Equestrian Blog

News and thoughts from around the equestrian community

Let the bargain hunting begin - Thursday 20th August!

Our Online and Instore End of Season Sale starts at 9am, Thursday 20th August. We’ve not been shy with our mark downs, so there’s bound to be something in the sale section that you’ve had your eye on for a while, or something that’s simply too good a bargain to turn down. As usual in a sale, stock on some of the items is limited so be quick, as these bargains are going to sell out fast! [More]

Our Leeds Store Will Open… …As Soon As We Announce It!

Since we announced an intention to open our fifth store in Hunslet, Leeds, we've been inundated with questions about when it'll open. I guess that's not surprising but it's still great to see how warmly we're being welcomed by the local equestrian community. While we've needed a few weeks to turn two bare, empty units into a stunning 15,000 sq ft store, we're very keen not to disappoint all those who can't wait to visit by making our opening any later than we absolutely have to. [More]

The Robinsons Logo: 147 Years of Evolution

Have you seen our new logo? What do you think? It's designed with the future in mind but we hope you'll agree, it has elements which remain firmly rooted in our past. I appreciate that may not mean much to many of our younger customers but to Marketing bores like me, 'heritage' and other rather pretentious-sounding terms like 'brand value' are quite a big deal, especially when there are changes in the air. We felt it was important to establish some sort of continuity where we could without compromising the change of direction we wanted. [More]

Where Should We Open Our Next Store?

From Edinburgh to Cornwall and everywhere in between, wherever I've spoken to customers at shows and events over the years, I've been asked this question time and again: "When are you going to open a store in [insert a place name]?" Every time it happens, I have two equal and opposite reactions. Of course, it's an incredible compliment to be asked to open a store anywhere – for a retailer, that's an even more sincere form of flattery than imitation. On the other hand, whenever we have no plans, I always hate to deflate that goodwill so it frustrates me as much as the person asking when I have to say something enigmatic like 'well, you never know'... The truth is it's a massively difficult undertaking for us to find the right building, in the right area, with the right costs, with the right planning conditions etc. etc. etc. When we've done it in the past, we've been able to get everything right and of course, it's hugely beneficial to us. We love being a part of the equestrian communities of Hampshire, Staffordshire and Glamorgan, as well as in our 'home' in the North West - and we'd love to add to that list. This time we're asking for your help – and I'm delighted to say we've already had plenty of it! In early June, we posted this very question on our Facebook page and within 24 hours, it attracted over a thousand responses! Yet more people sent their suggestions to us via twitter and by email. I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to share their view – even the mischievous ones like 'Australia' and, my own favourite, 'Wigan'. I hope you were being ironic, Roxanne! J As you might imagine, some areas seem to be suggested more often than others. Unfortunately, it may not be as simple as just pitching up in the area that is suggested the most often – we still have to go through the rather bothersome process of finding a site that suits our requirements. It does however mean that we start our searches in the places we're more convinced will prove to be successful. I'm also conscious of the 'monster' of expectation we might have unleashed by doing this. Again, we're hugely grateful to have so much goodwill and interest that are behind any further questions like 'so go on then, where is it?' – believe me, they've already started. I'm not sure how quickly we'll be able to confirm anything and I'm quite sure that even when we are, the area we choose will only be good news to a small proportion of the country. Either way, all I can ask is that you don't lose patience with us.  We'd like to start looking for another store location as soon as we've decided the next one! So far, almost two thousand people have given their answer to 'that' question and between them, those answers cover almost the whole country. Believe me - and I'm not at all being enigmatic when I say this - that's exactly what we want to do as well! Thanks for reading and stay tuned to our Facebook page to find out the very latest on our search for the fifth Robinsons store!

In Pics: The ‘Horse’ Photo-shoot for the Autumn/Winter 2013 Catalogue

The schools may not have even broken up for summer but to us, it's that time when we have to get cracking with our Autumn/Winter catalogue production - and one of the most important bits to get done quickly is the photography! Our winter catalogue photography has always had to take place in the middle of summer and, this being Britain, we never really know what the weather will be like until the day of the shoot. Occasionally, it can be difficult to convey the suitability of a product designed for cold temperatures when it's anything but cold but on a more basic level, any photographer will prefer bright conditions over a dull day – and if it rains, it just makes things even worse. This year, we were blessed with bright sunshine for the shoot of all our new horse-modelled items. We still have some left to do, especially model photography for the 'human' range. Usually, that tends to be a bit smoother than working with horses (but not always!) so what follows is traditionally one of the most unpredictable days of the year. Here's a photographic record of the day, behind the scenes. Enjoy! 8:30        The venue is prepared in accordance with the brief and the requirements of the product which need capturing, for example Stable areas to be cleaned if the photo-shoot involves stable rugs or field is cut if the photo-shoot involves turnout rugs. Meanwhile, the horses are prepared before they leave their home in St. Helens for the 20 mile trip north to the shoot location in Wigan. Ben (bay) and Oakley (coloured) will be this season's stars of the show. 8:30        The buyer arrives first to co-ordinate the receipt of the product and samples which are being photographed. She provides a running order and details of product codes and specific photographic requirements for each item. The product also arrives at the shoot location having been delivered by a member of our warehouse team. Various items are placed in the relevant areas of the shoot location to avoid double handling. 9:00        The photographer arrives (no self-portrait taken, unsurprisingly!) and is given a run down for the day including the products being photographed, the number of horse or ponies, running order and additional specific requirements. 9:30        The first two horses (Ben and Oakley) arrive and are raring to go. Different requirements require different horses and today's models are scheduled to arrive at different times in the day to avoid people and horses being stood around unnecessarily. 10:00     The photo-shoot starts and the products are quickly ticked off the list as the camera starts to capturing the stable and close up images we require. This is Ben. 11:00     We start to alternate horses, in line with the running order, but in the knowledge that they simply start getting bored if they just stand round for too long. This is Oakley. 11:40    It's not exactly glamorous work but any photo-shoot is likely to attract attention, especially from the neighbours! This is Poppy. 12:00     We all take a break – Cup of tea and a net of hay!! 12:30     The next horse arrives, he's called Henry – he's only small but has a big attitude. 12:45     We quickly get the few shots we require of Henry and tick some more products off our list. 1:00        We get some interesting, non-product images of Henry and Ben to use as stock photos before Henry heads off home. 1:45        The real fun starts as Ben is readied for the final few product shots. These involve him running through the field and it can take up to 15 minutes just to get the one image you need of each rug. 2:30        We have everything we need - Ben was a superstar, again. We take his rug off and let him and Oakley relax and enjoy a bit of time together grazing and playing around. 3:00        That's it for the day. We get a quick picture of everyone who helped today. 3:15        Time to get the horses home. Ben and Oakley are loaded up, with a lot less fuss than Henry was! We ensured that the day wasn't too long for them, even if that means that we have to do additional days of photography. 3:30        The wagon leaves and the boys will be back in their own fields within the hour. 3:45        Next, our own transport turns up to collect the product and take it back to HQ. We're that bit closer to getting the catalogue ready to send to you later this year!

The World of the Smaller Catalogues

As HMV, Blockbusters, Jessops and many others have found recently, if something can be downloaded these days, there's far less demand for the physical version of it. While we've certainly noticed that we don't sell the same proportion of books and DVDs that we used to, thankfully, most of our range needs to be a physical item because riding and horse-owning are physical activities – although I'm sure that if anyone was able to perfect a way of downloading a way to a groomed horse or a mucked-out stable, they'd never have to worry about money again! On the one hand, we're thankful that we're not in an industry that is so vulnerable to digital alternatives but on the other, it's a mistake to think that we're not in any way affected by the changes to the way that the public consumes information digitally. Take for instance the case of the humble catalogue. Like most companies that were working in 'mail order' before the World Wide Web was even a glint in Sir Tim Berners-Lee's eye, the catalogue still holds a special place in our hearts. Catalogues gave us the opportunity to find new customers, to try new things – to become the business that we are today. We're so proud of our roots and the progress we've made since then that any visitor to our admin offices today will find our staircase adorned by pictures of every main catalogue we've ever produced. On the other hand, catalogues are incredibly time-consuming to produce, eye-wateringly expensive to print and post, they're always one mistaken detail or broken supplier promise away from making us look like liars or idiots for months on end - and many people would say they're not particularly environmentally responsible. As much as we're proud of our catalogue heritage, only a misty-eyed nostalgic would claim that catalogues don't have their difficulties. Certainly, there have been many times over the years when looming deadlines or unreliable technology have raised our stress levels and we've had to console ourselves with the thought that 'if it was easy to do this, everyone would be doing it'. In rather a sharp twist of irony, the arrival of the internet as a shopping medium has all but proved that old throwaway line. Distance selling online is now much easier (and cheaper) for small traders than paper and, guess what? these days, it often does seem like 'everyone' is now selling equestrian products online. The battleground for us to compete for your affections these days is, it seems, not in the letter-box any more but in the virtual world. In the 29 years we've been producing brochures and catalogues, we've seen the number of other companies doing the same thing go from two or three in the 80s to perhaps twenty or so ten years ago and back to two or three again today. It's even conceivable that there will be no other equestrian-specific paper catalogue worthy of the name by this time next year. We won't know until then but the fact that it's even possible is astounding enough. This puts us in a tricky position. We know that when we launch a catalogue, sales go up sharply. Would all of these sales still happen if we suddenly stopped putting ink on paper? We'd rather not find out if that's the case by just trying it, in case it proves to be a big mistake. There's also the question of catalogue size to consider. It's great to be able to produce over 200 pages of products and, in doing so, show off the breadth of our product range simply by inviting customers to 'feel the width' (which is something that websites still struggle to convey). This is all well and good but at 200+ pages, many of them will contain the same popular-yet-unchanging products that we've printed ten or twenty times or more. Should we really worry that you might think that we don't sell 'old favourites' in products like haynets or water buckets or grooming kits if we don't keep showing you that we do? Last October, I decided to put a question to the thousands of people who Like our Facebook Page. I created a poll called "What Form Should the Robinsons Spring 2013 Catalogue take?" and gave a choice of three answers: 'The Same as Usual: A4, about 150 pages, a full selection of Spring stuff' 'Just new stuff and good ideas – I expect you to still offer everything else' 'You know what? I don't even need a catalogue these days. I'd still order!'   At the time that I write this, it has elicited 72 responses: 32 people (44%) chose answer 'a': keep the status quo. 35 (49%) went for 'b': a version with fewer pages and a smaller range in print Just 5 (7%) plumped for 'c': the paperless option - no catalogue at all. While I'd like to thank those 72 people for their help, we have to be a little careful here – it's not what a market researcher would call 'scientific' but it's interesting, all the same. It proves nothing but it does lend support to the theory that we could significantly cut down on the amount of paper we produce without adversely affecting our ability to tell you what great products we can offer you. We know what proportion of our orders are placed via our website but we have to be a little careful not to presume that all those orders were only brought about by the website, not the catalogue. In short, we don't want to take for granted that you will order from us even if we don't send you a catalogue. Why should you? It's our job to entice you to order and if we don't do that bit properly, why should we expect you to order at all? To inform our view, we've looked at what's happening with paper in other industries and other markets. Catalogue companies like Joe Brown's and M&M Sports have dabbled in smaller, thinner catalogues. We may not know what those exercises have proved to them but the fact they're even doing it indicates that they're at the same crossroads that we are. Where the old-fashioned 'big books' still exist, they appear more likely to come with a price, albeit a nominal price and I even heard a rumour (and it's only that so don't quote me) that Argos may be getting away from 1,000+ pages, in favour of developing their very impressive smartphone app further. If that does happen, it'll surely be another nail in the coffin of the old-style 'doorstep' catalogue. So, against all this background – and more besides, we've decided to keep in step with innovation and produce a smaller, slimmer Spring/Summer catalogue (see below). It's probably only a matter of time before we decide to do the same with its bigger sibling, the Autumn/Winter catalogue. Some may suggest that we're even seeing the beginning of the end of paper catalogues as a means of customer communication. I'm not sure about that; there were many similar predictions about the impending demise of paper around the time of the ill-fated 'dot-com boom' nearly fifteen years ago. Just like the famous old Mark Twain quote, it turned out that rumours of the catalogue's death were 'greatly exaggerated', the lesson being that just because someone has said that something is on the way out, it doesn't mean that they're right. It's a good thing to remember but at the same time, let's not forget that nothing lasts forever. Mark Twain did eventually die, so you could say that those 'exaggerated' rumours, although inaccurate at the time, would come true sooner or later... Thanks for reading, as ever! Paul 

Return of the Cosy Pony!

We all love a good comeback, don't we? Take That seem to be selling more music and more concert tickets than ever and how else can you describe 'Strictly Come Dancing' other than a turbo-charged, celebrity-filled version of the original, long-running 'Come Dancing'? In the spirit of looking to the past for inspiration, we've decided to re-launch one of our old favourites later this month, the Cosy Pony rug* but first, it may be necessary to remind ourselves what a Cosy Pony even was... Way, way back in 1989, we unleashed a new stable rug specifically for ponies, called the Cosy Pony. In our catalogue that year, we described it as "the quilted rug you've all been waiting for" – complete with a distinctive logo showing a pony in a bed! In its first year, it was only available in navy with red bindings and surcingles, as most quilted rugs seemed to be in those days. At a time when some stable rugs were being offered at upto £70 – around the same price as a top-of-the-range Walkman, The Cosy Pony was yours for £29.96 (for sizes 3'9" to 5'0") or £34.96 (for sizes 5'3" to 5'6") – about the same price as a shell suit. If you're old enough to remember the original Cosy Pony, you'll almost certainly remember what a Walkman and a shell suit both were! Needless to say, the Cosy Pony proved to be a hugely popular product. The no-nonsense design, clever branding and competitive pricing were, not surprisingly, a successful combination. As the 1990s dawned, it became clear that we'd found a fantastic addition to our range. In our 1990 catalogue, you can see that we'd worked hard to develop the idea even further. The logo had been improved, a dog version was added and new colour options of black with fluorescent pink or green were added to the original navy/red. A few months ago, we sent a small team to do a photo shoot in nearby St. Helens and when they got to the location, they were totally surprised to see two ponies walking across the yard wearing their original Cosy Pony Rugs. Over twenty years on, these products were still going strong! That story created something of a spark in our buying office so this winter, we'll be re-introducing the Cosy Pony stable rug to our range once more. They'll be available once again in pony sizes and in the more popular black/fluorescent green and black/fluorescent pink colours – and they'll all be offered at the cheaper 1989 price of £29.96, irrespective of size! Initially, the 2012 Cosy Pony will be offered in one of our forthcoming '16 Deals of Christmas' daily email offers, due to be emailed in December. They'll be almost identical to the original rugs in every way, with their cross surcingles, cotton lining, a 420 denier outer and 220g (or 8oz, as we used to say) filling. Just like Take That, once they're back, it'll be like they've never been away! If you like the product and the price, you could own a faithful replica of one of the most popular products we've ever offered within days of receiving that email! Of course, if you're not currently receiving regular emailed offers, you might miss this and other great offers, particularly between now and Christmas. If you'd like to receive our regular emailed offers, simply go to the 'Email Sign up' page on our website and enter your details! Many of our customers still fondly remember their first Cosy Pony Rug and the pony they bought if for. Maybe today's pony riders will be able to say the same about these products in another twenty years' time… *The 2012 Cosy Pony Rug is available to view now - and add to your wishlist - but it will only be available to purchase when it is featured on one of our daily emailed deals, later this month.  Stay tuned to our website to find out which day that is! Other events in 1989: The first of 24 GPS satellites was put into orbit, enabling the concept of satellite navigation to become a reality. 'Rain Man' won the Oscar for Best Picture and one of its stars, Dustin Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor. The fall of the Berlin Wall: enabled free movement of Germans from East Germany to West Germany, allowing the eventual re-unification of Germany. Similar revolutions in several other Eastern Bloc countries like Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia. The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist working in Switzerland. The first episode of 'The Simpsons' was aired on the Fox network. For 17 of the 52 weeks of 1989, the Number 1 spot in the UK Singles charts was held by Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan (or both) and (ahem)… Jive Bunny Milton and John Whitaker became European Showjumping champions at Rotterdam Virginia Leng (née Holgate) won her record fifth title at the Burghley Horse Trials

How 'Antlers for Horses' Became Popular

Sometimes, the success of something is all about being in the right place at the right time. We could never have predicted the success of such a silly product as the Horse Head Antler which first appeared in a Robinsons catalogue in 1992. This 'silly' product has since stood the test of time and it is likely that not many people have any idea how it all came about. Pauline Bentham, our gift buyer at the time spotted the antlers on a plastic horse's head at a trade fair in Philadelphia, USA. She bought one pair for the princely sum of $10 and brought it back to the UK. She made some improvements to its design and commissioned an order of around a thousand pieces from a local manufacturing company. Over the four weeks prior to Christmas in 1992, we sold over 800 units at around £10 each! With the benefit of this experience and a bit of lateral thinking, we added similar products for the following festive season: 'jingle bell' nosebands and rein sleeves, matching hat covers, exercise sheets and leg wraps all made from bright red and finished with white fur fabric trims. From nowhere, a new and (very) popular collection of inexpensive fun items had been created. The following Christmas, about 5,000 of these 'silly' products (which were exclusive to Robinsons) were sold. We then attempted to wholesale them to distributors in the UK and because they were still perceived as too silly, nobody wanted to take them on despite our huge success. No-one copied the idea for the next two years anywhere in Europe. In 1994 at a trade fair in Germany one of our international buying group partners was arm-twisted into taking a risk. It took promises of a 'sale or return' deal to convince these steely-faced Germans that they had nothing to lose. After the first year of success they placed an order for the next year for over 10,000 units! Today, the Christmas Antlers live on despite the fact that production in the UK had to be terminated and moved to China and the fact that some competition in the market has also sprung up. It's difficult to calculate how much this range made since it was inspired, twenty years ago. It did more than bring a smile to someone's face, it made a statement that Robinsons were innovative and were prepared to offer alternative products which were not always aimed at the serious competitor. It made us look different from our competitors, a difference we've been keen to maintain ever since!

The Importance of Being Honest…

…or ‘Who on Earth are Feefo and Why are they Emailing Me?’   If you’ve placed an order from Robinsons this year, it’s likely you’ll have received an email from a company called Feefo in the days and weeks that followed to ask you to rate the items and the service you received. Of course, I expect many of those who received this email chose not to respond.  Let’s be real for a moment, there’s no way we should expect otherwise - we’ve all done that, haven’t we?  With that in mind, I extend my sincere thanks to anyone who did take the time to complete the short survey, however you chose to rate us and whatever you said about us, good or bad.  Without your honesty, we wouldn’t have the same ability to grade the quality of our service – and we wouldn’t have the chance to put things right if they’ve gone wrong here and there. In the past, I’ve blogged about improving our commitment to transparent behaviour and since then, I’m pleased to say that we’ve been far better able to react to occasional problems and we now have much more confidence in our ability to consistently provide the level of service we expect of ourselves.  We’ve also (touch wood) not encountered any instances of severe chat room criticism since the one in June last year that made us change the way we think about this subject.  Please let me know if you know different, though! I don’t want you to think that all this makes us complacent, that we can consider the job is done and just concentrate on something else now.  Transparency is an all-or-nothing commitment and it’s now something we look at every day, to measure not just the usual performance stuff, like how many orders we sent out but how well we’ve done impressing the people who received them. And so, before I finish this post, I must ensure you know how we are now more honest with you, as a result of our kind Feefo respondents.  To quote Jack Byrnes (Robert de Niro’s character) in ‘Meet The Parents’, I need to complete the “circle of trust”. The performance data from the Feefo emails is freely available at any time on the Robinsons Review page on the Feefo website for anyone to view.  It’s also used to add details to our Google listing, to indicate that our service levels might make us a better choice for anyone searching for the things we offer. In the old days, Marketing Managers tended to be cautious of such measures because the rating might go down.  Today, we accept that we have to ensure that it remains as high as we can be because we’re aware (and we’re also very happy) that everyone can see it. As I type, the proportion of people who rated us as ‘Good’ or ‘Very Good’ is 93% - which is about the same level as M&M Direct, Joe Brown’s and other large mail order companies that most people have heard of.  It’s reassuring to know that our customers rate us so highly but of course, we shouldn’t be really happy until it’s trending at 100%. I honestly hope you feel this is as important as we do.  Thanks, as ever, for reading, Paul Email me at any time at: paul.bentham@robinsonsequestrian.com

Robinsons in South Africa

Earlier this month my wife  and I had the opportunity to visit South Africa for the very first time. It was more than just a vacation or find change of scenery.  It was to experience standing on top of Table Mountain, driving along the famous Garden Route to Port Elizabeth and spend four days being wowed by the sights in Blyde River Canyon.  But perhaps driving for a few hundred miles around Kruger National Park was surely the highlight of our trip. I could go on about the holiday and even bore you with dozens of unbelievable pictures, but to get back to business.  I felt the desire to share an ‘equestrian experience' with you.  For fifteen years we have been promising to visit our friends Roy and Darryl Gershow from Johannesburg, well we eventually did. I first met these great South African brothers when they agreed to become members of our international group of equestrian retailers.  The world Equestrian Alliance was formed in 1989 and now comprises of companies from Sweden, Germany, Canada, Australia and South Africa and of course ourselves who represent The UK and Ireland.  This small group of family owned and run businesses have retained a very close bond for all of those years and regularly exchange views and ideas about products and brands.  We meet quite regularly and make commercial trips to Asia and the Far East. We had a tremendous welcome in Jo’Burg (as it is affectionately known down there) and our visit to ‘The Western Shoppe’ was nothing short of spectacular. The Gershow's  created their first store here many years ago and now have other branches in Durban and Cape Town. They also operate a small wholesale business and recently introduce an on-line mail order business.  It was a pleasure to reacquaint ourselves and spend a little more time with Jane who keeps a very close eye on the other stores whilst getting involved in quite a lot of the product selection and buying. We also met Angelique the retail store supervisor who runs a very motivated and knowledgeable customer service team.  It was a great two day break from our hectic holiday schedule and fantastic to feel like I was back at home in the middle of a mechanising discussion whilst comparing notes on different brands of customer service demands.  It struck me that Tack shops are the same the world over but this one has that little bit of something which would  create  envy not just  with South Africa retailers but with many in the UK also. The Western Shoppe is something special and has a phenomenal reputation for saddles and saddle fitting.  It has the aura of a business which represents quality, and the appearance of an equestrian emporium which is steeped in tradition.   Roy and Darryl are very proud of this business and so they should be, just as I am proud that Robinson are associated with them.