Rod’s Tries to Lasso Bigger Audience

Now that cowboy wannabes outnumber genuine cowboys, Rod’s has redesigned its flagship catalog and modified its merchandise mix.

Founded as a store in 1976, Columbus, OH-based Rod’s originally catered to horseback riding professionals and hardcore enthusiasts. The catalog, launched in 1990, sold primarily bridles and other equine gear — “tack” in horse circles — along with belts, buckles, and other hardworking accessories for riders.

But now most of that equipment has been relegated to the company’s Sourcebook title. During the past year, the Rod’s product offering has shifted to western-themed apparel, gifts, and home decor, such as sweaters adorned with horses, cookie jars in the shape of a horse trailer, and wind chimes decorated with cacti and cowboy hats.

Last year, Rod’s hired catalog agency Kreber Graphics, also based in Columbus, to help with a makeover. The creative now includes plenty of photos of weekend western enthusiasts.

“We wanted to accentuate the lifestyle aspect of the catalog,” says Rod’s president Scott Hartle, who bought the company in 1988. “We wanted to have enough information for the customer but still have a romanced page.” For instance, rather than a bare-bones description, the copy block for a sheet set reads “Capture the undying spirit of the horse with our Spirit Horse Bedding. Decorate the bed in gorgeous shades of slate blue and cream with a Native American inspired theme. All bedding is Cotton/Poly blend for easy care…”

Hartle, of course, is hoping that the change gives Rod’s an edge against such competitors as Shepler’s and Drydales. “If we all have the same merchandise, then it comes down to a price war,” Hartle notes, “and that’s not good for any of us.”

In fact, the horse-enthusiast market, though small, has long been highly competitive, according to Hartle. “Probably the biggest challenge is finding available names to mail,” he notes. “We’ve got a small universe compared with J. Crew or L.L. Bean. And we’re all fighting for the same relatively small group of customers.” That’s the reason, he says, Rod’s sales have remained flat since their peak in 1994, though he won’t disclose specifics.