(FSB Magazine) -- My first attempt to build a business was raising Morgan horses, a breed with its own circuit of equestrian shows. That was when I was still working at General Motors, overseeing an assembly line that upholstered cars. The job was miserable, but I kept it because selling horses never made me any money.
Then one day my wife and I saw for sale a 100-year-old doctor's buggy parked on a neighbor's lawn. We thought it might bring attention to our horses, so we bought it, fixed it up, and drove it around our small town. A few weeks later a customer dropped by to look at a mare and said, "I'll buy the horse if you sell me that buggy."
He bought the horse and buggy, and I went and found another used carriage. While I was working on it, another guy came in for a horse and offered to buy that buggy. That's when I decided to set up a workshop so that I could build buggies from scratch. I watched old Western movies for inspiration. Three years later I was selling enough to quit GM and focus on my business full-time.
My company, Justin Carriage Works, now designs more than 20 types of horse-drawn vehicles. We sell about 120 a year, mostly through our website, buggy.com. Revenue hit $400,000 last year, and we're profitable. Prices range from $2,350 for a two-seater to $18,500 for a quail-hunting wagon, which features tiers of benches that allow folks to shoot without maiming each other. The bodies of our products are fiberglass or wood, and clients can customize them. They can choose the color of the interior and exterior, decide if they want brass or chrome accents, and if they want to, add a stereo.
About 70% of our customers use the carriages commercially, for city tours, funerals, and weddings. We've built three coaches for Disney, including one that carried Cinderella in a Disneyland parade. The other 30% of our clients buy buggies to decorate their yards or haul items on their farms.
My original intent wasn't to build carriages for other people, but to build one for myself. But I've never had the chance. I still don't own one.
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