Sarah Ford 0:00
One person will tell me one thing and the next day somebody else say why don’t you do like the complete opposite? I think a lot of it is out of goodwill. It’s like, okay, we’re not going to invest but here’s some advice. But at the end of the day, you have to keep doing what you’re doing, because you can get pulled in 1000 different directions if you listen to everybody.
Angela Giovine 0:20
Pop culture has become obsessed with entrepreneurship stories from Silicon Valley, and big startup. But the backbone of our economy is made of small local businesses. Every day, millions of small business owners deliver quality products and services, support the local economy, employ their neighbors and follow their passion. We think their stories are worth telling. I’m Angela Giovine. Welcome to the extra ordinary small business podcast
Today on the show. Sarah Ford and her business Ranch Road Boots. We follow Sarah’s business journey from college to Marines to Harvard to cowboy boots.
This episode is brought to you by Click Funnels.
Sarah Ford loves boots. It’s a key ingredient in many startup stories. The passion for the product. We talked to Sarah Ford about her business journey from Harvard Business School to management consulting, from crafting bespoke booth in a live setting to the evolution into e commerce. Sarah is an example of grit, determination, agility, and creativity.
Sarah Ford 1:46
Hi, my name is Sarah Ford. I’m the CEO and founder of Range Road Boots. We’re an online purveyor of luxury, mostly cowboy boots, but we celebrate the global Gaucho culture and we sell boots that men and women wear all over the world.
Angela Giovine 2:01
That’s amazing. So how did you fall in love with Gaucho Culture? What made you think I want to own a company that make
Sarah Ford 2:10
Angela Giovine 2:11
Sarah Ford 2:12
Well, I grew up in San Angelo, Texas. My grandfather, Daddy Tom, was near and dear to me. It was super fun. I’d hang out with them all the time. It was very easy to go visit my grandparents and there was a cowboy in West Texas in the 30s and 40s. And he retired reading water meters for the city of San Angelo, but he was always wearing cowboy boots, starched jeans and a start shirt, and he would take me to get cowboy boots every year around the rodeo time. When I was little, I’d wear like super baggy jeans because I hated how they were tight on me. I just grew up with a love and appreciation of cowboy boots and when he was getting near death, I went and bought a couple pair of custom shirts from a store here in San Angelo ML Leddy’s which is legendary for making wonderful custom cowboy boots. And I just really enjoyed the process the design process, it took two years to get them they were or actually between one and two years is typically their wait period. And I thought, Huh, I wonder if there’s a business. I jumped in thinking, if I narrow the selection, I can speed up production and deliver boots like six weeks. So I went into it with like, crowdsourcing design mentality and speeding up production, like making the making process simpler, very naively, I didn’t realize it was actually a supply issue, not a demand issue. So they are very time consuming to make. And there’s not that many bootmakers alive in the world, like whether they’re made parts are made in Mexico or parts or they’re all made in the US. That was the issue. So I look at custom cowboy boots as something that are like art, you should collect them
Angela Giovine 3:57
It’s an endangered art.
Sarah Ford 3:58
It’s fun. Yeah. And it’s like a lot of the bootmakers, their kids are accountants and lawyers, doctors, they’re not cobblers and know how to make boots. So it’s a wonderful art to appreciate. But we just do ready to wear now. So we’re still handmade, but you don’t design any part of our boots like we do the design, and we sell them online.
Angela Giovine 4:18
Wow. So, did you go straight from school into becoming an entrepreneur? Tell us about how you arrived at entrepreneurship.
Sarah Ford 4:28
Well, I think I have always been an entrepreneur since I was little like hustling up business, my dad owned office buildings. And I’m not I mean, he owned like, a little storefront, like with maybe 10 or 15 like stores and I would go to all the owners and offer janitorial services to them. So my dad paid me to clean the men’s and women’s bathrooms, the hallways like you know, coffee break room, but then I would go out to all of the people that rented from them and clean their offices too. So I was the janitor from like, 10 to 17, but I remember thinking like back then, you know, I think it would be really great to own a funeral home and a flower shop, because they’ll work off each other. And so just like having.. having that, like always looking for opportunity,
Angela Giovine 5:17
Your brain was just wired brain that way.
Sarah Ford 5:18
was always like wired that way. So I went to University of Texas at Austin, and I got out in the height of the dot com bubble, and I got a great fun job. But I’d sit there and my great fun job staring at the gardener’s outside like wishing that I was out there planning something, not sitting behind a desk and I just always wanted to do something more and more exciting. And I went kind of that do the backpack through Europe thing on a budget, staying in hostels, but went to the D day beaches, and I was moved by the sacrifice there and I’d grown up in a family of former marines. And so I thought, well, maybe I’ll join the Marine Corps, but I looked at the Peace Corps and I looked at teaching maybe in like telluride or somewhere teaching like eighth grade math, somewhere- it just sounded fun. Like I just wanted some adventure. So I talked to a recruiter for the Marine Corps and was like, and he was very efficient at getting me in the Marine Corps before any of those are an option. He was a very good salesman. So joined the Marines in, left the Marine Corps went to business school, and then work for a consulting company and left to go to a startup and that was in 2009. And so since 2009, I’ve been in either like couple years in someone else’s start up and then the rest of the time of my own.
Angela Giovine 6:18
Wow. So you went to the Marines after college. It wasn’t something like you went into ROTC or something to in order to make college happen.
Sarah Ford 6:48
It’s weird because I grew up- when I was little, I wanted to join the Marine Corps when I was like 10. And then I didn’t really consider it at University of Texas. And I think I just chose ignorance I didn’t and nor did my parents really understand all the programs like ROTC and MISAP, or even Naval Academy type of path. So it was just very much my parents were like, both of them have their PhDs and they were very pragmatic about college.
Angela Giovine 7:14
A lot of value placed on education in your house?
Sarah Ford 7:17
Well, and we didn’t shop colleges. It was like, I don’t care if you don’t want to go to UT. It’s 10 grand a year, that’s where you’re going.
Angela Giovine 7:23
Right. And it’s a fantastic school so
Sarah Ford 7:25
Woa, but it was like, just get in, get out. You’re not supposed to have fun in college like,
Angela Giovine 7:29
Sarah Ford 7:30
So it was very pragmatic approach to it. So yeah, I didn’t consider joining the military until after I got my first job out of college. It was something that was I felt good about, but it was also really a big adventure, you know, and I joined June of 2001. So it was quite an adventure because then September 11th, happened three months later, and it changed the course of my military experience. And so just a very unique time to join.
Angela Giovine 8:00
Right and you have active duty, correct?
Sarah Ford 8:02
Hmm. So I was active duty from 2001 to 2005. And then I went to business school and then I got recalled back to active duty for another deployment. And then I went to my first job after Business School. So I did logistics in the Marine Corps, and I deployed as part of the march up to Baghdad, and then I went back a year later, it was in Ramadi, I was doing logistics and mostly operations. So it was like a really exciting time in a ton of like 10 years of learning packed into a few months of life back then.
Angela Giovine 8:34
You almost have like two MBAs you have like the military MBA or I don’t know if you call it an MBA, but some sort of special certainly,
Sarah Ford 8:42
It’s like I encourage any young person that wants to maybe join, I’m like, just do it like it will fly by. Your time will fly by, you will learn so much. You know you’re not going to love it all. It is very uncomfortable times like having to speak in front of 200 people and, you know, they’re five years younger than you looking at you very skeptically, you know, so it’s like how am I going to instill confidence in people in order to lead them and it’s just like things like that life lessons that are working with wonderful leaders and sometimes difficult leaders or counterparts or subordinates that are all these challenges in a workplace happen in other workplaces but they happen very quickly, and a lot of in a short amount of time. So I think it’s like a wonderful choice. If my own daughters wanted to join the Marine Corps I’d be a 100% behind it.
Angela Giovine 9:33
That’s amazing. And thank you. What made you then decide to leave the Marines instead of having a career in the Marines? Why did you go into business school?
Sarah Ford 9:44
So I I didn’t know that I was going to apply to business school after until like, literally three months before I got out of the Marine Corps. What I wanted to do was construction management, and it was kind of the housing boom was happening. So they were hiring a lot of junior military officers to do project management construction. My dad was a builder in San Angelo, Texas. So I always thought building you can drive around in a truck and, you know, hop out and be outside, go to job site. So it felt like it was a good fit for my personality. And I like logistics a lot. And so I thought I was going to get out and be a homebuilder and I applied to business school because a boss of mine from the Marine Corps had applied and I looked at it, I was like, Well, that seems fun. So I applied to one business school, I got in,
Angela Giovine 10:31
Which one was that?
Sarah Ford 10:32
Harvard, I went to Harvard Business School, and I had three months to do it. So I was like studied for the GMAT for, you know, one month to get past the hurdle that I
Angela Giovine 10:41
Sarah Ford 10:42
From everything I could read, I’m sure my military experience like helped me get into Harvard too. But I, yeah, applied and got in and I was super excited about that. And I was like, that’s what I’ll do. But then for entrepreneurship, you know, most successful entrepreneurs do not have an MBA, I think. I don’t know what the number is, but like you don’t have to have an MBA to be a successful entrepreneur.
Angela Giovine 11:04
Certainly not, sure.
Sarah Ford 11:05
And it can derail you because then you’re like, will come out with like 100 grand of debt. And you.
Angela Giovine 11:10
I think that’s true of MBA, JD any of them
Sarah Ford 11:14
Angela Giovine 11:14
Sarah Ford 11:15
All these advanced degrees, like there’s a path that your classmates are all going down. And you know, 80% of you are doing three or four jobs. And it was the same.
Angela Giovine 11:26
Certain recruiters are coming there, they’re hearing a lot of people doing the same thing. And also psychologically, dollars wise, you’ve
Sarah Ford 11:34
You’ve got to pay back
Angela Giovine 11:35
down into your education, you’ve got loans, and you’re like,
Sarah Ford 11:38
Angela Giovine 11:38
well make sense. Now I have to make big bucks. And that is such a mind meld because you’re like, if that sunk cost thing, like,
Sarah Ford 11:46
Angela Giovine 11:47
I just keep pushing because this is what I’ve invested so far, and what’s going to make me happy?
Sarah Ford 11:52
I tell people that are like considering entrepreneurship like after their MBA, pay off. First of all, make sure if you’re married or with a partner, make sure your spouse is or partner is super onboard. Because you’re going to all sacrifice through this, you’ll pay off all your school loans as fast as you can. And don’t adjust to your lifestyle because those are like these handcuffs that you can’t, you’re going to need so much cash, you’re going to need every penny you’ve got, to start a business. And you really don’t want to set the expectation for your family, that their quality of life is going to be this bum bum bum because once you start a business, it’s very rare that the business is able to support you at your prior job level right off the bat.
Angela Giovine 12:36
So you went to business school and then from business school, you first went into more of a consulting typical MBA job?
Sarah Ford 12:44
Right, Boston Consulting Group. On paper, it looks like I was at BCG two years, but in reality the first year I was in Afghanistan for chunk of that. I gotten recalled to the Marine Corps. So quickly after getting back and getting in to my consulting role, I knew that this is not something that I felt like in the short term was something like had a blast doing. Oddly, I think maybe some of the things that the partners do at BCG would probably be more of a fit for me, but you need to go through that learning period and stay on track. And it’s not what I wanted to do for my younger working life. So I left after two years, but really, I was deployed first portion of that, so short consultings then.
Angela Giovine 13:28
Right, right. And then from there, you went to another company you said, or startup or your startup?
Sarah Ford 13:35
I went to a startup to do sales, and I stayed for two years.
Angela Giovine 13:39
That’s some valuable training.
Sarah Ford 13:41
Well, I know the funny thing is like, no one was doing sales leaving Harvard, and they used to back in the day.
Angela Giovine 13:47
I say that all the time. I have an MBA, too. I’ve been to a bunch of business schools. It’s like the redheaded stepchild of business. Nobody talks about sales and everybody needs it.
Sarah Ford 13:58
Oh, yeah. And it’s something that like, in you know, when you think of like, what am I qualified for? If my business fails, I would probably look to do sales, because it also seems fun. It’s like you get to talk to business owners and help people. I think it’s an incredible career path and it’ll probably swing back and becoming vogue again to like, do more sales training at business schools. But you look at I think, the Dollar Shave Club I made me feel better about this because he goes in startups, you always have these near death experiences. But you know, some people probably like, Oh, you can never entertain failure. But I think about it like all the time in a calculated way of like, Okay, well what if this happens like what could I do? And it for me, it gives me peace of mind to continue what I am doing knowing that there’s Hey, you have other options, you can go work?
Angela Giovine 14:51
Yeah. Well, I heard a thing the other day from Gary Vee where he was talking about entrepreneurs being plate spinners. And if you’re going to be a plate spinner, sometimes a plate It’s going to break. That’s just that you know what I mean? You have to go into it knowing that sometimes the plates going to break.
Sarah Ford 15:05
Angela Giovine 15:07
So what kind of sales was it?
Sarah Ford 15:09
Automotive. Like so it was an automotive startup.
Angela Giovine 15:12
Automotive, wow, you really done so many things.
Sarah Ford 15:14
It was fun though it was like an off road race car that we were inviting families to come build. So it was like a consumer experience to come build your own car with your family then you could, was like street legal. But I started thinking about like boots and then it became so big in my brain like that. I’m like, I’d go run at lunch and I would just dream about you know, I can go do this, I can make a kill at it . And so it seems simpler.
Angela Giovine 15:42
So at this time were you living in Texas, or Boston?
Sarah Ford 15:46
Angela Giovine 15:47
In Phoenix, okay.
Sarah Ford 15:48
I got divorced while I was at that job. So now I was like, no kids, single, I had skillet my dog, but I didn’t have anybody like, depending on me, like for as far as like startup and been those kind of needs. I’ve gone from Phoenix to Quantico, Virginia, to North Carolina, to California and to Texas. So I like I know how to open sales and use taxes like,
Angela Giovine 16:12
Sarah Ford 16:13
So it’s funny, it’s like I’ve had to move my business that much. And I have like a three year old and a six year old through the process, and I got remarried and has been in the Marine Corps deployed and so I was a part of like, my business and I think why it’s taken so long to grow it. Has just been from choices I made, I wanted to have kids, I wanted to get married. So these are all choices that were no one’s fault, but my own, but I was not in a like single, like physical location for this. So online had to happen for me. And it turns out that it wasn’t a bad place to be.
Angela Giovine 16:52
Right. So let’s talk about that. So when you originally concepted Ranch Road Boots, it was not an online business. It was more of an imperson experience?
Sarah Ford 17:00
Yes, because I didn’t have a ton of money. It was like I think I put about 65,000 that was for living and work. I was doing custom boots where the boot makers were in El Paso. I was selling, I had a horse trailer. I did a couple of these like arts and craft shows. And I was like, this sucks, like setting up the table and breaking it down. So I was like, I’m going to take an old horse trailer, turn it into my mobile showroom,
Angela Giovine 17:25
Sarah Ford 17:26
take it around, we called it boot saloons. I could drag it around, measure people for their shoes, they would pay me $600. We’d have the boots made and then they’d pay the final $600. So there was no inventory, low overhead. And that’s how I started like learning but it wasn’t scalable at all. And I have always wanted to have a very big business even though I’m a small business. The dream was to this is not a hobby, it probably looked like it to a lot of my friends, but I always have wanted it to be a very large business.
Angela Giovine 18:00
But so much of learning in those early years being in that trailer, you’ve actually seen how from the beginning of boot is made, how you’re supposed to measure the fit, all of that stuff.
Sarah Ford 18:11
Yeah. Then I started meeting more what we call like shoe dogs, like people that are in footwear for their their whole lives, you know. They’ve started in the 50s. And these I started getting some phone calls from these guys that were like, Hey, kid, I like your story, but I don’t think you should be doing custom, you should look at ready to wear and then it was like this slow process of figuring out that part of the business.
Angela Giovine 18:36
Were you receptive to that feedback at first? Was that something that you were like, No, I opened custom, I’m staying custom and it took a little while?
Sarah Ford 18:45
No, I was instantly like, I hate custom. I wanted to ready to wear. I was like, super like, Oh my god, I was so excited about the phone call, because Yeah, I was scratching my head on what you know, so I was very like excited to have somebody that was interested in me.
Angela Giovine 19:03
Right, yeah, just just to be able to pivot and quickly and be open to that change, not everybody is open.
Sarah Ford 19:10
Oh no, I am like probably too open to pivots. Like I try a lot of things and my marketing director now has the she lacks lapse about it. I mean, because I’m like super speed, like when I get on to something like that’s like what we should do, like I jump right in.
Angela Giovine 19:27
Right? Yeah, you’re the ideas person?
Sarah Ford 19:29
Was marriage or business or whatever.
Angela Giovine 19:33
So you started the company around 08 09?
Sarah Ford 19:37
It ended up being in 2012, January
Angela Giovine 19:40
Sarah Ford 19:40
When I started it.
Angela Giovine 19:43
Sarah Ford 19:44
Now 2014 we did our kickstarter. And that opened the first round of I think I ordered like 160 pair of ready to wear boots. In 2017, we sold our last pair of custom boots. So I kind of phased that out. You know, we did a did it both. And then I raised a little bit of money in 2015 or 2016. It’s been really under capitalized though. A potential investor, asked me yesterday, like, what is like the worst mistakes like you and I’m like I got to admit too many let me think of the worst, or the thing that I was most naive about was what I was actually trying to do, but where it seems simple compared to automotive, so I was like, this is easy compared to automotive,
Angela Giovine 20:29
Less pieces, all of that stuff. Less intricate.
Sarah Ford 20:32
That is to a extent, probably still true, but I just didn’t realize like, really to grow at the rate that I wanted to grow at. And really I needed to raise money much sooner. But I was scared to lose somebody else’s money, like I didn’t mind, you know, spending my own time doing it because I enjoyed it. I wasn’t like stressed out financially about that. In hindsight, you know, now it’s 2020 and looking back on it, it feels a little bit more like okay, Sarah, like, you’ve been doing this for a long time. And I want to scale. And so I wish that I had raised more money earlier and been more aggressive about that.
Angela Giovine 21:14
Okay, so are you going to like traditional venture capitalists to raise money?
Sarah Ford 21:20
The first money that I raised was from I’m like pretty good business competitions. So
Angela Giovine 21:28
Sarah Ford 21:29
where I went to raise money and then cobbled together an investment from that, some of my original investors had put in like line of credit, you know, because I sold equity to those first guys. And then I was like, Okay, now we need to raise like more significant money. And I was in the middle of raising a convertible note when March happened and of 2020, right, so it’s like, everything is just, you know, ceased. The funny thing is, for me, it was always really hard this past years, it’s been very difficult. Like to raise capital and venture capitalist, like, as soon as they hear cowboy boots, they’re like, there’s not even a conversation. You know, I think it’s short sighted because I think there’s an opportunity in western and I think that we’re a footwear brand, really. And so it’s unfortunate that but I have had to do like friends and family and it’s not like I have a ton of rich friends and family either. So I’m just, I was always really hard. And so now it’s interesting because you ponder your existence or your business and everybody is like in times like this in a small businesses. Oddly, I have had investor calls with venture firms recently, but it was always like I kept reading last year in 2019 there’s this so much money out there, especially like female focused funds, and I have that never been acquitted our business. Right.
Angela Giovine 22:50
Yeah, same same. My sister was my business partner through 2018. And then she went back to corporate America but back in 2014 2015, we did a year of pitching, when we thought we were going to go one direction with the company, and in my experience, it was like, unless you are showing a straight up hockey stick in revenue, that the only way you can really get that is if you are curing some sort of illness, or inventing some sort of technology, they’re not interested in strong brand steady growth. They want they even and what really frustrated us in those pitching experiences, that it’s almost like, just make whatever numbers you need to project to believe, you know, drink your own kool aid, that it’s going to shoot up that high. They don’t actually believe that everything they invest in is going to be that successful, but if you don’t show that kind of
Sarah Ford 23:44
Angela Giovine 23:44
growth, they don’t want to talk to you. That was my experience.
Sarah Ford 23:48
I know. For me, it’s probably unfairly judgmental of that venture community because there’s a lot of smart people in it, I know. I know personally, I know them personally and I respect their intelligence, but when you look at it like that, you know, I don’t think footwear is a super sexy investment, media may not be either. So I haven’t had pitched that. But I think that it’s true. It’s like, you know, maybe they’re looking at it from their approach, but I’m like a lot of these like business, you can make a lot of money in footwear, you know, I look at like, the odds of me being able to raise $50 million. And, and look at how hard it’s been to raise two. And so I’m focused more on profitability in the near term, which is, I think, you know, what, as an investor, it’s like, you start looking at the way works and the Ubers of the world who are still struggling
Angela Giovine 24:41
With all that money?
Sarah Ford 24:42
Still struggling after the millions and it’s like no, like, you could build a little bit slower and create more value. And you have to focus these days on profitability sooner rather than later.
Angela Giovine 24:52
We’ll look at like, if you listen to the Brooklinen story on How I Built This, like they didn’t take any funding and he talks about he has a chip on his shoulder because of some of the things that investors said to him. So, yeah, I think we’re all there. And I would have to imagine that you have sat an investor pitches where they said to you, Sarah, why aren’t you making these boots in China? Why are you not lowering the quality? Why can’t we make the profit margin larger?
Sarah Ford 25:20
I’ve heard it all. I mean, my husband’s like, just you should write a book. I mean, anybody that’s pitch should write a book on what investors say. I wonder if investors know how contradictory they are to each other. And so that’s like, if I did everything you all said, I would be like doing literally opposite. One person will tell me one thing and the next day somebody else say why don’t you do like the complete opposite? I think a lot of it is out of goodwill. It’s like, Okay, we’re not going to invest but here’s some advice. I have, like, learn from that feedback, for sure, but sometimes at the end of the day, you have to keep doing what you’re doing. Because you can get pulled in 1000 different directions. If you listen to everybody.
Angela Giovine 26:03
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Angela Giovine 28:59
When you moved from in person to online, tell me about what that felt like in terms of growth and your customer and where were you finding them? And what did the business, how did it change?
Sarah Ford 29:11
The next big giant mistake I made was not going online fast enough. And it was because I didn’t enjoy the digital business like world.
Angela Giovine 29:22
Well, sure. everything you just told me, you said you wanted to be in construction management, you wanted to be out in the truck.
Sarah Ford 29:26
Yeah, actually, I like talking to people, I mentioned I want to go into sales. I’m not the best salesperson for my boots because my husband was like, you know, you’re very good at selling other people’s boots more than your own. Because, you know, I just want someone to be happy. And if there’s an alternative product, I’ll know and not hesitate to recommend, Hey, you know what, this might work better for you. So I like being outdoors and doing things and moving and selling things online and in 2016 was like shooting fish in a barrel, like everybody should have jumped in to do it. And I was resistant to it because it wasn’t fun for me to learn, sit there and like watch online courses about Facebook ads. Little did I know that was like the heyday of doing that. And if I really wanted to scale quickly, I should have just gotten good at that back then. Because it was really formulaic at the time too, like you could be selling a spoon or a pair of boots and it didn’t matter. It was like the same like kind of formula everybody was following. I had to start doing it when a Pepper, my second daughter was four weeks old when Huncho deployed and I was going flying, I had a boot saloon in Houston and a boot saloon in Austin. And I was flying from North Carolina, where he was stationed out there and he could take care of our kids. But then when he deployed, I didn’t have somebody to take care of them when I left for the weekend. They were always in full time daycare, so I had that, fortunately, but I didn’t have any- I couldn’t leave like you know without taking my kids with me.
Angela Giovine 31:01
On the road, so to speak.
Sarah Ford 31:03
Right, when she was born in 2016, that’s when I had to be like, Okay, well, now I can only sell really online. And so that’s when I started doing it. And it was still slow, like, it’s weird, because it’s like, I can throw myself into, you know, studying for the GMAT, but it’s like, as a business owner, it’s like, nice to do the logo. And it’s nice to do the website and you want to do all these things. Because
Angela Giovine 31:25
The projects that feel good, right, right.
Sarah Ford 31:27
Yeah. But it’s like in as a business owner, especially one person in the company, like you can go do all these other things and not focus on the thing you’re avoiding. And at the time, I was avoiding getting good at online sales. So I’ve had to focused on getting better and all that.
Angela Giovine 31:43
So as you’ve grown, is it something that you sat down and force yourself to learn or did you find people to help you be expert in it? Did you hire for it?
Sarah Ford 31:53
Oh yeah, I found people because I still feel like for me, in order to get to, you know, 100 and 50 million of revenue, I need to understand it because I for sure kissed a few frogs along this path of digital marketing agencies and like who’s good and who’s not. And so you start getting sick of like poor performance. And so now I know enough to have a conversation for sure about it with the people that I hire. But I still feel like in order to scale to a really big business, you need to identify talent, people that are better at you in those things, like marketing or digital marketing or through like logistics, you know, so all these things, I can’t do them all. And so
Angela Giovine 32:35
Sarah Ford 32:35
my job is to find the best talent to do these things in our company. I’m not making boots like a lot of I mean, custom boot makers are sitting there making every single pair that was never my dream to to learn how to make boots.
Angela Giovine 32:49
So when you went from custom boots into ready to wear, how did you go about deciding where to source those from and how to go about choosing designs and all of that?
Sarah Ford 33:01
I laugh I remember taking Remi, my oldest, who’s about to be seven down to the passport office in Phoenix.
Angela Giovine 33:09
Sarah Ford 33:10
And she was like, I don’t know, maybe eight months, nine months old. And you’re not supposed to smile on your passport photo, but she kept smiling. I got her a passport though, because I assumed Remi and I needed to go to Mexico because I needed to find a manufacturer. I’d looked all around the US for and I’m not talking about like custom. I’m talking about like full work productions.
Angela Giovine 33:33
Sarah Ford 33:34
And I couldn’t find for the price point that I knew that I wanted to sell out, there were some options but we would have had to retail for like 800 1200 dollars still even for ready to wear or go at more of like 150 $200 price point. And so I felt like those opportunity,
Angela Giovine 33:52
Sarah Ford 33:53
Yeah, in the middle, and there wasn’t a US manufacturer, that I could locate that to do that. And so I started looking first in Mexico because you can get all sorts of quality from Mexico including very good quality boots. And they have a history of making cowboy boots as well. So I thought I would go to Mexico and so that’s why I got Remi her passport because it was again, I needed to take her with me because
Angela Giovine 34:18
So you and your nine month old, you’re just going to drive on down to Mexico, flying down to Mexico,
Sarah Ford 34:25
We’re fancy so we were. That’s what I was going to do. And I went to, I drove- I was in Phoenix, I drove to Las Vegas. This guy, Stanley, he was 83. It was like, he was the one who called me and was like, Hey, kid, you know he’s a shoe dog. He goes, I’ll be working at this booth in Las Vegas at the footwear retailers show. So you come meet and check it out and see everything. And when it was there, that’s when he said you should go talk to these guys that are here out of Spain. And so that’s when I met Spanish manufacturer we still work with for
Angela Giovine 34:58
Sarah Ford 34:58
portion of our booth. And so, because they made wonderful quality, they also had a history of cowboy boot making, which is Spanish are not huge consumers like we are in the US of cowboy boots, but they’d had like 100 year old history of making. So that’s why we went with them. And I never ended up going to Leone with Remi, because I drove to Las Vegas. And so
Angela Giovine 35:20
Now, like you bring up an interesting point. So at this point, you have a daughter and you have a husband who’s deployed. What are your friends and family thinking? Like, what is your husband thinking? When you’re doing this business, are they supportive? Was there tension?
Sarah Ford 35:36
He has been like, he would go work in the boot saloons with me. He’s a great salesman. He was actually on his an infantry Marine, but he’s on recruiting duty at the time, which is sales like Marine Corps sales. So he’s actually a very good salesman, too. But he was really supportive. We always have like a low cost of living. He joked that he’s married to a Harvard MBA and he’s never seen a dime from it, and he’s always been super supportive. Of the past year too, especially with trying to raise money, more tension is built, about how long it’s taken, and because I’m always the jokes always like Just give me 18 more months, just give me 18 more months. And so that is like my own stress level has gone up too, as I’ve taken outside money, and as our purchases have gone up. So when you’re ordering hundred $200,000 with the boots at a time that you figure out how to pay for before they get here, your stress level shoots up and so I’d carry that home. So it’s like, if you yell at the kids, it’s like all moms stressed about money and on a personal level, like we don’t have like personal debt from that, you know, that’s like a very important thing for my home life. And then you go into a business situation and it’s a little bit different. You know, the longer it’s taken even for me, I’m like, I still want to scale quickly. We have happy home life, but for sure I bring stress with it because of my business,
Angela Giovine 37:02
But your family, like you said, your father was an entrepreneur. So it sounds like a lot of people in your family,
Sarah Ford 37:09
Right. I never got any pressure from my parents to do anything else.
Angela Giovine 37:15
It wasn’t like, Oh, you have this Harvard degree, why aren’t you on Wall Street?
Sarah Ford 37:19
No, when I applied to Harvard Business School, my dad was like, did you apply to UT, like that, they have a very good MBA program too. And so he was just never impressed by anything like that, which gave me a lot of freedom to do things because I didn’t have this like pressure from my parents really, for anything.
Angela Giovine 37:36
Mm hmm. Make what you’re supposed to make of that traditional degree.
Sarah Ford 37:39
Right. They didn’t care. They were like, not my parents, like never really cared what anybody thought. And so that was freedom to to do my own thing. The opportunity cost is very high. You know, some people are working jobs that they’re very, very very deeply unhappy doing. But they have a nice house and their kids just are getting to do these things, but at the end of the day, I’m like, I think your kids just want you to be happy, like they want their parents to be happy.
Angela Giovine 38:07
It sounds like even just talking to you from the beginning, we’re talking about what you wanted your career to be. You always described it as the things you are going to be doing in the job, not the things you are going to have.
Sarah Ford 38:17
Yeah, we make a list of like all the things we would buy if all the sudden we had like a bunch of money plopped in, I’m like, Don’t forget, I want a pontoon boat with a slide. And like, Don’t forget that you can afford it, like we were joking I mean, it’s like, yeah, there’s things we want, but from everything you read from research is that you adapt. If families have $80,000 a year income, the quality of life is there where they’re not stressed about their utility bill and it gets like really can affect your health, if they’re in household income is below that. Because you’re worried about money and you’re worried about food and you’re worried about just safety. Over that, It does increase like your happiness does increase but I am convinced that, whether you have $2 million, or $12 million, or 24, the happiness level wears off. Like, I remember staying in nice hotels as a BCG consultant and flying first class and going into hotel rooms, you know, five star hotel rooms and being like picky about things. And it’s like, What? like,
Angela Giovine 39:22
What would I do?
Sarah Ford 39:24
You know, you just adjust. I mean, adjust to this.
Angela Giovine 39:27
Sarah Ford 39:27
like, I know that. Okay, I know, the perfect house. And I know the perfect car, I know all this stuff is like, that’s not really going to create happiness. Although I do believe you can have a lot of fun in that
Angela Giovine 39:38
Sarah Ford 39:39
with a slide and turn around like so It’s good. It’s like good, like the good quest but it’s like it’s more of a competition thing, I think for an entrepreneur, and it’s a sign of success If you can build something that has value, less about the things that you can buy with it.
Angela Giovine 39:53
Talk to me about that success trajectory now that you’re online like what does your customer look like? What are the sales look like has it been a good move for you?
Sarah Ford 40:03
Yes, especially because the rate consumers are willing to buy footwear online is changing. Footwear really only grows with inflation, so it doesn’t like footwear is kind of the same. But the consumer is going online much more rapidly than anybody expected. So in 2018 we pivoted from doing like our customer was a older male and the people that have been influential in my life now from footwear were like Hey got a men’s per footwear is about 30%, you know women’s 70. That 3070 split so I knew we needed that better design for women and we needed to market to her more. And so you know, our target consumer’s a millenial female
Angela Giovine 40:50
Sarah Ford 40:51
Yeah, it’s like I mean that was like another pivot. Totally changing who your customer was. And looks like we still have a lot of like an older male client, who loves our boots, like they reorder them, like you wouldn’t imagine them wanting us you know, second or fifth ninth pair of or boots but like we put a good quality product out there. And so our marketing maybe geared a little bit different but our products are great. So that’s the good thing, so it’s like the marketing messaging may look to a younger consumer but we do care about all of our customers.
Angela Giovine 41:23
So you finding that the footprint has expanded, like where are your customers coming from now that you’re online?
Sarah Ford 41:29
So, all accross the US. I am living in San Angelo, Texas which is where the like business is based. And Texas is, you don’t have to explain cowboy boots to a Texan
Angela Giovine 41:40
Sarah Ford 41:40
they already love them. Cowboy boots are having a moment, they never go out of style, but they’re hot right now. And so there are Paris Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, women and men are styling them so different, we embrace this and so we love the diverse ways in people are wearing cowboy boots, there’s no one right way to wear them. And I reject that when we get you know, we get tell sometimes on comments on Facebook for you know, it’s got to look like this, like you can’t have long hair, or you have to do this and I hate like that conformity, makes me about it. That’s like no,
Angela Giovine 42:17
I get that.
Sarah Ford 41:17
among people, they need to feel good. and it how are they style, it’s like cool and yo know what, they’re the bleeding edge and you’re going to start copying them in 5 or 10 years.
Angela Giovine 42:26
Well you look at sneakers, right? Like I feel like when I was young, sneakers, you wore sneakers to be on a basketball court or on a soccer field like I grew up as a dancer, I literally like I used to look at big sneakers and be like Ew! I don’t want those, like that’s, I don’t do that. And now, I mean the fashion behind all these sneakers and celebrity and you wear them out like to fancy pla- like it’s crazy.
Sarah Ford 42:50
Angela Giovine 42:50
And that’s something that 25 years ago, 30 years ago, that was not a thing.
Sarah Ford 42:56
Angela Giovine 42:56
So to thinking like a cowboy boot can become universal.
Sarah Ford 43:00
I’m 42 about to be 43, and so if I have to rely on people that are more fashionable than me, I’ve worked into my laundry room like in Twentynine Palms, California, in San Angelo, Texas like I’m not in the fashion epicenters of the world, where I am. And so I have to rely on good designers, good marketers, people that are like in all this hip business because we’re creating a product that like is timesless and it lasts a long time. You still need to have fun with it. And you so the way people styleit , the way you do push you know, 20% of our product should be pushing kind of new fun like looks. But we have this evergreen collection, that’s also just very classic and timeless, but I have to rely on others to show me like Oh that’s cool and it’s like it may not be like what I wear, but like I want to support that. Like I love young people, like I love that they are so brave and daring with their fashion. I don’t ever think there’s a wrong thing to wear.
Angela Giovine 44:01
So as you have gone through this journey, who are some people who have been real mentors to you and helped you along the way?
Sarah Ford 44:11
A lot of my investors have been wonderful, of checking in, they might be checking in on their investment really feel like they’re just checking in from a personal level on me. So my investors, and they’re all ages they’ve been incredibly supportive. My father was always a huge supporter and specially when I got like annoyed with a conversation or maybe it’s I’m a woman, because I can’t raise money. And my dad would just maybe it’s they just don’t like your business. So it’s keeping me grounded and not bitter, that was like good advice. My bosses from the Marine Corps, Alfrey Bill is still a friend of mine, who is like one of my favorite bosses in the Marine Corps and just like none judgemental and these people have been wonderful. Larry Tarika, a former owner of Fry,
Angela Giovine 45:02
Sarah Ford 45:03
I mean all accross like the board, people and industry, so many people are willing to help. And they are excited to see you grow, and they’re willing to take a phone call from you and give you advice. And I really appreciate that.
Angela Giovine 45:15
That’s amazing. What was one moment that you can think of over this journey that like, what was a big move the needle moment?
Sarah Ford 45:25
Raising the first round of money, that was like a big deal. Hiring our marketing director, Val was a great move too, because she was part of the marketing team behind Nasty Gal which was a fast fashion brand hope to elevate the level of like of our branding. Like that was a very good move. I mean quite have had like a million little events like that happened along the way, things that you don’t think mattered conversations you don’t think were significant, 6 months down the road you’re like like if I hadn’t done that. Like if I hadn’t done kickstarter, I wouldn’t have gotten invited to the business battle. So kickstarter we only raised you know, 35 000 maybe, but it got me invited to the business battle. You know so it was just like these tiny things along the way.
Angela Giovine 46:11
Yeah, that’s so interesting for 2 reasons. One, I agree like for me an as a small business owner, you turn around and you look and you don’t realize how far you’ve come because you’re not feeling those little incremental steps. It’s sort of like dieting and exercise like you just don’t all of a sudden wake up one day and like have lost 20 pounds It just happens like an ounce in a time, it’s the same way you continue to become more successful everyday. But the Go-fund me thing is interesting because that’s something personally I never did. And I always felt like it was something that you were supposed to do before business started, but it sounds like that was not the case for you. You did that Go-fund me a little bit into the business.
Sarah Ford 46:49
Another entrereneur who said sometimes the entrepreneur the fact that you’re still standing is like success. And so then, it’s like this just don’t quit, because like if you don’t quit, this incremental things that you don’t even know and if you’re still standing, you’re not quitting, you’re going to figure it out. Now, when you look back on your life and you’re like I’m 43 and almost 10 years doing this, you don’t know how much time you have, but let’s just assume you live an average lifespan, you have a short time, for me like I’ve spent 10 years at it. I’m excited about it, I see a light at the end of the tunnel, like I could taste it, so I don’t want to quit. So the kickstarter, I’m thinking- yeah but the kickstarter community is not my customer. And so I didn’t think really we’re going to knock them dead there. And plus at that time, running a kickstarter campaigns was like that was like 2 years earlier, you could build this huge audiences there and then continue to resell to them. That’s like a skill I would have hired someone to run my kickstarted campaign if that had been available, but it was like you know, that led to something else. It did cut our first like 150 boots out too, which is you know, trying from zero and the factory has a minimums like that was helpful.
Angela Giovine 48:03
Do customers tend to buy multiple boots? Or you constantly looking for new buyers? Because they’re such high quality boots obviously they last like a lifetime.
Sarah Ford 48:13
Surprisingly the buy multiple ones, because what you’re saying it’s like yeah, they last a lifetime but it’s fashion and fashion is fun and if you have one in white, you needed in black.
Angela Giovine 48:22
You want something different variety, yes, exactly.
Sarah Ford 48:25
It’s like we’re not selling accessories right now, which is something that we should do and everything is just the lack of time and capital, and in resourcing to find the manufacturing, make sure the leather’s match and all that stuff. I mean it’s like to add, we need a bigger team. We need to get brilliant at the basics of selling what we’re selling right now. But it’s funny it- just because you’re great at selling footwear, don’t underestimate how difficult bag design and bag making can be, compared to shoes, it’s just different.
Angela Giovine 48:57
What are some of the most gratifying things about being owning your own business and doing what you do?
Sarah Ford 49:03
Just not boring. I love that I’m working with talented people in sourcing and design in digital marketing, I like and a lot of these people are all small business owners too. So I really enjoy that aspect of it, I like like you are the general manager of this whole ball of everything. And so you at any single task, it’s like what am I good at? Like what am I really good at? And I think that it is the skill to pull those things together, and I’m like okay, sometimes at 80 percent solution, that was a good ring for learning. You don’ sit on it till it’s all perfect and then launch like launch and then sticks to stuff
Angela Giovine 49:42
Doesn’t have to be perfect?
Sarah Ford 49:03
You need to improve, otherwise you’ll never going to launch.
Angela Giovine 49:45
Finish this sentence: I would not be standing here today, if not for….
Sarah Ford 49:50
My upbringing for sure has formed like who I am. I was raised to be really physically and mentally tough and to have fun and these are people on my life like my grandparents and my parents, growing up in West Texas, watching my dad stuggle in the late 80’s with like oil because his own businesses. That for sure fond me, and gave me the reason to join the maring corps.
Angela Giovine 50:14
What’s one piece of advice, that you would give your 18 year old self?
Sarah Ford 50:19
I would be more forgiving when you’re not perfect. That is something that I’ve had to make mistakes and hate myself , you know it can take years to forgive yourself and it’s a total waste of energy and time. I wish that I, hadn’ gotten so wrapped up in being projecting like this perfect – not even projecting but just I wanted to be like good and I didn’t want to disappoint people. And so when you do, when you disappoint yourself, it’s just like, you can feel terrible for you know sometimes years and no one’s perfect and just so to be more forgiving and gentle to yourself and then you will be the other people as a result too. So I would have liked to take on that advice back then.
Angela Giovine 51:03
Do you think that your 18-year-old self would have listened?
Sarah Ford 51:06
Angela Giovine 51:10
It’s a super power those people who can do that, who can move on and forgive more quickly.
Sarah Ford 51:15
Well, it’s like for myself. I mean I was like always super forgiving but it’s like when I screw something up.
Angela Giovine 51:20
Sarah Ford 51:15
You know, and it’s like you do things you’re ashamed of or not proud of, like you got ot forgive yourself, yeah. I mean all of this is also goes back to being wrapped up in childhood.
Angela Giovine 51:30
Sarah Ford 51:32
But I think I would have. I’d try to focus with my kids, on channeling that when I’m talking to them. You know, it’s like you don’t have to be you know, you are very normal. What you’re doing you may think is like you feel guilty about.
Angela Giovine 51:48
Sarah Ford 51:48
This is a very normal thing so do not be ashamed, just move on. Like you know, get back up and like move on. And I was always like to win, to make good grades and it’s just, you know always raised to be like super honest to a fault. And so nothing like all of that, you know you go through life and things happen and you just go to realize you’re not perfect and that’s okay.
Angela Giovine 52:13
Well, thank you so much for your time, I think your boots are fantastic, I can’t wait for everybody to check them out.
Sarah Ford 52:20
Thank you, this has been fun.
Angela Giovine 52:27
Well that’s a wrap on Season 2 of the extraordinary small business podcast. We hope you’ve enjoyed the season, and if you miss us, go back and listen to our episodes again and share them with your friends. We’ll be back soon with more stories of grit and determination from small businesses accross the globe.
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