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SBDC helps equestrian apparel company ride to success
Photos and Story by James Hill
Successful new business ventures often begin with a simple but all-consuming idea. That is what happened to Sheryl Rudolph, owner of Fun in the Saddle (FITS) – an equestrian apparel company.
Rudolph, a client of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) of Portland Community College, sells her Performa Breeches, the company’s signature product, to equestrians nationally. The company also makes tech shirts, show shirts, stock ties and a Wind Pro jacket for cold-weather riding. An experienced rider with a background in apparel development, Rudolph became extremely frustrated with riding breeches. It was then she realized she had to redesign riding pants.
“I can’t ride in these any longer,” she said. “Breeches hadn’t changed for centuries – people had put in a little bit of stretch Lycra, that’s it.”
The industry was ready for someone to think outside the box. Rudolph made a checklist to address her frustrations and problem-solve the development of a new product. She created sketches, and after making a prototype, Rudolph knew she was on the right path the moment she sat in the saddle. The breeches fit and performed perfectly – Rudolph was able to move in a completely unrestricted way. Plus, she had great security in the saddle.
“I had a really great ride, no pun intended, and I said to myself that I have to do this so that other riders can enjoy the benefit,” she said.
Up until then, Rudolph had been hesitant to jump into the world of business ownership. She grew up with parents who owned a furniture company in Portland and knew firsthand the daunting 24/7 aspect of business ownership. Plus, she’d been a successful apparel developer and sales representative for a technical fabric mill and succeeded in serving client designers for companies such as Nike, Adidas and Columbia Sportswear.
The SBDC has been a reassuring force since she enrolled last fall in the Small Business Management class and began one-on-one counseling. The SBDC counsels clients to work on the business, not in the business, so the owner can take the time to steer the business ship in the right direction. The SBDC helped her fine-tune her business plan and counseled her on financing options. They confirmed her decision to apply for a specialty utility patent as opposed to a design patent. The patent is currently pending in both the U.S. and Europe.
With her first production of her apparel, the breeches sold out before they’d been delivered. The next run sold within weeks. The SBCD then counseled her to talk to her supplier and to negotiate terms. They also foresaw the fast-growth challenges she would have, before she even saw them.
“They pointed out early on that my biggest challenge was going to be growth, how to face it and deal with it,” Rudolph said. “They knew before I did.”
Her Small Business Management class has been “incredible,” said Rudolph. Led by SBDC Director Tom Lowles, Rudolph has had help with sourcing information, setting up Quick Books, financing, product marketing and pricing. The company, which has relied on consultants and part-time help, soon will hire a general manager (Rudolph has a Stanford business school graduate in mind) to help with strategic planning and business operations.
“A lot of companies launch new products with a lot of marketing hype, but don’t have the product to back up the hype,” said Rudolph. “It was important for me to give the customer multiple, very real, reasons for buying FITS products. I’m all about the product.”
FITS can be found online at www.fitsriding.com.
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