Susan Benson can best be described as a consummate brand builder. She has been integral in building some of the most respected equestrian businesses in our market including Beval Saddlery LTD, Butet and the National Horse Show and also innovative brands currently making large inroads in the United States. Samples of the latter include Kastel Denmark, Fabbri Boots, Carma Italia (exquisite riding clothes) and Boy-Oh-Boy Bridleworks. To say Susan has a wide breadth of experience in the field is an understatement.
She continues to use her passion and years of experience as a producer, project manager and director, as well her experience in the equestrian world to create a unique experience for consumers and advertisers alike who are part of, or aspire to be part of, the horse world.
Whether you have a new brand that you need assistance growing or you are interested as to how a singular woman developed a long standing equestrian sales and marketing company, this is an interview you will not want to miss. Most important, Susan Benson is a positive example of how an entrepreneur is successfully helping equestrian brands gain exposure and become sustainable business models that enhance our industry.
In the Words of Susan Benson:
1) When did you start your marketing company and what inspired you to do so?
I started my marketing agency Somerset SportArt in 1987, after working as an employee at Beval Saddlery LTD. I was hired right out of college to start their Direct Mail business creating their first catalogs and marketing the brand. I also helped build the newly formed wholesale division. After about two years I met my late husband, Gary J. Benson who was a world-class editorial and corporate photographer. Gary had a fresh approach to shooting horse sports and I thought we could make a good team. Together we formed the agency and Beval became one of our first clients. We specialized in promoting equestrian companies, and events and often utilized his photography in campaigns we created for clients. We worked with many of the events at the USET headquarters located in Gladstone, NJ and many of Gary’s images graced the posters and program covers. Hence the name Somerset (the county we lived in) and SportArt.
2) Has your business model evolved since you founded it?
Oh my goodness I don’t know where to start answering this question? In essence, the tools we use have changed greatly in 30 years but the approach is the same. We aim to create excitement about brands and convey that unique quality that sets the brand apart. We have always utilized an integrated approach and now I believe it is even more so with the agency morphing into Somerset Equestrian Trading LLC. This latest most recent model incorporates a traveling mobile unit that attends events around the country and helps us better activate sponsorships and introduce brands to consumers as well as new vendors. Of course, the biggest change from the old days is the incorporation of a social media program. But again, each aspect supports and adds to the other. I think this is the most important point, I tell potential clients; you need to have a well thought out plan and then have an organized execution of that plan.
3) After many years serving the equestrian industry, can you describe your ideal client and/or product?
I have worked with so many clients over the years, from large corporate entities to small start ups and everything in between. My ideal client is one who has a sense of professionalism and a clear idea of what they want to accomplish. I like to introduce brands to the equestrian audience, but I like the founders to have a good start and be sure they are committed to seeing the project through. Being first to market is always fun! Launching Butet in this country and watching it become the leader in the luxury saddle brands was very rewarding.
4) After many years serving the equestrian industry, can you describe your ideal client and/or product?
I like innovative and creative people who want an agency who partners with them to accomplish their goals. On the corporate side I love connecting brands that are seeking the specific demographic. One of most successful campaigns was introducing the Mahindra Tractor to horse people. It was fun to find the synergy between Mahindra and high-level horse sports.
5) What is the most gratifying aspect of running your own business?
Honestly, I wouldn’t know any other way to live. I love building brands and helping them succeed. Diversity and new challenges keep me motivated. I love being able to switch gears and put all my energies into a new project. Most of all I love being able to make a difference and help brands succeed. The freedom to travel and attend horse shows also keeps it fun!
6) What is the best business advice you ever received OR that that you would like to share from your own experience?
Very simple, do what you love, show up and never give up. Don’t be afraid to take a new approach.
7) Any other information you would like to share with the Street to Stable community about your business?
Somerset Equestrian Trading is passionate about horse sports. We select brands that reflect this passion! Our emphasis is on quality and innovation as well as respect for the tradition of equestrian sports and lifestyle. We understand the market because we are part of the unique world that encompasses the equestrian lifestyle.
8) What is your connection to the equestrian lifestyle?
I am a lifelong horsewoman, and began riding at age 7 when my mother took me for my first riding lessons in Windsor Park while we were living in the UK. I got the “horse bug” then and have never looked back. I rode as a junior on Long Island and was successful in the hunters and jumpers. Then I took a 17 year break from riding but was always involved with the horse world through Beval and other equestrian related clients. Then at age 40 I started riding again, and have owned several horses including one I produced with my partner Chris Hickey who went on to do the Grand Prixs. Currently, I have four of our retired show horses living on my farm in Ocala, FL.
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