Background article on Shadow Horse
Shadow Horse, the on-line store dedicated to carrying exclusive quality products, which perform, is rapidly becoming a one-stop shop for grass roots riders right through to top professionals. We spoke to Chloe Bernard, the brand’s Commercial Director to find out more about the shop which appears to be on everyone’s finger tips..
You are a family business, when did you set up and how did the concept of Shadow Horse come about?
“ Shadow Horse came out of my experience of riding in the U.S. and France as well as the UK. Coming back to the UK with two horses, I became frustrated as I realized there were products available in other countries which were significantly better quality and more innovative than what I knew was and found available in the UK.
Horses have always been a passion from a very young age and after graduating in business and working in a large tack shop for a while, I considered opening one. However, I realized that I really didn’t want to sell the same products as everyone else and saw an opportunity to make available to UK customers some of the exceptional products I’d found in America and the Continent.
After a few ground rules were set out, namely all brands and most products have to be tested, we as a family took trips to the US and the continent to find brands and choose the best of the best. After testing the products, Shadow Horse launched at the Olympia Horse Show in 2011.
How has the business developed since 2011?
We have grown substantially since then: Our range has expanded significantly from just three brands in the beginning to seven and we continue to carefully select brands each year. Our sales are growing all the time and we’ve had great customer feedback. We’re becoming known for having a really special set of products, as well as being able to give good and honest advice and customer service. Our brands are exclusive to us and we are proud to work with them, including helping with product development specifically for the UK market. From the feedback we have had from our customers, it’s apparent that they are confident that our products do as we say they do and won’t fall apart on them or hurt their horses! We’re very happy and proud with what we’ve already achieved for such a new business.
What are your backgrounds and (Horsey and non-horsey) experience and how do they come into play with the business side of things?
As I said, horses – and in particular their care, training, and equipment - have been a passion for me ever since I was very young. I have loaned, owned and ridden many different horses, and I know what a difference the right equipment can make to a horse’s performance, comfort, and health. All that experience becomes invaluable both in evaluating products and in discussions with my suppliers. More importantly I find I am constantly interacting with customers on our trade stands, on the phone or via email, about their horses’ problems and needs, and generally I’m able to give them what I hope is good advice on potential solutions, whether it involves our own products or something else. I get a real sense of satisfaction when a customer tells me that what I suggested really did the trick, often solving an issue that may have been going on for a long time!
I also have the support of my parents, both of whom have business backgrounds. Their horse knowledge was a bit rusty, to say the least – they’ve had to brush it up a lot over the last couple of years!
What sets you apart from other on-line retailers?
What sets us apart from ALL retailers, not just on-line, is that we don’t sell the same stuff everyone else has – our products are sold exclusively by us in the UK and are carefully selected for their innovation, quality and performance. As part of that selection we, personally or via our sponsored riders, try out every brands products by using them just as our customers would. That way, we know how things perform - and how well they last.
Also, we don’t believe selling solely on-line is a workable approach or the best thing for people and their horses – many people want to be able to touch and feel the products, and want to be able to interact face-to-face. So we aim to have a trade stand at most of the major equestrian events, including Badminton, Windsor, Hickstead and Olympia. We believe that an on-line equestrian store needs to go beyond just presenting the products – it needs to incorporate lots of helpful information and reviews (which we’re constantly working to expand), and be supplemented by the ability to talk to a knowledgeable person (generally me!) to get advice and answer questions.
How do you think retail has changed since you set up the business and what has been your biggest learning curve?
The recession has resulted in quite a shake-up in tack retailing. Some tack shops, including fairly large ones, have folded or gone into receivership. At the same time, on-line sales are growing. We also think shows and equestrian events are really important: Where they have an attractive programme and a good shopping village, people are drawn by the sheer choice on offer.
We feel that we are well positioned in relation to equestrian retailing trends. What we’re still learning, though, is how to get our brands and ourselves even more widely known.
You trial all the products before putting them in-store - which lucky person gets to trial them and how long do you test them before you will sell them ?!
How we test and for how long depends on the product involved. As a general rule we test them for how long we would expect a ‘hard wearing’ product in the UK to last, then add some and expect it to be in good shape to continue to be used. For the Kensington rugs, for example, we tried them out on our own horses (who are arch rug-destroyers!) for a season to see how they lasted and performed, they then needed to be in good enough shape to use again the next year (which they were). Where it’s more appropriate – as for example in the case of our newly launched Majyk boots – we sent them to a couple of our sponsored professional riders to try out and report back on.
Where do you see the future of retail?
Retail has always been tough, and it’s not getting easier! Customers’ expectations are – rightly - constantly growing, and they are unforgiving of a retailer that doesn’t deliver – or who sells products that don’t. The internet - social networking, forums etc. – makes it easier for customers to share experiences – both good and bad. So more and more, retailers who get it right – offering great products and great service – will succeed, while those who don’t will struggle.
As an on-line retailer what are the key factors, which make your business so successful?
We put a lot of effort into getting visibility, both on-line and in magazines etc., so people know about us and have confidence in our offering. But underneath that, the critical thing is having great products and making customers happy: without that, no amount of marketing effort, PR or advertising will deliver success.
Who would you say were your customers?
We sell to all sorts of people, but the common theme seems to be that they are riders who care about their horses, their comfort and their performance, appreciate the value of good kit, and feel it’s worth being selective – which sometimes means paying a little more, sometimes not - to get something that really performs and lasts.
You do a lot of shows and events, how important are these to the business and why?
Very! People often need to touch and feel our products to appreciate their quality, and they value the face-to-face contact. We want to have a relationship with our customers, not just sell to them, and the shows are absolutely key to achieving that. Through the shows and events we also make available the opportunity to feel the products and meet us to a much wider group of people than a local tack shop could do, making them especially important to us.
You have Maria and Michael Eilberg as your high profile sponsored riders, how did that relationship come about?
At British Dressage Nationals 2012 we met Maria, Michael and their family. We showed them the products and they were interested, perhaps a little reserved on hearing the product’s wide range of selling points, but because we are so confident in our products and were keen to have their input, we gave them a couple of our pads just to test and we were thrilled when they came and agreed with us that yes - the products really do work! Our relationship has continued to develop from there and we look forward to continuing to work with them as part of our team of experts, who help us promote what we do.
What are their favourite items from the ranges?
I would say definitely the Ogilvy Profile Pad has to be a definite favourite for the majority of the horses they ride. The Ogilvy Friction Free pad and the Therawool Perfect Balance pad are also right up there though as well.
What trends are you seeing coming through for 2014?
I would say that as people become more expectant of products to last and disappointed when they don’t, we are going to see a trend for quality to win out over looks. We started to see that trend growing over 2013 and I expect it to continue to grow. I also think some more traditional aspects of horse care are likely to come back but combining these principles with modern technologies is really a lot of what we’re about as well.
How do you envisage the future for Shadow Horse?
Our aim is to continue to grow and to reach more customers. We’ll keep looking for good products to add to our range, though we now cover most of the main items riders need when equipping their horses. We’ll continue our policy of choosing what we think is the best brand, with the best range of products in any particular area, and our aim is that those brands continue to be imported exclusively by us. We’ll continue to focus on selling at shows and on-line and we’ll continue to help our customers any way we can.
Finally, what advice would you give to consumers shopping on-line?
Security is critical: Before entering credit card details or your Paypal password ensure you have a secure connection by looking for ‘https’ replacing the normal ‘http’ at the beginning of the page address, and for a lock symbol. We also advise against allowing sites to store your card details – even big retailers have had customers’ details hacked.
Remember you have the right to return on-line purchases (exceptions include perishable and custom-made products) for a full refund up to 7 days after they are delivered. But do tell the seller of your intention in writing (e.g. by email) within the 7 days.
And, it’s important to choose a retailer where you can be confident about their service ethic and integrity, and can be trusted to deal quickly and fairly with any problems you may have, and not to sell on your email address!”
Wise words from a relatively new kid on the block!