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.
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
“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.”
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,”
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.
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