How To Start and Operate Your Own

By Dusty and Bonnie Henson, Owners "World Famous" El Paso Saddleblanket Co., El Paso, TX

Free Catalog
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Appendix A
Appendix B
Appendix C
Chapter V


In the retail industry, the product line is the star of the show. Quality products are the lifeline between the customer and the cash register. Nothing in a store is more important than the merchandise itself and how customers are drawn to it.

Many businesses fail because of serious mistakes in their choice of inventory. In an attempt to be unique they stock up on oddball items that are totally unproven in the marketplace.

For a start-up inventory it is imperative that you stick with middle-of-the-road trading post merchandise that is already proven to be popular with a broad range of consumers. As profits build you might experiment a little, but never gamble more than 5% of your purchasing budget on unknown, unproven merchandise.

On a start up situation, rule number 1 is "follow the leader"

Look at successful operations and learn all you can from their selection of merchandise, displays and pricing. Among the all-time greats are two families in Arizona and New Mexico. The Bowlins and Ortegas were the original masters of the old Highway 66 roadside trading posts. El Paso Saddleblanket Company is proud to say we have been suppliers to their dozens of stores since the early 1970s. Although through the years their stores have changed and our product line has changed, there is still a strong bond between us (not to mention the exchange of millions of dollars). Their input frequently helps us shape new products, or adapt old ones to make them more marketable. If a new product is developed carefully it can blend right into a setting with merchandise that has been popular for decades. A new line of "reinvented" artifacts is selling like crazy and consumers have embraced it as if it were truly traditional.

Within the "Southwest" industry there is a broad spectrum of style of shops

These range from high-end galleries that offer Indian paintings and Cowboy bronzes at $20,000 all the way down to T-shirt shops specializing in postcards and 50-cent souvenirs. Do not let yourself get trapped in a "gallery" mentality. Most of the snooty high-end stores are started up by bored older ladies that don't have a lick of business sense, and 98% of them go out of business within two years. This is not to say there is anything wrong with galleries themselves. But be forewarned, it is a high stakes game. The successful ones are operated by real pros who know how to pay paltry sums to the artists and then convince the "noveau riche" customers that the works are priceless.

 If you're an honest businessperson who likes to get a good night's sleep, stick with proven trading post merchandise that is bought and sold at fair prices from the artisan to the wholesaler to the merchant to the public. Everybody in the chain deserves a fair return on their investment and the consumer deserves the best deal available. We at El Paso Saddleblanket Company have lived by this credo and believe it is fair to all. As your business grows, you will come to appreciate  reliable vendors who don't cheat or play games with prices.

What mix of products is right for your store?

A well-rounded mercantile can combine a few expensive pieces, some obligatory postcards and souvenirs and a wide range of middle-of-the road standard items that the majority of your customers can afford.

If you have traveled to the Southwest or have started studying the market for Southwest goods, you may already be familiar with the most recognized merchandise.

  Hand-woven rugs and saddleblankets

  Hand-woven tapestries and wallhangings

  Hand-woven runners and table mats

  Hand-woven serapes, ponchos, sashes

  Hand-carved kachinas and wood carvings "santos"

  Handmade jewelry of silver and turquoise

  Hand-crafted good luck shield--mandellas

  Hand-crafted dream catchers

  Hand thrown or coiled pottery of native clay

  Hand woven baskets of native reeds, palm or pine needles

  Hand painted pottery

  Hand painted leather shields

  Hand-crafted replicas of Indian tools or ceremonial artifacts

  Hand-crafted drums and tambors

  Hand-crafted sand paintings

  Hand chipped arrowheads

  Hand tooled leather goods

  Hand braided rawhide lariats and horsehair hat bands

  Hand tooled saddles and riding whips

  Handmade Indian dolls, fans and miniature looms

  Hand-crafted decorations of horns, hides, fur and beads

Don't ever tire of saying HANDwoven, HAND-painted, HANDmade and HANDcrafted because this is the very essence of what makes Southwest merchandise so special. Thank goodness computerized machines cannot spit out likenesses of these products 10,000 per hour.

No matter how sophisticated technology gets, and how far the world reaches into cyberspace, people will always have special appreciation for works of beauty that were shaped in the hands of artisans using centuries-old skills and techniques passed down from their elders.

The reproduction of age-old craft fulfills two very important goals that connect the past to the future.

  1. It is a powerful transmitter of culture from one generation to the next.

  2. It allows the primitive artisans to improve their lot in life with better health care, education and improved communications with more advanced segments of society.

You, the merchant, hold this chain together. While you are fulfilling the needs of consumers, you make a good living for yourself and also send money down the line to support hundreds of artists and craftsmen .

There is something very unique about the sales process with Southwest Goods

You're not just selling a product to a person. Somehow, the environment you create in your store taps into people's inner dreams and ideals. You don't need a high pressure sales pitch when you observe a customer...

  ... wrap up in an Indian Chief's blanket

  ... beat a primitive rhythm on a crude drum

  ... climb up on a saddle or twirl a lariat

  ... smile in the mirror as they put on a brilliant turquoise necklace

  ... sink their fingers into the deep pile of a thick fur or woolen decoration

  ... hold a delicate clay pot gently in their hand

  ... pensively study the intricacy of a dream catcher

You don't' need to know the customer's exact thoughts but you need to be aware that a sale is eminent. Once an item is selected, then you start a sales pitch for related items. Don't worry about matching colors, textures, styles or anything else. Remember, the 'no fences" mentality of the southwest allows for all sorts of things to blend together in their own special way.

Along with all the beautiful handmade art we have mentioned above, we need to now examine the plainer side of the old West and how "collectibles" can accent your inventory.

The best sellers include:

Branding irons  Horseshoes

Old milk cans  Bits and spurs

Harnessess and Hames  Tractor seats

Ox yokes  Wagon wheels

Old hats and sombreros

Horns and hides

Household decorations crafted from horseshoes

Carts, crates and barrels

Burden baskets

Pack saddles and saddle trees

Old saddles and tack

All this old junk - OPPS--l mean ranch collectables, sells like crazy to Americans and foreigners go absolutely bonkers over it.

Recently a Japanese merchant came to El Paso Saddleblanket for a container load of merchandise to export. The shipment, among other things, consisted of 50 mounted steer horns, two full taxidermy shoulder mounts of Mexican fighting bulls, 500 tarantula paper weights, 100 freeze dried Brazilian piranha fish and 1,000 rusty horseshoes. As a merchant, you have to realize there's just no accounting for taste. But we did encourage him to also pick from the more traditional items such as rugs, mandellas, kachinas and pottery. I guess there's a market for everything somewhere in the world.

Beyond handcrafted Indian goods and western collectibles, there is another group of products that rounds out the inventory for a southwest store or trading post. This will be the 'low end" of your product line but is very worthwhile because it adds interest and returns a good profit. Approximately 5% to 10% of your start-up inventory should be used for

  Post cards, greeting cards, paper goods with southwest themes

  Old West Wanted posters"

  Famous Indian portraits

  T-shirts with Cowboy and Indian themes

  Refrigerator magnets of chilies, cactus, and other Southwest objects

  Packaged candy--chili pod or tequila worm suckers

  Cactus candies and jams

  Chile products, salsas and cookbooks

This is merchandise that is not produced or manufactured by El Paso Saddleblanket, but we will happily provide you with the names and addresses of the most reliable wholesale vendors to deal with.

Whatever your budget for merchandise, remember you can't sell from an empty wagon". Make a commitment to your store that you will put all your profits back into inventory building for at least a year. This will keep your shelves stocked and your store will perpetually look fresh and interesting.

We at El Paso Saddleblanket would like the opportunity to be your primary supplier for merchandise. We can provide approximately 90% of what you need to open up your trading post and keep you supplied regularly.

What not to buy

Now we would like to offer some cautions on what not to buy so that you don't make serious mistakes on inventory.

  1. Don't buy new saddles unless you are already in the tack or ranch supply business. Cowboys don't buy their saddles in gift shops.

  2. Don't buy expensive bits and spurs. Stock an economical line of decorative ones.

  3. Don't stock genuine Navajo rugs unless your starting inventory exceeds $200,000. High-end items are slow sellers and you risk creating the perception all your merchandise is too expensive.

  4. Don't take anything on consignment. As soon as your store opens you will be bombarded by local hobby artists begging you to display their knickknacks. Some of these whiners might even be your friends or relatives, but you must say "NO" to absolutely all of them.

Your shelf space is too valuable to give away to your overpriced, inferior, amateur hobby craft. If your policy is "no consignment" you will not offend any craftspeople. Make one exception and everybody's mad at you. Don't risk it.

  5. Don't buy anything from traveling salesmen. Traveling salesmen are sometimes called "road warriors". They are very professional in their sales pitches and have dozens of ways to get the best of you. Some are outright cons and criminals. Particularly watch out for ones selling Navajo or Zuni jewelry, fake Rolex watches or copyrighted goods like Disney characters on T-shirts or caps. You could end up getting in trouble on Federal Trade charges and the salesman is scott-free --gone -- on down the road.

Even if the merchandise is legitimate, don't get charmed into paying top dollar for low-grade merchandise that may look good on the surface but, in fact, may be "seconds".

The typical sales approach of a road warrior is to play on your own ego. He will be very complimentary about your shop and toward you personally. He will ask if you did the buying of all this splendid merchandise. What he's doing is challenging your importance and your power to make buying decisions.

Don't fall for it. Keep your wits about you and politely decline. Rarely, rarely will you have ever passed up a good deal. Road warriors are not direct manufacturers or distributors of their wares. You could say it would be a little like buying seafood from a truck with Kansas license plates.


Updated 2001
© 2001. El Paso Saddleblanket. All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced without the written permission of
El Paso Saddleblanket Co.

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