WHO: Ronni Blasz
WHAT: Skylands Saddlery
WHERE: New Jersey
HOW: Ronni Blasz entered the business world and climbed the corporate ladder far quicker than she had imagined. After graduating from business school and beginning work in New York, she found herself in a director position at Merrill Lynch at the age of 29. She excelled – but had reservations – and when she was suddenly fired without warning, those reservations were confirmed. “I was bitter, angry, and upset,” says Blasz about her job loss, but when she was offered a consulting position with her former company three years later, with the promise of a full-time position after 60 days, she knew she needed to take it. However, 60 days came and went, and six years later, Blasz found herself still consulting – but also wanting a way out.
That’s when Blasz, a long time Dressage rider (a type of horseback riding that requires an extreme amount of detail and sportsmanship), found her window of opportunity. A local saddlery shop had relocated to Florida — and Blasz jumped at the opportunity. She hired a full-time store manager, and put two days a week into helping the store grow, while doing three days of consulting on the side. “I would get my consulting checks, and I’d deposit them right into the store’s account” says Blasz. That salary, combined with $50,000 in savings and a Home Equity Loan helped her get the business off the ground.
Her launch didn’t come without struggles, however. “I walked into the business thinking I’d pick up where the other business had left off,” says Blasz, “but the previous business had a long history before me.” Blasz had to put a lot of effort into ensuring that she would offer exceptional service to her customers, even though she was launching a brand new business in a well-known storefront. However, within three years of the launch, Skylands Saddlery reached profitability – an achievement she credits to her credibility and trustworthiness as a business owner. “Dressage is a really complicated – and expensive – sport,” says Blasz. “You can’t just page through a catalog to find what you need – you need an expert to show you what will work and what won’t for the rider and the horse alike.”
Much of her growth has come from a new skill she added to her repertoire after the launch – becoming a professional saddle fitter. Today, she travels all over to fit saddles to horses and riders, which she says now occupies much of her time. She is on track to gross well over $500,000 this year between fittings and her retail business both in store, online, and at horse shows. Keeping the store running with both full- and part-time employees, as well as a brand new marketing intern that will help her increase her online presence, Blasz is confident they’ll keep up with the quickly expanding business.
HER ADVICE: “Make sure there’s a market, and make sure it’s something you’re passionate about,” says Blasz. “Prepare to spend a lot of money to get it off the ground, and prepare to work insanely hard!”