20 Years of Kent Saddlery
Kent Saddlery was established in 1988, when we (Lyle and Helen) decided to make a big change from vegetable farming to saddlery. Lyle had developed a keen interest in leather work during the 1960s’ when, as a ringer on Humbert River Station, he regularly repaired saddles and other leather gear. During the 17 years in which we farmed, Lyle always maintained an interest in leather work, and in our first little house he had a leather work bench set up in the living room. In 1988 we built the granite rock saddlery workshop, Helen returned to teaching for 4 years, and Lyle began full time saddlery training.
In 1991 we began travelling the North and West of Australia, setting out with our Landcruiser, trailer, our four boys, Ben, Daniel, Jamie and Paul, and family pet dog "Jock". Our oldest daughter, Leah, was working in Toowoomba and stayed behind. Helen was pregnant with our youngest daughter Jessica, born in Derby W.A. in August of that year.
Camballin Station, near Derby, West Kimberleys, WA, 1991
We’d been told that horse work in the North was a thing of the past, and that helicopters and motorbikes had taken over; so it was with some uncertainty we ventured into the Kimberley region of W.A. to look for work repairing saddles. We soon discovered that horse work was very much alive in the Kimberley, and we spent 6 months moving between several stations doing lots of saddles repairs.
As he dismantled and repaired the saddles, Lyle learned a lot about the different styles of saddles, and as a result, began to develop a style of fender stock saddle which he believed would be rugged, low maintenance, and comfortable for the rider, as well as good on the horses’ backs.
Since then, the travelling component of our business has changed dramatically from repair work to promotion and sales of our saddles and gear. Our trips around the cattle stations of the north and west of Australia are always interesting and stimulating, and we invariably come home with fresh ideas, following feedback received from our customers.
2008 marked our 18th year of travelling. We again visited over 100 cattle station in an area covering the NT, Kimberleys, Qld Gulf and Channel Country. With station ringers coming from all over Australia, we’ve found more and more that our saddles and gear are being spread far and wide. A saddle bought on a station could end up anywhere, as satisfied customers show them to their neighbours and friends. Consequently, we have sold into every Australian state and Territory, and have also exported saddles to New Guinea, Canada, the UK, USA and New Zealand. We made an interesting trip to New Zealand early in 2007 and we include an account of that adventure in our 20th Anniversary Mail Order Catalogue.
The Mail Order component of Kent Saddlery is rapidly expanding, and we believe this is largely due to the travel, and improved access to internet services for outback people. Our website has attracted a lot of interest and sales, and our updated web site now includes an online shop facility, as well as a comprehensive listing and pricing of all Kent saddles and gear. The website provides information about Australian cattle stations, updated interest items, articles and stories of people and places, and a complete record of the outback station photos (2001 - 2008).
Kent Saddlery has developed as a family business, and in 2008, all of our adult children and two spouses are involved. The exception is Jess, our high school student, but she helps out with office duties during school holidays. Josh & Leah have recently had another baby - a daughter named Ena Stephanie. Daniel & Sonia’s first baby has also just arrived, a boy named Jacob Sean.
Rob Teague, Nockatunga Station, Qld, offered this comment, “That’s a big thing too; promoting it as a family business. People think, ‘Isn’t that good; Mum, Dad, the kids, the dogs, everyone’s there, lets give them a go!” (see the article on Nockatunga Station in our 20th Anniversary Mail Order Catalogue)
All small businesses rely on relationship, and we’ve been privileged to continue to build on the relationships of 20 years standing, as well as forge new ones; often connected to people, places, and events from previous years. Customers frequently jog our memory with words such as “Do you remember when you were at “such and such” in “such in such” a year?”, and the relationship is re-established and revived. Amazing!