Very few of us can boast about being Arabian horse breeders and sellers, which makes Stuart Sanders' career path selling beautiful foals through Sterling Bloodstock even more fascinating.
In the interview below, Stuart shares how she got started in her profession and shares some tips on crafting a dream job even when there is no clearly-trodden path to follow. You will quickly discover how far a healthy of tenacity, passion, and willingness to carefully listen to clients can take you!
What got you started raising and selling Arabian horses?
I was always drawn to horses, even from my earliest memories. When I first realized that one could make a living in horses- I was about 25- I began to apprentice myself with Arabian trainers. The Arabian part happened because my grandfather always loved Arabian horses and so I thought of them when directing my job applications.
I apprenticed for about 4 years, then I got hired as a trainer by a rather famous Arabian trainer (famous within Arabian show circles) and I began my career as trainer. I did that for a number of years until I happened to breed a mare, and upon foaling, someone was walking through the barn and offered me $5000 for the baby. I was shocked since I didn't really have to actually do any physical labor for the money- it was like the money just came out of the blue. And it seemed like a lot at the time! From then on, I wondered why the heck I was working so hard training and going to shows when I could just breed mares and let them do all the work! I love that part, especially now that I'm older and don't want to work so hard.
My job is amazing. I go to the barn 4 times a week- Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, from about noon until we are done at about 4:00. Since I pay board, the mundane duties like stall cleaning, feeding, watering etc. are done for me. I just need to do the conditioning, turn out the mares and babies (since babies are a little different to handle than mature horses, and because their value has risen from that first $5000 baby to between $20,000 and $100,000), make breeding decisions, and make sure the mares get in foal. Getting the photos and videos we need to market the horses is also of primary importance.
When I get home, I download the photos and put them online, then edit the videos and create advertising artwork that gets sent to my eblast list of 4000 people. That's an average day. I also communicate with propective buyers, attend to visitors, etc.
Because you work within such a specific niche, you probably had to lay a lot of groundwork and figure things out as you went along. What advice can you give to those who also forge new paths with their companies? Are there any things you did to ensure your clients got what they needed when you yourself weren't initially sure how to meet those needs?
Yes, my career has been very seat-of-the-pants in that I have to ad-lib my way along. My clients are VERY important to me and so if something goes wrong, I will always try to make the client happy. I can never give a refund, but I can always give a free breeding, trade a horse in that a person might not be getting along with for another or find something else that will make the client happy. I have not left a client unhappy in the last 10 years. It's easy really; I think people just want to know that they are being listened to. They are generally happy if I make an honest effort. I think any business requires resourcefulness and I love solving a challenge.
You seem to have such a passion for the horses you raise and sell- how much of a role do you think that has played in your professional success? How can an aspiring entrepreneur be sure he or she has the passion and dedication needed to make it?
I am passionate about the horses! Thanks for noticing! I love every minute of what I do and yes, I think it shows. I think it has helped me tremendously in my business. But I think almost every business, whether the business lends itself to passion or not, can be something to be excited about. In fact, I'm getting my real estate license and even though real estate is not as conducive to passion as the horses are, I find myself getting excited about showing a property that I really love. It's the act of meeting a need and giving people what they want that I love, in addition to the horses.
To many, your job seems like a dream come true (you are independent, you work with fascinating clients and beautiful horses in a beautiful setting, etc.). What would you say to those who just don't think it's possible or feasible to create a "dream job?" How can one know if a dream job is actually feasible/financially sustainable?
Gosh, that's a tough one. Because the way the financial part came to me was not anything that anyone told me could happen. In fact, everyone told me not to breed horses, that I would never make a profit doing that. But I just following the path and focused on what was bringing me more income and this is where it led me. I think that one should head towards a career path that one loves and just follow the steps as it goes along. You can then head towards the part of the profession that you find to be the most profitable. Sometimes those ends are not really obvious. For example, in my business, people earn commissions from others when selling horses and breedings, and those things are just not talked about.
So much of your business involves building up a good reputation and network. What general networking/reputation building advice would you give to people who are starting with nothing?
That part just comes. If you do a good job and really try hard for your clientele your network might just start off with one person, but word will soon get out and you will have increased your client base. For example, I didn't really have a reason to travel to the Middle East the first time I went. I just thought that since many people were selling horses to people there, I should begin to familiarize myself with those countries and cultures- it just makes people respect you more if you take time to earn their respect. Sometimes it's not always clear how something like that will help.
What practical business lessons have you learned over the years that might save an aspiring entrepreneur a lot of trouble?
Don't listen to the standard way of doing things! My father used to say "there are no experts" and in some ways he was right. If I would have listened to the experts in the horse industry I'd have continued to train horses, working my butt off for $300 buck a month per horse, rather than letting the horses do all the work by gestating and producing babies I can sell for $20,000 without doing a thing but making decisions. I would never have learned to use a camera and video camera so that I could do my own promotional work. Once I developed confidence in my own decisions, it was a breeze.