July 21 2014, Molly Dill, Biz Times
Brookfield-based Walsh Products Inc. made a name for itself in 1914 with its innovative no-buckle horse harness. It replaced a buckling system with snaps to more easily hitch a draft horse to a cart.
The company is still known for its harnesses, though they’re no longer made for plowing. It manufactures harnesses, halters, bridles and other accessories used in competition in the Standardbred, Thoroughbred, Show Horse and Equestrian markets.
“The Standardbred industry will always be our bread and butter,” said Thea Treiber, vice president and co-owner of Walsh. She and her husband, Paul, president and chief executive officer, purchased it in 2002.
But Walsh has also been growing in newer markets. Six months ago, the company started a division called Euro Equine, which has the sole North American right to import and distribute six European products.
The company has also started making pet collars and leashes, marketed to horse owners who want their pets to have matching collars.
“The pet area is actually what could double our company in a two- to three-year time frame,” Paul said.
Walsh manufacturers its products by hand, often using hand-stitching on joined pieces of leather. The company uses mostly cranks and has little automation at its 36,000-square-foot plant.
To make a halter, for example, employees cut leather hides into strips, which are then skived down to be the right shape for sewing. Strips are tacked to create a fold in preparation for sewing. The sewing machines are built to Walsh’s specific needs – sewing together thick strips of leather that can be as small as ½-inch across using very small lock stitches.
“These machines are what set us apart,” Thea said. “They give us a stitch that no one else can make.”
Solid brass or stainless steel buckles and rings are added to halters during assembly. It takes about 24 hours to make a leather halter with the wet-dry process involved.
Leather products are made in black, tan, havana and chestnut colors. The chestnut color is created by dipping the tan leather in a special oil mixture Walsh gets from Fiebing, an oil dye maker in Milwaukee.
“It’s a chestnut that no one else would be able to copy due to the hides of our leather and our proprietary Fiebing oil,” Thea said.
Walsh also makes plastic-coated nylon products, which simulate the look and feel of leather.
“All you have to do is rinse it off with water, much lower maintenance,” Thea said.
Nylon halters and harnesses are also becoming increasingly popular because they are easier to care for and can be customized in a variety of colors and embroidered with the stable or horse name. Some owners prefer brightly colored nylon for easily spotting a horse on the track during a race.
Walsh’s revenue is less than $10 million, Paul said. The company has seen a lot of growth in the Equestrian and Show jumping markets, and its exports have increased 30 percent in the past two years, Thea said.
Walsh makes a wide range of horse accessories, including leg protection, bridles, hopples, leads and whips. It has more than 4,000 SKUs, and can make an even more custom product if the raw materials are available.
Walsh’s products are sold mostly through boutique horse supply stores, including Le Cheval Supply in Oconomowoc.