By Liisa Andreassen
His real name is Kevin Parrish, but he’s affectionately known by most as “The Saddle Guy.” At the age of 13, he started out in the business washing saddles that were in for repair in his father’s hobby saddle repair shop. He worked there through high school performing various tasks such as disassembling, washing, oiling and reassembling saddles. More than 30 years later, he’s still at it … and loving every minute.
Parrish tried working outside the saddle business, but he always knew in his heart that this was his destiny. After some time in college pursuing an accounting career, he found himself back in his dad’s saddle shop, JP Leather Works, where he worked side by side with him until he died in 1999. He then went on to run the shop for two more years before going to work for Tucker Saddlery/Circle Y Saddler in Texas until 2005.
“I learned a great deal there, but it was a busy production house and I longed for something more personal,” he says. “I still had all of my dad’s tools and stitcher and I was a pretty decent salesperson, so, I returned to my Alabama roots and started doing saddle repair out of my mom’s garage.”
Saddle repair was not his only job, but it was his only passion. While working on saddles, he had a host of jobs that ranged from working in a western wear store and pawn shop to working for a folder manufacturer and even as a test driver for Hyundai. It was his roofing sales job that allowed him to purchase a home with a garage, which he quickly turned into a saddle shop where he would do repairs and then started building some new ones. Now that his business was growing, he needed a name.
“While working at my roofing job, I met a group of storm chasers who called themselves ‘The Roofer and Siding Guys,’” Parrish says. “I liked how approachable that sounded, so The Saddle Guy was born. I don’t think most people even know my real name. When I walk into local restaurants, I’m simply greeted as, ‘Hey Saddle Guy.’ I like that. It’s personal and friendly.”
Parrish continued to build new saddles out of his garage using his favorite tools – three hammers that belonged to his dad – a tack hammer, shoe hammer and claw hammer.
“I use them every day,” he says.
After hammering away, he soon realized he had about a month’s worth of saddles in for repair, so he quit the roofing job and turned saddle repair and building into his full-time gig.
As more and more work came in, he outgrew the garage and moved to a larger shop in town. In 2017, Parrish married Whitney, who helps out in the business with tasks such as billing and shipping, and the couple relocated to Robertsdale, Alabama. The Saddle Guy is now housed inside of Circle V Saddlery.
A borderline obsession
When asked what he enjoys doing in his free time, Parrish responds, “What free time?” He admits to being “borderline obsessive,” and loves every minute of it. The act of creating something from basic raw materials and making something complex, useful and beautiful coupled with getting positive customer reactions from the work, top his list of rewards.
One of his favorite projects was a recent design and refinement of his Drifter Field and Trail Saddle. It’s a fusion of two different saddle styles – the trooper and western saddle.
“Developing the prototype, testing it, refining the design and developing the production process was a cool experience,” he says. “I really enjoyed blending the best aspects of the two saddle types.”
He’s in the shop every day. Monday through Friday, he’s there 8 to 6 and then on weekends he typically works half days on organization, social media and more. He says the key to social media is to keep it minimal. He does posts once or twice a week and doesn’t overload people with information. Most of his business is word of mouth and he also contributes to field trials where he gives saddles away as promotional items, for auction, awards and more.
“I spend no money on marketing,” he says. “If you take care of people and give them great customer service, keep it friendly and do fast fixes, they’ll come,” he says.
So far that formula seems to be working. While most of his clientele is domestic, it’s spread out around the country. He’s shipped saddles to states such as Kentucky, Montana, Washington, California, Illinois and New York. He’s even had some international interest from Israel.
His leather comes from Weaver Leather, Showtan, and Wickett and Craig; hardware comes from Weaver and Beilers’ Manufacturing Supply and he gets his trees from Steele Saddle Tree. His walnut saddle tree bars are made by a custom woodworking shop and he has his trooper frames custom cast.
The Saddle Guy continues to grow. With two full-time and three part-time staff, Parrish has his sights set on building 75 saddles this year and 100 in 2020. He hopes to top out at 150 within two years.
“I live and breathe saddles,” Parrish says. “I only want to get better. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. I’m happy I took the chance on the The Saddle Guy and hope others who have a similar passion do the same. There’s nothing like doing what you love.”
The Saddle Guy
Robertsdale, AL 36567