Robert Ferrand hopes he can use his Web-based service to make saddle sores a painful relic of the past.
The Fourth Annual Inc Web Awards: Killer Apps
Company: Saddletech.com, in Woodside, Calif. URL:www.saddletech.com What we liked: A wealth of Web-collected data fires an innovative twist on customization
In October 2001, Lands' End began selling custom-tailored pants on-line. Consumers plug their measurements into the clothier's Web site, and a program turns the data into dimensions that a computerized cutting machine at a plant in Mexico uses to make the pants. Now a small company called SaddleTech.com has introduced a comparable service for horses that is less lucrative than Lands' End's offering but considerably more noble. After all, an ill-fitting saddle can cause painful sores. Ill-fitting jeans just make your thighs look fat.
The long-standing problem with saddles is that they're not adjustable, explains Saddletech.com founder Robert Ferrand. Horses' backs, by contrast, vary significantly by breed and size, and change over time in response to age and exercise. Furthermore, when tack-shop proprietors perform visual inspections to see whether a saddle sits comfortably, they don't consider the rider's weight, which can add a couple hundred pounds of pressure.
Ferrand has been selling saddle pressure sensors to veterinarians and saddle makers since 1992. Earlier this year he began offering his customers a computer-based "saddle-fit management program" as well. Now his direct-to-consumer offering allows horse owners to retain their existing gear -- which can cost thousands of dollars -- and still give Trigger a more comfortable ride. When customers register on the Saddletech.com Web site, Ferrand sends them a patented gauge, which they can use to measure the arcs and angles of their mount's back and compare them with the arcs and angles of the saddle's underside. Customers enter the gauge data, the horse's weight, their own weight, and other information into a series of fields on the site.
Ferrand feeds the Web data into a patented algorithm of his own devising, which calculates the difference between the shape of an unloaded horse's back and the shape of a horse's back with saddle and rider. He then uses those measurements to design and manufacture a thermoplastic orthotic which, when placed between horse and saddle, evenly and comfortably distributes the rider's weight to prevent the formation of sores. Ferrand is also conducting research on the site, asking horse owners to plug in body measurements and ancestral data for close to 80 breeds, from Akhal-Teke to zebra. The idea is to determine whether there are clusters of horses with similar measurements. That would allow saddle manufacturers to build products that fit better without individual customization.
The orthotic costs a hefty $350, and so far Ferrand has sold fewer than 100 of them. (The rest of his nearly $100,000 in annual revenues comes from instruments for measuring saddles, computer systems, and saddle-fitting clinics.) But the product is brand-new, and Ferrand has done nothing yet to promote it. At press time, he was planning an E-mail campaign targeting U.S. equestrians, who number in the millions. "You've got a $500-million business out there that operates on the principle that the customer cannot possibly tell whether the product will actually fit," says Ferrand. "This solves the problem."