By Liisa Andreassen
Sarah Ford, a San Angelo, Texas-native, former Marine officer and Harvard Business School grad is the CEO, founder and creative director of Ranch Road Boots – a brand deeply rooted in Ford’s love for the American West. Growing up in a small town, her parents encouraged her to be self-motivated and hardworking. As a kid, she participated in triathlons with her whole family. After high school, she received her undergraduate in business at the University of Texas in Austin and landed her first real job at tech-startup, Trilogy Software, but felt like she was missing out on something in life. It was after visiting the D-Day beaches of Normandy on a budget backpacking trip that she decided to do something for her country.
In 2001, Ford completed officers’ candidate training and joined the U.S. Marine Corps just before September 11th – one of the most impactful decisions in her life. While on active duty, she served three tours overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan as a logistics officer. Serving in the Marines helped open the doors for Harvard Business School, where she earned her MBA in 2007. Ford knew she was an entrepreneur at heart after working as a strategy consultant. A brief job at Local Motors introduced her to the concept of crowdsourcing designs. Something the company was doing for automobiles, and legacy brands were experimenting with, she would soon do for boots.
A brand is born
It was one of those aha moments that made Ford realize the potential for people to design or co-create their own western boots. So in 2012, Ranch Road Boots was born.
“My great-grandfather, Daddy Tom, was a huge inspiration and where my love for boots stems from,” Ford explains. “He was a true hard-working cowboy and bought boots from a custom-made shop (they were pricey so he took the rejects from other customers), and it was he that taught me how to rock a solid pair of boots. He was a man of integrity and hard work; his spirit embodies our brand today.”
Despite her business school background, Ford started the brand with no business plan. Armed only with entrepreneurship and a little cash, she started selling custom-designed boots made in Texas. In order to learn the business, she set a goal to sell 50 pairs. Ranch Road Boots operated from a modest studio in Phoenix, Arizona, and on the road from a remodeled 1974 2-horse trailer she called the Boot Saloon.
“I’d hit the road to attend different events, fitting people and placing custom orders for them,” Ford says. “Customers who came to my trailer often wanted to take a pair of my boots then and there, so it was a natural progression to move into developing seasonal collections.”
Ranch Road has grown into a collection of seasonal staples released twice a year, largely influenced by her West Texas roots, classic military style and gaucho culture. She’s continuously inspired by unique encounters, other entrepreneurs, travel, music, art and worldly landscapes.
“I tell people to think of custom boots as art collected from bootmakers…similar to how people collect art from different artists,” she says.
Today, Ford runs the Ranch Road Boots showroom in Dallas, Texas, and designs custom boots from her home studio near Joshua Tree, California, and hometown of San Angelo. Once the designs are complete, the boots are handcrafted in a small-factory in Spain with expert multi-generational artisans and family-owned operations.
“We’re excited about our brand expansion – we’ve recently evolved our branding and expanded our product mix to reach a larger female audience.” Ford says. “We’re working to continue developing our transparent business model as we grow in the industry; we want customers to rely on us and to shop with us with complete confidence and trust in what we do.”
A wife and mother of two, Ford says that most days will find her wearing many hats (or boots).
“We’re still a growing brand, so I still touch almost every function of the business,” Ford says. “On any given day, I’m working on product development for the next season, working with our production and distribution teams, working on strategy with our PR and marketing team, talking to customers, all whilst dealing with the finances and having investor meetings. It never ends, but I genuinely love and believe in what we are doing.”
She admits that inventory can be a tricky balance.
“As we grow, sometimes we get caught off guard when a style becomes popular quickly. For example: sometimes people want different widths, which push our investment into carrying more inventory for that particular piece; adding one width to every style would force us to double our inventory across the board, so we do this more tactfully. If we see a demand, we certainly look to investing more there and choose to carry that style forward into other seasons.”
Helping injured marines
Giving back is important to Ford too. Every purchase made online at RanchRoadBoots.com contributes to the company’s annual contribution to the Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund, which helps fund organizational programs, such as their adaptive equipment for amputees, amongst others. The organization decides how to disperse the contributions as they are the ones in direct daily contact with service members.
“I’d like, in time, to develop a larger program making modified shoes and boots for amputees; this is still at the idea stage now and would require capital and time to roll-out on a larger scale, so we will see,” she says.
Ranch Road Boots is working hard to bring its boots to as many closets in the U.S. (and beyond), while spreading values of integrity, style, confidence and individuality.