues to develop new markets around the world.
The company’s export journey started when company founders – husband and wife team Sabine and Jochen Schleese – emigrated from Germany in 1986. The duo saw huge potential to innovate saddle design, something traditional European saddle makers were not pursuing.
“Our design was not only adjustable over the life of the horse and therefore an investment, but was also intended to reduce bills from veterinarians and horse body-work specialists by eliminating issues that cause pain and lameness,” Sabine Schleese explains. “We also concentrated on designs that fit women, the majority of the market, who (at the time) had no other option but to use saddles made for men.”
After their first export sales to the U.S. and Germany in 1992, Sabine attended a NEBS (New Exporters to Border States) program, which enabled the company to establish important contacts in Buffalo, New York. The trip represented a crucial moment in the company’s export journey – learning how to develop an export strategy.
“The people I met, and the information gained during this trip, was absolutely key in taking the next steps,” says Schleese, “one of which was to establish a brick-and-mortar U.S. presence.”
Relationships would continue to be critical in gaining export success. “Everyone knows everyone globally in the equestrian industry, especially in the field of dressage,” says Sabine. “We began working with trainers who hired Jochen, the only German-Certified Master Saddler, to work with them and their clients. This allowed us very quickly to segue from a saddle repair shop in the U.S. into a manufacturer.”
The company also expanded its connections by sponsoring various U.S. horse shows and trade shows and providing educational presentations. Schleese Saddlery also gained the endorsement of key equestrian governing bodies from all over the world. These honours translated into sales in the U.K., Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Hungary, Australia, Hong Kong, Mexico, and Brazil.
Education is part of the firm’s unique value proposition and marketing strategy. The firm’s sister company, Saddlefit 4 Life teaches equine professionals and organizations worldwide about equine/human anatomy and biomechanics in relation to a proper saddle fit. In total, both companies now employ 40 people in Canada, five in the U.S., six in Germany, and 35 at a co-owned manufacturing plant in Asia.
Although the company has done very well with exports, Sabine admits they could have done some things differently, including making better use of Canadian government programs.
“They might have opened doors in various markets wider, and it may have been easier to infiltrate a particular market compared to doing it ourselves,” she reflects. “Over the first years, we also neglected Canadian markets to some extent by putting too much focus on exports. But we are winning that market back by applying what we learned from developing what I think is been a very successful export strategy.”
Amanda Silver of Southeast SaddleFit agrees that Schleese has export methodology down pat. The North Carolina-based certified trainer, Saddle Fit 4 Life educator, and Saddle Ergonomist first started importing Schleese products about six years ago.
“Simply put, I would not have a business without importing their much-needed and sought-after products,” she says. “I am so pleased with Schleese as a company and their products that I choose only to carry their products. I find them so far superior to other brands.”
Silver finds it “extremely easy” to import items from Schleese Saddlery. “They are very helpful in this process and are very precise when it comes to estimated time of arrivals. They make it a simple process.”
Summarizing the company’s export achievements, Sabine says, “Once a consumer becomes aware of the difference our product can make for the well-being and performance of their horse and the comfort for themselves, the product almost sells itself. Also key is building associations with various grassroots organizations.”
Just recently, Schleese Saddlery added South Africa and Dubai to its export mix. “We are also in the process of acquiring a replacement affiliate in Australia,” says Schleese, “because demand continues to be strong there.”
With the global equine market continuing to grow, the future looks ever bright for Schleese Saddlery.
“More women of means are getting into riding all the time, Baby Boomers with empty nests,” says Schleese. “They want a healthy outdoor activity and enjoy interacting with a very intelligent and interesting animal that provides unconditional love. We look forward to providing more people with saddles that maximize long-term comfort and preventing injuring in their horses and themselves.”