What started as a fresh concept in horse blankets has expanded to a whole world of possibilities, with something exciting always around the corner at WeatherBeeta.
Since its inception 37 years ago, this company, which now operates in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US, has seen rapid growth in both the WeatherBeeta and Dublin brands for which it is best known. It also serves as a general wholesaler across all equestrian categories. "Our mission is to be at the heart of the equestrian community," explains Weatherbeeta CMO Doug Walker.
In that, the company has certainly succeeded, establishing a strong presence in this niche market around the globe. Much of this success the Weatherbeeta team attributes to its emphasis on consumer research, quality products and customer service. Other contributing factors might include the company's partnership approach, its ambassador program, its philanthropic efforts, the relaunch of certain popular brands and the expansion of key product lines.
"We take a lot of care and effort in basic research and insight, and also how we develop our products, as well," Walker continues. "And then we make sure we apply that to the development process all the way through to how we develop our marketing ... listening very carefully to the marketplace, bringing all that together and giving customers a really good proposition and shoppers something that is a little bit different, that's special. That's been our philosophy for certainly the last few years we've really, really focused on that, and I think that's been a big part of our success."
Listening and Learning
At the heart of most successful product lines is a good deal of research. A case in point is the paddock boot in Weatherbeeta's acclaimed Dublin line. Developing such a traditional type of footwear might not seem like rocket science, but Team Weatherbeeta made some interesting discoveries during its investigation into the subject. Did you know, for example, that there are differences in footwear fit around the world?
"That process is tremendously interesting," Walker comments. "You'd think it's very difficult to find something new in the world of paddock boots. But it's amazing what insights you get when you really listen and you ask the right questions. And asking the right questions isn't trying to force an idea down people; it's actually getting people to talk you through things that they do very automatically [such as how they shop].
"We could have made some really big mistakes if we hadn't really listened carefully to that research," he admits. "But by actually listening and learning, we can apply that to how we develop products and how we develop programs."
The strong brand recognition for which Weatherbeeta is famous owes much, too, to that development process. "We've invested at a greater level in our brand and our product development over the last couple of years—more than ever, really," says Managing Director Adam Bucknell. "It's really significant, so we really expect it to give us the next step up."
Development of the Dublin Lifestyle subcategory is an example of one of Weatherbeeta's most visible accomplishments. "We really initiated that, we have been the leaders in that and are really owning that category," Bucknell adds. To Weatherbeeta USA President Michele Schnitzel, the transition from Dublin's solid paddock boots into the lifestyle and competition boots was a natural one. "They're product categories that our customers would expect us to transition to, and then moving forward into the apparel lines, as well," she explains. "So what makes sense for our customer to be looking at in our portfolio of brands—we pay attention to that, as well as to what's happening in the industry: Are there any new trends? Are there new things we should be involved in? So there are multiple different ways we go about looking at product development."
A lot also comes down to the company's investment in people and relationships. As Walker explains, "We've gone out to the market to get the best people we can find in apparel development and the footwear side of the business, probably the two key people for the Dublin brand."
Add to that, Bucknell says, Weatherbeeta's long-term relationships with some of the very best suppliers in the industry, and you're looking at "a bit of extra quality," not to mention reliable supply sources.
Inspiration Meets Quality
But back to those Dublin boots, which are, like Dublin itself, a reflection of the authentic equestrian life: "The occasions that inspire us are those cold winter mornings, when it's wet and the barn's muddy, and all those kinds of moments— that's when Dublin Lifestyle Boots really come into their own," says Walker.
These boots are designed to take their wearer from "barn to bar," or anywhere the English country look is suitable. "At the heart of it, they're authentically equestrian—brilliantly built, great quality, waterproof, solid; that's what we're about, "Walker says. "But what we've added over the last couple of years are some real style elements, as well, so people can feel comfortable wearing those boots on all different kinds of occasions."
Team members maintain that although other companies have copied these concepts, their high standards of quality and comfort give Dublin's lifestyle boots a clear edge. As Walker explains, "A lot of those other lifestyle boots—either the non-equestrian or equestrian lifestyle boots that don’t have those footbeds—aren’t that comfortable to wear all day. And once people experience the RCS technology, they find out that it’s actually really comfortable ... ours also have one of the best standards of waterproofing that you can get."
Partners and Ambassadors
Another company goal over the past few years has been to foster more partnerships with Weatherbeeta's US retailers, helping them build their own businesses along the way. As Schnitzel explains, this effort expands the company's foothold within all of its brands, while giving retailers the opportunity to focus on what they do best. "We found that that collaboration—working in partnership—has been a real success of ours," she says. "It gives us a solid ability to work together to grow business, to be their expert in areas that they aren't, and to provide them with marketing information and training tools and POS materials that they might not have access to."
All of these measures and more are responses to a challenging marketplace and an ever-changing environment. "The consumers and the market itself is under pressure, and it's tough and been tough for retailers," Walker says. "All the things that we've put in place behind the scenes, making our brand stronger, making better products, investing in our supply chain, quality, design, all the different elements—that's a tremendous investment on our part, and we want to partner with the very best retailers to make sure that the shopper and the end user gets the quality experience. That's absolutely part of our philosophy wherever we are in the world, and it's no different here in the US."
Then there's Dublin’s "Ambassador Program." Designed to connect with riders in the barn, it is proving a valuable, grassroots adjunct to the company's larger-scale sponsorships and related efforts. "Our ambassador program has been very successful," Schnitzel says. "They wear our products, they put our banners in the barns, and they do Facebook posts and social media, so they’re kind of our voice across the country." (Word has it that there will soon be an ambassador program for the WeatherBeeta brand, as well.)
In recent years, Weatherbeeta has identified key opportunities to give back to the equestrian community in meaningful ways, which serves both to involve customers and to highlight the brand. "We made the decision to look for something that was philanthropic that we could look to get behind and support," Schnitzel says. "So we joined the American Breast Cancer Foundation. We are contributing $10 for every blanket sold to that endeavor, and we’re certainly encouraging our customers to follow suit with that same $10. Some of them are, which is very exciting; so then we can kind of double that support.
"When we originally made the decision to go after that, we had a number of conversations with our customers," she continues. "Was it a good philanthropic endeavor for us? Did it make sense for our riders? We also talked a bit about our color scheme. So this scheme in particular was voted upon by quite a cross-section of customers. We’re just going to continue to carry on that tradition with the goal of getting more and more of our customers to get involved with the same kind of approach, and donate funds."
Another initiative that's important to many equestrians and which Weatherbeeta supports through it’s WeatherBeeta brand is "A Home for Every Horse," a joint effort with the American Horse Council’s Unwanted Horse Coalition, Active Interest Media’s Equine Network and several other equine-industry partners to place, foster and sponsor America’s homeless horses. "It’s one of the most delightful causes I’ve ever come across," says Walker. "The passion that people have for it is tremendous, and I think it’s really touched hearts. There’s never been any question that it was an appropriate charity for us to be working with."
A Bright Future
Although Walker says that Weatherbeeta has "a tremendous range of new products" in the works, one of the hottest topics at the company is the relaunch of Collegiate, a brand of tack with a loyal following from years past.
"Collegiate is, to our mind, an absolute American classic," he says. "And we're bringing a new focus from ourselves with Collegiate." As he explains, the research done by the company revealed that riders really identified with those key moments in their early equestrian lives when they got their first Collegiate saddles. "What we are now doing is giving them the opportunity to revisit that—perhaps for themselves, or perhaps for their family members. We're hoping to stir up and evoke some of the fantastic memories people have got of Collegiate as the brand they first rode with."
The new Collegiate saddles are, he added, "some of the best saddles we’ve ever made, and certainly, I think, very faithful and true to the Collegiate brand history." The initial target group for this brand is what Walker calls “the improver"—a person returning to riding after years away, who might not want to invest in a top-dollar saddle just yet, or for whom this might be a first saddle. "Everyone, of course, can buy and ride in a Collegiate saddle; but if we’re looking at people that the saddle is tailored for, I’d say those are the two areas that are perfect: the developing rider," Walker says, adding, "I think there are some very exciting times ahead for us on Collegiate, and I hope it's just as exciting for riders and shoppers to see that brand back."
But that's not all. Dublin continues to be a huge brand for Weatherbeeta globally, and Walker says to look for new offerings in both its lifestyle boots and equestrian garments. "We've launched fantastic breeches and a range of competition wear," he says. "We've got a lot of exciting things going on with apparel.
"What we’re doing in paddock boots and what we’re also doing in tall boots is at the core of Dublin: that authentic equestrian experience," he maintains. "It's about delivering fantastic quality at great value prices. That’s not cheap— that means value. They are wonderful products and they offer a really attractive price point."
In keeping with WeatherBeeta's original mission to protect horses, a range of quality horse boots will be available for Spring 2016. "When we talked to consumers, they told us it’s a great brand and they’d be happy to see it in some other categories," Walker says. "So we’ve carefully chosen some areas where we think we can make a difference." Stay tuned!