Tuesday, May 30, 2006

From a Chat with Laurel Easton

Oh, my poor, neglected business blog! Have you missed me? Has anyone been checking you at all?

I have here, in this very room with me, one of the co-founders of Wells 5 Star Equine Products.

So, Laurel, how did 5 Star get started?

Laurel: Ever since I've been a girl, I've always been interested in what was the best for my horse, and back then I made pure wool saddle pads, similar to latch-hook rugs. Then I tried making saddle pads out of 100% wool blankets with high-density foam in the middle, but I didn't like the synthetic attributes of the foam.

My current pad endeavors got started with the help of my late husband, Vern Wells. He and some friends had designed a contoured wool pad many years ago that had never been marketed. After helping Todd Slone get started making contoured wool felt saddle pads, Vern and I continued to refine the design of the pad, and started our own company, insisting on only using the best quality of wool felt available.

Talena: What obstacles have you had to overcome to help your company grow?

Laurel: Getting consistent felt of the quality we want is probably the thing we fight the most. Our felt manufacturer always tells us that "making felt is an art, not a science."

Talena: You mentioned "late" husband?

Laurel: Shortly after we started the company, and were in the process of moving to Arkansas [from Texas], Vern had a massive heart attack and passed away.

Talena: So when did you and Mike start collaborating?

Laurel: After Vern passed away, leaving me with a fledgling saddle pad company, and massive debt, I was selling horses, trucks, and whatever else I could sell to try and get the debt cleared. A gentleman named Mike Easton happened to be in the market for a brood mare with Leo bloodlines. He went to Texas horse-shopping, and visited with a friend of mine who happened to know that I had a mare like that for sale. So Mike got my phone number from him and went back to Montana, and about a week later he phoned this "old widow lady from Arkansas" and asked about my mare for sale.

Being the friendly sort that he is, we chatted about many things besides horses, and he learned about my little saddle pad company. He was at a point in his life that he was looking for something different to do than construction, and a warmer place to live than Montana, so he volunteered to help me with marketing my saddle pads. I gratefully accepted his offer, since I make a great saddle pad, but I didn't know anything about marketing.

Talena: Obviously, he eventually became more than your marketing manager.

Laurel: Yes! He bought my horse, and after we had been chatting on the phone for several months, I delivered his horse to him on my way to my daughter's wedding in Canada, and after having met in person, the business relationship became more personal, and we are now married.

Talena: What has Mike contributed to 5 Star?

Laurel: Mike was the driving force behind new colours, new styles and new thicknesses of pads.

Talena: What did product line consist of before that?

Laurel: I had two colours: natural and black; two thicknesses: 3/4" and 7/8"; and two sizes: standard and full skirt. Also, one style: Horse!

We now have seven colours, three English styles and five Western styles for both horses and mules available in five thicknesses.

Talena: I remember when your goal was to ship fifty pads a month, and this was a really big achievement when you accomplished this. How has your business grown since then?

Laurel: We now ship an average of over one hundred pads a week!

Talena: That's amazing!

Laurel: In the beginning, I did everything: glued, sewed, laced, packed, shipped, answered phones, did all the paperwork. Since then, the Lord has blessed us with several excellent staff as we grew, and for a little over a year now, I have only sewn when one of the staff is sick, and the rest of my time is taken up with doing the paperwork. Our company has consistently grown about 30% a year since 2000. The Lord has blessed us with "a better mousetrap."

Talena: Can you explain that?

Laurel: Well, there have been saddle pads around forever, made out of all different kinds of things. Our saddle pads have had such phenomenal reception because of their design and quality materials, making them the best pad for your horse in both comfort and durability.

Talena: You now carry more than just saddle pads, as well. What else does 5 Star carry, and which of those products do you manufacture yourselves?

Laurel: Our newest endeavour that is only a few months old is creating 5 Star Elite Cinchas. They are made from 100% mohair, even the colours, whereas most cinchas out there that say they are 100% mohair use rayon for their colours.

Another new product that Mike has developed is a contoured wool/mohair blanket with a felt liner. It is contoured the same as our pads, so it has the same great attributes for keeping the saddle in place, but has the blanket look that some horsemen prefer.

Another new product that is still in its infancy is our 5 Star Pendleton Pads. This is our great quality 5 Star pad combined with the classic designs of Pendleton woolen fabrics. The fabric is laminated to the wool felt. This will be hitting the market in a major way on June 22nd.

We also have limited availability of some good-quality leather headstalls and braided leather reins.

Talena: Sounds like you have a lot to keep you busy! What are 5 Star's plans for the future?

Laurel: To continue providing the best quality products for your horses and mules that we can make available.


So there you have it, folks. A history of 5 Star in brief--straight from the horse's mouth! :-)

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