August 13, 2014 8:30, Mary Hookham Special to Agri-View
Paul and Thea Treiber, owners of Walsh Products in Brookfield, have built their business around the quality horse products they sell.
That is how the business has been in operation for 100 years.
“We are proud of what we do and really, that is how we have managed to be in business for 100 years, we are tried and true,” said Thea. “Our customers know that they will be able to come back to Walsh several years from now and we are still going to be here making the same products, and that speaks volumes for who we are.”
Governor Scott Walker visited Walsh Products for their centennial celebration earlier this summer.
“Walsh Products has delivered high quality horse equipment throughout Wisconsin and the world for 100 years, and I congratulate them on this tremendous accomplishment,” said Gov. Walker. “This is an exemplary business, demonstrating priorities and ideals that align with those of our state as we continue to improve our business climate. Walsh’s Brookfield location employs more than 40 Wisconsinites, keeping jobs here in our state, and choosing to support our economy and invest in Wisconsin.”
When Walsh opened in 1914, owner James Walsh manufactured and sold his revolutionary product, the quick-hitch harness.
This made life easier for farmers because they did not have to use buckles on their horse equipment anymore.
Today, the quick-hitch harness is still well known and widely used in the racing industry.
“You do not have to worry about buckles. You just snap the horse in and go. It’s safer for the horse and much easier on the drivers and trainers,” added Thea.
Even though the couple has only owned the business for 12 years, they are true entrepreneurs and believe strongly in the value of hard work, fine craftsmanship and family values.
“Owning and operating Walsh Products has been a dream come true for Thea and me,” said Paul. “Every day we get to combine our lifelong passion for equine sports with the joy of owning our own business. We feel very blessed to be in this position, and are thankful for the groundwork that was laid by the previous owners. It was very special to have members of all three families who have owned Walsh here with us for this once-in-a-lifetime occasion.”
Today, the company manufactures more than 300 horse-related products including leather, nylon and synthetic products for use in standard-bred racing, English hunter and jumper, thoroughbred and saddle-bred markets, both in America and overseas.
“If it goes on the horse, we sell it. A high-quality, one-stop-shop is good for our customers,” said Chief Financial Officer-Chief Operating Officer Kevin Mleziva.
Old sewing machines from the 1800s are used daily in the shop to create the beautiful leather harnesses and halters. Walsh uses many American-made products to create their horse products.
“With everything we do, we try to use the U.S., and especially Wisconsin, as much as we can,” said Mleziva.
All the fleece that is used for making products more comfortable for horses comes from Monterey Mills in Janesville. The oil for darkening the leather comes from Milwaukee and the foam pieces for the horse ear plugs are made at Foamation in Milwaukee, which is the same place Wisconsin cheese heads are made.
The Walsh team is proud of its ongoing dedication to its customers. Customers have the option to customize their harnesses with stable names and colors using a local embroidery company.
“We offer pretty much anything our customers need, which helps us stay on top of all of the different disciplines,” said Thea. “The customizing and high quality has helped our company’s longevity.”
Walsh Products sponsors 17 Olympic and world-class riders, including Laura Kraut, an Olympic gold medalist rider from Oconomowoc; and Philippe Le Jeune, a show jumper from Belgium who won the individual 2010 World Championship in Kentucky.
“We sponsor Tim Tetrick and it’s almost like he cannot lose,” said Thea.
The company also made the halter for California Chrome, winner of the 2014 Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
“That was perfect marketing,” said Thea.
Walsh Product’s marketing comes from onlookers wearing their baseball hats at a horse show and from Tim Tetrick wearing a Walsh shirt and being in the winner’s circle with Walsh patches on his shirt.
“Our advertising is getting our products in people’s hands,” she said.
Mleziva believes in the value of Walsh’s dealer contacts to help the company continue to grow.
“We need to find ways to live another 100 years. We can take advantage of our dealer network to bring in more products that have a demand that we do not have the ability to make. We have the space, connections and dealer contacts,” said Mleziva.
Walsh recently started manufacturing leather dog collars, and they also distribute high-end rain suits that come with a flap on the back to go over a saddle, which prevents water from running down into the saddle.
“Paul and Thea have a passion for horses and for Walsh, and I just know that my passion and calling is small business and manufacturing. I will never go back to a big company because it’s just not for me,” said Mleziva.
A tour of the business shows not only the physical products being made, but also the camaraderie and pride the Walsh team has worked so hard to create.