How to build a $100 tack set

I kind of wanted to title this one “Don’t Be A Sucker”, but then I thought that might be a little aggressive. But, if you are interested I’ll explain how you too can make a $100 tack set. We’ve all seen them being sold. But how do they do it?

But first a little back story…

About 18 months ago my father in law, Jim SR, (who does all our carving at HB) brought an issue of Western Horseman to me and showed me a full page ad that showcased a $470 Heritage Brand Matisse breast collar that I had designed, he had carved, and we had put into production at HB in 2011 and they were selling it for $69. Yes, $69. 
Here is the original:

This ad was not done by us. It was paid for and done by a TX based competitor (who shall remain nameless tho I promise you know who they are), and was their major marketing campaign unveiling “their” new line going into the Christmas season. In the photo there was virtually no way to discern the difference between the two products.

But this isn’t the bad part.

After speaking with the owner of this company, that portrays themselves as “American” made, he disclosed to me that he had purchased an entire shipping container of this particular design from a manufacturer in India. Yes, India. They had approached him with photos, he had placed an order and “What was he supposed to do with them if he couldn’t sell them!?!”

Now we need to rewind for a moment.

Throughout the year we receive emails from manufacturers from India to China, soliciting us to buy their cheap products. Many of which are our original designs like this one:

With emails like this actual one we recently received with this headstall photo:

“Thanks to reply please find hare some new samples of head stalls and spur straps.If you want to see samples for checking Leather and manufacturing quality I can send you samples for you kind consideration.Please tell me the article No.our Company Located in Kanpur India.”

While we would never dream of purchasing from these companies, for more reasons than I have time to list, clearly some people do. And what I'm going to do today, is explain how they can and do make tack sets for $100.

First, you need to understand that retailer’s (a.k.a. stores) cost on tack is generally right about 50% of the retail price. So if a tack set is priced at $100, the store paid somewhere around $50 for it.

Which means the manufacturer, in this case a company in India, has a total cost of $50 in an entire tack set. How do they do it? I’m so glad you asked!

Crystals: Don’t use them. Know what happens when you swap genuine Swarovski crystals for acrylic crystals (which is just a churched up way of saying plastic)? Your cost decreases by about 90%. And while they might look passable in a picture, there’s no mistaking the difference in person. They’re dull, cloudy, lacking the sharp facets that cause Swarovski’s to have their luster, will scratch and the color will quickly fade.

Carving: Nah. That’s way too much time and effort. Say hello to my little friend the leather embosser. Simply squeeze plain leather through the patterned rollers, and Voila!, you have what looks like exquisitely hand-tooled leather. From a distance. To the untrained eye. If it’s not open.

Leather: (Hold up! How does a country that worships cattle, and has laws banning cattle slaughter also manufacture leather products? I need someone to explain this one to me!)

Use Bonded leather instead of Full Grain. Bonded leather is leather shavings or dust that is literally glued together and resurfaced. It is weak and degrades rapidly with use. Think particle board. You know, the stuff that swells and separates when it gets wet. Or if you’re really lucky, it’s made from “Genuine” leather, which, although it sounds very high quality, is merely one small step above bonded. It’s the layer that’s left after all the good layers (Full and Top grain) have been split off. It is commonly resurfaced with spray paint to resemble a higher grade. Oh so tricky!

Sidenote: Mixing of dog poop, flour and water, pressed flat and dried in the sun will also achieve a bonded leather equivalent. You’re welcome~

Hardware: Anything but stainless steel. Typically cheap alloys like Zinc, which are brittle and will break when put under too much pressure. Or my favorite, and the one I discovered was used on the $69 knock off of our breast collar, wait for it… PLASTIC! Yes, gray molded plastic, which looks surprisingly close to metal in a Photoshopped picture. But which I can contest looks and feels like what it actually is in person. Neither material is a problem until you’re running 35 MPH at the second barrel and your headstall buckle breaks in two.

Note: Stainless Steel is strong as all get out, doesn’t chip, bend, crack or rust (thank you Chromium Oxide), and is also expensive. So that’s out when you’re talking $50 tack sets.

Warranty: They are 100% covered… that is until you walk out of the store.

Versus our Lifetime Warranty.

Customization: Need a darker leather color? Cheeks shortened? Maybe your horse’s name carved on a halter? Lose your throat latch and need a replacement? Sorry dude. Not gonna happen.

Labor: These Third World countries use predatory labor practices, paying approx. $1 hour, no benefits, using unsafe chemicals and loose safety standards. I’m guessing less than $10 total cost per tack set.

Here’s the HB Crew: none of which make $1 hour, and all of which pay taxes. We worked one summer without A/C, and the fridge is currently out of Diet Coke, but that’s about as predatory as we get around here.

Not to mention market research, product development, etc… When all you have to do is copy what other companies have successfully ironed out, your costs magically decrease significantly. As does your dignity.

And if that wasn’t enough, keep in mind that these huge shipping containers come to the US stuffed to the gills with foreign imports, and leave our shores empty headed back to refill. If they went back to the other side of the planet full of American made goods, we’d all be singing a different tune.

I get it. You can’t buy a Mercedes on a Geo budget. I understand that not everyone has an extra $700 to spend on fancy HB tack. My first bridle was made out of nylon because that’s what we could afford. But please do your patriotic self a favor, and buy American Made tack in whatever budget works for you. And if the tag doesn’t say Made in the USA, I promise it’s not.

Here’s the HB wholesale line, for you stores out there hungry for something you can stand behind.

And if your tack room is full of Showman, Bar H, Krazy Girl or one of the many brands all being manufactured from the same shared facility in India, just keep that bonded leather out of the rain! And the next time you go tack shopping… don’t be a sucker ;-)

Now want to see how an $890 tack set is made?

Until next time ~ Jess
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