Forty-five years ago, Phillip and Bonnie Katzev identified a niche in the equine industry: the need for safe, effective grooming products.
Dedicated to quality control and integrity, the couple developed the formulation for the Original Mane 'n Tail Shampoo and Conditioner. Shortly after the product was released, horse owners discovered that the shampoo and conditioner left their own hair as healthy and shiny as it did their horses' coats. Word of mouth boosted the product’s popularity and Mane 'n Tail soon became a household name for horses and their human counterparts.
Today, the company remains in the family and is owned/operated by second-generation family member Devon B. Katzev, who is president of the organization.
Devon took time to share the history of his family’s company and explain an exciting expansion underway at Straight Arrow’s headquarters in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
What inspired the development of Mane 'n Tail Shampoo?
Phillip and Bonnie Katzev operated one of the largest Arabian horse breeding facilities on the East Coast in rural New Jersey. Concerned that dishwashing liquids and harsh detergents were the only cleaning products available for grooming, the couple developed a horse-friendly shampoo and conditioner with micro-enriched proteins to encourage stronger, fuller, thicker manes and tails.
Aside from a passion for horses, Phillip had an interest in chemistry. His career as a brand manager in New York City provided an intimate understanding of the importance of marketing and access to powerful connections. “His connections allowed him to put together formulas and find supply sources,” Devon explained.
Shortly after the creation of the Original Mane 'n Tail Shampoo and Conditioner, Hoofmaker, a moisturizing treatment for dry, cracked or brittle hooves, and Mineral Ice, an ointment created to help soothe pain and reduce inflammation in racehorses and other competition horses, were developed.
Where was Mane 'n Tail first produced?
The family’s kitchen sink served as the mixing vat and bottling center. As demand grew, Phillip hired contract fillers to blend and bottle the product.
“It was frustrating because we could not control the quality,” Devon explained. “We knew we had the formulations correct, but what came back from the fillers was not always the same.”
Unhappy with the quality of off-site fillers, Phillip brought blending and filling operations back to an outbuilding on the family farm. “I'd come home from school and start a batch in the 90-gallon tank we had. It was quite an experience,” he added.
Soon production capacity on the farm was outgrown and the company headquarters were moved to their current location in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Today, all Straight Arrow products are manufactured here in a 35,500-square foot facility that also includes a 38,000-square foot warehouse.
Recently, Straight Arrow received low-interest financing from the state of Pennsylvania, which allows for expansion. “We're bursting at the seams. We've experienced amazing growth the past four years,” Devon explained.
This special financing allows the company to renovate, remodel and add onto a 92,000-square foot manufacturing plant, acquire needed equipment and hire approximately 30 more fulltime employees. "We'll be at 100 employees before we know it. It's a nice thing for this area,” he said. By the end of the four-phase expansion, which is a five- to 10-year plan, the building will total roughly 200,000 square feet, eventually housing production, warehousing, shipping, lab and offices.
What has kept Straight Arrow’s production in the United States?
Despite manufacturing trends that have moved production off-shore, Straight Arrow is committed to producing all of its products in the United States. Blending, filling, research, development and shipping processes all happen at the plant in Pennsylvania. “I still believe in America and think everybody tries to save money in the wrong places,” Devon said, adding, “I also like knowing exactly what’s going in the bottle.”
What has contributed to Straight Arrow's success?
Treating employees and customers properly has been an important part of Straight Arrow’s success. “A lot of our employees have been here over 20 years. We have very little turnover,” he said. “We're very proud that in 2008, when the economy crashed, nobody here lost their jobs.”
Responding to customer feedback, good or bad, is equally important. “I insist that we have someone in-house, a live voice, to speak with a customer who calls in. I hate answering machines,” Devon said.
How many different products does Straight Arrow produce?
The company manufactures more than 60 product formulations. Each product is bottled in a variety of sizes. The parent company, Straight Arrow Products, Inc., encompasses four brands: Mane 'n Tail Personal Care; Mane 'n Tail Equine Care; Conceived by Nature (an all-natural personal care brand); and Straight Arrow Therapeutic.
The Mane 'n Tail brands feature some of the same formulations in both their personal and equine products. The shampoo contains high lathering and ultra-cleansing agents that are fortified with moisturizers and emollients to help leave hair soft and ultra clean. The conditioner nourishes and aids healthy hair growth, leaving hair looking lustrous and silky. The micro-enriched protein formulas help to prevent hair breakage and repair split ends. This brand also includes Hoofmaker and a full line of equine grooming, finishing and first-aid products.
Conceived by Nature is a line of personal care products made from all natural, certified organic materials that are balanced to provide strong, healthy, manageable hair for a truly harmonious hair-care experience.
Straight Arrow Therapeutic, which began with Mineral Ice, has expanded to include a line of therapeutic treatments that includes healing and moisturizing formulas for the face, body, hands and feet, with Foot Miracle, Urea Care and Skin Miracle. Originally introduced to and endorsed by professional practitioners, these specialty treatments have become household favorites over the years.
Where are Straight Arrow products sold?
In the early 1990s, every major retailer requested the Mane 'n Tail products. Today, Straight Arrow products can be found on the shelves of approximately 100,000 retailers, including the world’s largest big-box stores, both in North America and internationally.
From Tractor Supply Company to Wal-Mart, Walgreens, CVS, Target and beauty supply companies, horse owners and non-horsey folks alike can easily find the Original Mane 'n Tail Shampoo and Conditioner, Hoofmaker and other Straight Arrow products.
What would people be surprised to learn about the Katzev family?
"My two brothers and I all had long hair down the middle of our backs,” Devon reminisced. Growing up in the ’80s rocker era, it was only natural for the Katzev boys to sport long locks.
“Having that long hair gave me the opportunity to learn how to work with long hair, to work with the products and to understand how the products worked,” he explained.
Before long, roadies at the rock concerts began asking the brothers about the hair-care products they used. “It’s one of the things that got the word out about our products,” he added.
Ironically, despite three sons with flowing manes, Phillip himself was bald. “Our father would look at us and shake his head,” Devon laughed.
What is your favorite Straight Arrow product?
As Straight Arrow's product lines have expanded to include a complete grooming line and a personal care line that includes herbal, deep-moisturizing and color-protecting shampoos and conditioners, the Original Mane 'n Tail Conditioner remains Devon's favorite. “It's like an old friend; it's been there since I was a kid and I can make it in my sleep,” he said. “I do all I can to protect it and maintain its integrity.”