A Little Business Therapy…a Whole Lot of Marketing
Originally published in April issue of Show Horse Today magazine
By Gabrielle Sasse
Two women and two states equal one great friendship and one booming business. That’s what Kasha Ford and Melissa Berschens have built with Silver Buckle Services, a full-service equine marketing enterprise that provides customers with a vast array of creative for print and web, as well as business consulting. They cover everything from business cards, websites and book covers to logos and t-shirts, and everything in between.
Melissa began the business in 2000, and currently lives in California. Kasha joined Melissa in early 2001, but moved from California to Texas in 2005. “Part of the reason I moved was to help expand the business throughout this region and it’s really paid off,” Kasha explains.
“Melissa and I have been lifelong friends riding and competing together since the fourth grade,” Kasha says, “and we’ve been working together for nearly 15 years.” She explains that both women have grown up with horses. Kasha initially competed on Hunter/Jumpers and Three Day Eventers, and later transitioned to APHA shows when a young prospect she purchased as a potential Jumper didn’t work out over fences on the Open circuit. Melissa grew up trail riding on her rescued off the track Quarter Horses, and rode English her entire childhood competing in both flat and over fence classes. Melissa got into Paints in the early 90’s, joining Kasha at Jan Larsen’s, where they competed in the All Around on the West Coast Paint circuits.
The pair believes that their “dual state” location benefits the business, as well as spending their formative years in Silicon Valley. “We grew up in Silicon Valley during a time when companies like Apple Computer, Hewlett Packard, shortly followed by Yahoo and Google, were all starting to make an impact on the WORLD,” Kasha elaborates. “Growing up in the Stanford University/Palo Alto area during that exciting time really shaped our entrepreneurial spirit and ultimately brought us down this business path.” Kasha holds a Bachelor of Science in Business with a concentration in Marketing, and Melissa holds a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Studies and continued with extensive course work in web technology after. Because of their lifelong passion in horses, the duo made the transition from the High Tech Sector to the Equestrian Market successfully, winning a design award along the way.
“Even while working at Electric Power Research Institute, we would still email the person just the next office down,” Melissa explains. “We do miss sitting down to chat, but there is so much done on the Internet, and by email or phone, that it hasn’t been a problem. Being able to see each other’s screens would be nice, but even if we were in the same room we would still have to share files somehow.” Kasha adds, “The West and Southwest have such a rich equestrian history, it’s really helped our business being in these key areas. We each try to keep regular business hours, and the time difference adds an two hours to each workday, which benefits our clients, as well.”
“We both wanted our own business, more freedom with our schedules, families and horses,” Melissa explains. “What began as a passion for horses and helping those we knew with advertising has branched out and kept growing. My husband thought at some point we would run out of clients… it’s kind of blown his mind that we haven’t!” She believes their biggest strength is that they’re typical horse people and actually buy and use equine products themselves – so they’re in a perfect position to evaluate and make recommendations to clients. That, and they truly care about their customers’ success. Melissa said, “My dad always said ‘find a way of doing something you love and figure out a way to make money at it.’ and I believe that. We are very blessed to work at what we love, and to top it off we are best friends and very supportive of one another. We have such different strengths that play off and complement each other. Our clients refer us frequently and, as a result, we haven’t had to do a lot of advertising.”
I asked the women how they begin their process when working with a client for the first time. “We’ll initially determine a budget,” Kasha begins. “Then we get a sense of the look and exposure a client is seeking, and we go from there. If they have a small budget, initially we may need to forgo some of the ‘higher end’ stuff. At the bare minimum, we advise our clients to have a quality logo and business cards and a good website. Not everything has to be expensive, but it must be representative of their business and show them off in the best possible light. One of things we stress is ‘you only have one chance to make a first impression’ so, put your best face forward, and focus on everything from photography to content. You need correct grammar and nice photos to highlight the subject matter appropriately. My biggest pet peeve is seeing a picture of a horse with a saddle on in a halter. You need to show the horse appropriately: if he’s a performance horse, show him in a bridle and saddle; if he’s a halter horse, present him in a well-fitted halter. Always make sure he’s appropriately clipped and groomed. If you are marketing a product, make sure it is presented clean, on a simple background and lit properly. You can turn people off with poor presentation. Be careful about how you say things and what you show to the public, because once it’s out there you can’t take it back. Do it right the first time.”
Once a budget has been determined, the two discuss the client’s goals, and if the client has any style or color preferences. “We listen first and start designing from there. We want the project to represent the client’s tastes,” Kasha continues. “We do our own design work, but also have resources who are experts in specific areas like packaging and database programming, as well as someone who helps with basic Photoshop work, we try to focus our main efforts where Melissa and I, as creative and technical individuals, can make the greatest impact.”
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