Holland Landing, Ontario-based Schleese Saddlery makes specially-designed saddles and accessories for the equestrian industry worldwide. You can read about the company’s export journey here.
What sets your saddles apart from products available around the globe?
Adjustability to the horse over its life, and a design that specifically accommodates a woman’s body. We also stand apart in that we educate clients so they can make informed decisions about the options available to them. In addition, using the methodology of our sister company, Saddlefit 4 Life, we offer both static and dynamic fit to the horse onsite.
What was your first export sale?
In 1992, we provided ‘his and her’ saddle models to a couple who were both, as individuals, top players in the global dressage scene. With their endorsement, the company began exporting Schleese saddles to both Germany and the United States.
What percentage of company’s sales are derived from exports, and what is your largest export market?
It’s held steady over the years at about 70 per cent. Probably 80 per cent of exports go to the U.S. We had an early goal to establish a U.S. entity because of the size of the market.
How many production or office locations do you have?
We have an operating company in Canada, in the U.S., a branch office in Germany, and we are partners in a components manufacturing plant in Asia.
How has the export world changed since you started in business?
There are new competitors emerging every year given the size and lucrative market we work in. Some countries have lightened their import duties and others are still very restrictive, but the world seems to be getting much smaller. For example, there is much more information available at everyone’s fingertips with the Internet. It has been a huge positive development.
What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
Get help from people who know more than you. Exporting can be a lucrative venture, but it’s not without its challenges!
Tell us about your market penetration strategy.
No matter the country, education is key and the foothold in new barns and new clients. Everyone who works with us and for us understands the difference our product makes in the wellbeing of the horse and rider. This is the passion behind what we do – protecting as many horses and riders worldwide as possible from long-term back damage due to poorly fitting saddles.
What is a surprising lesson you’ve learned about exporting?
It is important to try and work with competitors as partners, if possible, or just to keep them in the loop as to what our plans are. There are opportunities to work together as the market is huge, and our products are different than anything else in the world.
When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
We probably would have hired a designated export manager to facilitate all of the administrative work to export to the various countries we deal with. However, this is something we are seriously considering now – finding someone well versed in international business to take us to the next steps.
What is the #1 characteristic you believe every exporter should possess?
It’s important to know your market and the pain of your clientele, and to be able to offer them something that is not available to them locally or domestically. What you have to offer has to be better in some way: in benefits, deliverability, price, or other aspects.