By Lynne Kaye Subler
Reprinted with permission from the Virginia Horse
Kim Keppick stumbled onto a rewarding
business opportunity when, in a last ditch attempt to get her students horse to relax
and accept the bit, she attached one end of a pair of elastic side reins
to the horses bit and handed the other end to her student. As the
student rode off, to her amazement, the horse dropped his head and relaxed.
According to Kim, "thats when a light bulb went off for me."
To the horse, the give of the elastic simulated the soft feel of a highly
skilled riders hands.
At first, Kim did not expect the elastic
rein inserts she tinkered with to turn into a full-fledged business. "I just wanted
something practical for myself and a few other trainers." She and
the leather workers at Journeymen developed prototypes with all kinds
of different designs. As Kim described, "all the designs helped the
problem, but some were too heavy or too bulky or had too much stretch
or not enough." Kim sent the prototypes that worked best to other
trainers for their feedback. The other trainers responses proved
that getting a horse to relax and accept the bit was a common problem.
Kim said, "thanks to the positive responses I got from the trainers,
and most importantly the horses, I kept trying different prototypes until
I found a design that worked. Then, having proved that there was a need,
I patented the design and turn it into a business."
Two years and many, many prototypes after Kim put the
elastic side reins onto her students horse, Kim founded Rein-Aid
Productions. Today, Kim can claim to have created a market for elastic
rein inserts and become the President of a very successful company.
Rein-Aid Productions designs, markets and distributes
specialized equestrian products. From its Middleburg, VA headquarters,
the company offers Rein-Aid® elastic rein inserts and seventeen
styles of Elasto-Rein® show reins with the Rein-Aid® feature.
The company keeps two employees busy full-time and uses several more
people to sell the companys products at trade fairs.
Like many entrepreneurs, Kim went into business without
formal business training. She joined the equestrian world as a full-time
competitor after high school and then began training horses and riders.
According to Kim, her training career gave her an "understanding
of how and why my products work. Really, the horses were my mentors."
As an international competitor Kim also traveled which she said got her
"used to the ways of the world." She credited designing lesson
plans and scheduling lessons efficiently with for her organization skills.
Her accounting skills came from "always doing the books for the familythat
is, my husbands farrier business and my own training business.
To make Rein-Aid Productions a
success, Kim also learned a whole host of other skills. "I was, and still am somewhat,
a complete rookie in the business world. Looking back--this is actually
quite funny--my original advertising idea was to put two-page, full color
ads in all the best horse publications. Something that would
really make a splash and get peoples attention. Then, I contacted
the publications and got a real shock. At the time, I think one full
color page in Practical Horseman cost $5,000. Needless to say,
the cost was way outside the budget in my business plan."
Unlike many entrepreneurs who would
have blown their budgets to do two page ads or place just a handful
of full color ads, Kim stuck with the budget and the ad frequency in
her business plan. "I ended
up with 1/6 page black and white ads," she said.
Kim knew to develop a business plan
because "Ed Hauswald
[a retired Exxon executive and one of Kims students] told me I needed
one." She learned business a piece at a time. "Any idea I had
Id bounce off people before and after I acted on them," Kim
recalled. Kims client mix was similar to most trainers client
mixes; it included a number of people with substantial business training
and experience. She asked those clients to share their expertise with
her. Then, she used their advice to guide her business decisions. In a
perfect description of networking Kim said, "Ive
always respected my clients and helped them. In return, theyve
helped me. For example, I was exercising race horses for Roy Lerman who
is an attorney. I asked him for advice. He encouraged me to patent the
prototype for Rein-Aid® inserts and put me in touch with very
good patent attorneys."
Like any successful person, Kim had
some lucky breaks along the way. She knew she needed big name endorsements
before launching her full-scale advertising campaign. One day, Hilda
Guerney, the legendary dressage trainer, came to Kims trade fair booth to buy a pair of
inserts. Kim capitalized on her lucky break. She recounted, "after
Hilda had the inserts for a few weeks, I called her to follow-up. She
raved after the product, so I asked her if shed endorse it." Hilda
agreed, giving Kim the big name endorsement she needed.
As she assessed her business venture
so far, Kim was most pleased by the feedback she received from customers. "It gives me
goose bumps every single time someone picks up the phone and says how
much better their horse is going, that happens a lot." Her business
has also been financially rewarding. "I care about that, too,"
she said. "Can my husband get a 72 foot boat yet with the money Ive
madeno. But, hes hoping."
Kims biggest frustration as a business person was
"finding a reliable source to actually produce the Rein-Aids® and Elasto-Reins® in
a mass quantity at a quality I find acceptable. One of my biggest losses
has been returning merchandise of quality I wont
even try to sell to the consumer." Like a true entrepreneur she added,
"other people dont care about [Rein-Aid] as much as I do. I
guess when somethings your baby, you want it to succeed."
Kim believes she reached her market
awareness goal. In her words, "my goal was to build awareness
so that people with a problem with their horses accepting the bit would
consider Rein-Aid. Now, I think most horse people are aware of the
Kim believes the large numbers of people
that start riding as adults create a growing market for products like
hers. "The adults
have full-time jobs, meaning they cannot perfect their riding skills by
riding 15 horses a day for 20 years." Kims goal is to see
every rider with a full-time, non-equestrian job in a pair of Rein-Aids® or Elasto-Reins®. "Eventually I want to license out the patent or sell to a larger
company. But, first I want to grow it because Im passionate about
Kim said the biggest surprise of her
career as a businessperson is how much time it takes. Her advice for
other equestrian entrepreneurs and potential equestrian entrepreneurs
is "ask advice. Dont
be afraid if you dont know. Also, talk about your ideas to people." Kim
credits the advice she received from people and horses with helping her
become a successful businesswoman.