Why good craftsmanship will always pay the bills!
The riding boots market has changed dramatically over the last decade. Black riding boots in standard sizes used to be the norm. Nowadays made-to-measure riding boots in different colours and materials with various options are more often than not the choice of equestrians of today. Time to talk to Mr Van Huet of Van Huet - Dutch Riding Boots an entrepreneur, with more than 50 years’ experience in selling equestrian apparel, to find out his views and vision of the changing market.
Firstly, can you tell us a little about your 50 years of experience in equestrian apparel and your specialty shop Van Huet Dutch Riding Boots of today?
'I started as a youngster, at the age of 16, in the equestrian family business of my parents in the Van Baerlestraat in Amsterdam in the mid-sixties. We were supplying the Royal family with their equestrian apparel. At that time it was all made to measure and we employed two tailors and one seamstress for the repair work. Even then we were being innovative; we were the first company to make breeches with elastic material. With the rise of confection fashion the business changed.
I realised at a young age that specialisation would be key. So I started my own equestrian shop with a limited number of top brands: first in Zeist and later in Houten and now in Bunnik. In 1998 I decided that I would specialise in equestrian riding boots. And I am proud to say that from the moment I started using a computer (around 1989) in my business that I now have the measurements of more than 7,500 pairs of legs in my database. I am also proud to mention that the third generation of regular customers is visiting my shop nowadays.' Now in 10 questions EQofT will unravel the success factors and his views on the changing equestrian apparel market:
Now in 10 questions EQofT will unravel the success factors and his views on the changing equestrian apparel market:
What are the biggest changes in the last decade?
In the riding boots market there has been one major innovation in the last 10 years which has changed the business completely. And that is the introduction of the zipper in riding boots. This made it possible to change the fit of riding boots dramatically. A much slimmer model with narrower ankles became possible. Since the introduction of the zipper there have been no other major changes.
Of course we have more colours to choose from, printed leathers and leatherette or PU leather but these changes are minor compare with the introduction of the zipper.
Other changes have to do with the position of equestrian tack shop in the last 5 to 7 years. The economic crisis took its toll. We have seen that riding boot factories went back to basics and started selling the boots themselves. I think this trend will continue, even in better economic times. Equestrian shops have to deliver something extra, for instance service, experience and atmossphere. In the case of made-to-measure riding boots, correct measuring takes a lot of training and skill. Not all equestrian shops sell that many boots a week.
Why dit you choose for a specialty shop?
I strongly believe that in a globalising world due to internet you have to specialise to be of value to your customers. Just doing what everybody else is doing on the internet, is just not enough anymore.
What is your opinion of internet and social media in relation to the selling of riding boots?
Internet of course has changed the market immensely. I’m really glad that I am computer literate and was one of the first in business with a web shop. I developed the web shop myself and also keep it up to date myself. The internet has brought me a lot of international customers. At the moment almost 60% of my clients are from abroad.
How do you see the market developing in the next few years?
Personally, I expect the mid-priced riding boots to disappear. The market will tend to move towards low budget riding boots and very exclusive ones.
What is the secret of your succes?
The secret of my success is that I can 'read legs' and therefore I am able to minimize faults in the measuring of riding boots. Also, as I mentioned earlier, I have 7,500 measurements in my computer. So it took a lot of practice to gain this knowledge.
The other aspect is that I choose to work with the best companies. All 50 years I have a partnership with Petrie. Their craftsmanship is undisputed and they want to deliver a quality riding boot and won't compromise on leather quality or modelling. Other brands that I have been selling are German Konigs and French Rectiligne. I also had a partnership with Lipica who, for a while, produced riding boots under my own name.
Tell us about the story of the red lace?
Although the zipper is a big blessing for good fitting riding boots. This comes at a price, namely it is also the weakest part of the riding boot. Especially when the zipper is at the back it undermines the strength of the riding boot especially in the dressage riding boot.
It is therefore of great importance to close the zipper in one flexible movement. I advise my clients to use a lace and fasten it on the zipper. The length of the lace makes it a much more subtle movement. It helps protect the zipper. And of course now my clients recognise it as being my special trademark.
Do you see a different shopping behaviour of millennial riders (= riders younger than 35 years old)
Yes, I definitely do. Especially the young ladies aged 25-35 years old. They know it all too well. They know what it should taste like but they have no idea how to cook it!
Primarily they go for the look. But once they are disappointed in the functionality through incorrect fitting, they eventually come to me.
What are your expectations regarding future innovations concerning riding boots?
I foresee the following innovations:
new techniques that will make the measuring simpler and easier. This will be based on 3D body scan techniques. At the moment it is still quite expensive, but it is only a matter of time before prices drop;
new fabrics. More durable and more flexible. The price of Veneto leather is currently very high and is expected to stay high. This means the pressure to find better, cheaper and more durable materials will continue.
What is your golden tip for (young) entrepreneurs in equestrian apparel?
My golden tip is that they have to invest in knowledge and craftsmanship in order to become a master or specialist. This means that you have to practice a lot /make the necessary flying hours, and a lot of mistakes and learn from them!
This means that you need to have an inquisitive mind-set and should be eager to learn and further develop yourself.
It is always inspiring to talk to people with real passion for their profession. And that is certainly the case with Mr. Van Huet. He knows the equestrian apparel scene inside out and is really ahead on developments, improvements and customer satisfaction.
Impressed by his craftsmanship and knowledge of riding boots, I was curious to find out what he expects of the near future. I was not disappointed at all, just the contrary!