Job Search: Galloping Ahead; PROGRESS in Business Is Not Just about New Computer Systems and Management Styles. CAMPBELL DOCHERTY Meets One Midland Firm Turning Its Back on the New Century - with Great Success
Byline: CAMPBELL DOCHERTY
SOMETIMES it can benefit a small business to look back in order to take a big leap forward - and that is exactly what Walsall's Black Country Saddles has done.
While many rivals have sought to develop 21st-century solutions, they have turned the clock back to use sheep's wool padding in the saddles - just as it would have been several hundred years ago.
Black Country Saddles was set up eight years ago by master saddlers John Hartley and Robert Cullen.
Today, their small investment is earning major export orders to the US and generating a six-figure turnover while supporting a staff of seven.
'We began operating the business at a small factory unit before buying our current premises in Walsall,' 43-year-old Robert said.
John, also 43, added: 'We are aiming at the top end of the market.
'To maximise freedom of movement for the horse and comfort for the rider, we believe saddles need to be individually made. Ninety per cent of our saddles are made to order.'
In the early years, not only did the Robert and John consult one of the top equine back specialists in the UK but they learnt to ride too.
'We knew we were good at making saddles but there is more to the trade than that,' Robert said. 'So we took riding lessons to understand the rider and horse perspective too.'
As a result, the partnership has made a number of unique modifications to Black Country Saddles, not least the British Wool padding.
'We could see why, as a natural fibre, wool would be better and that was the experience of the back specialist too,' said John. 'However, we wanted to be 101 per cent sure so together with the British Wool Board we commissioned a whole range of tests which proved that wool is without doubt the best padding. …