Four years ago, husband and wife Shaun and Janet Blackburn set up shop in their Cumbrian village selling saddles, jodhpurs and everything else for horse and rider. 'We decided to trade online in 2000,' says Shaun, 'as some of our competitors had started to do so.' By January 2001, www.carouselsaddlery.co.uk was operating.
In retrospect, their timing could not have been better. 'It was the internet that saved this business when it was only 18 months old,' says Shaun. 'The foot-and-mouth outbreak destroyed all of the horse show business within 40 miles of here.' Many of the Blackburns' local competitors struggled or went under before the countryside re-opened for business. National and international online orders from as far afield as Australia and the US kept Carousel afloat when its traditional customer base could not. 'We made around pounds 250,000 last year and pounds 65,000 of that was internet sales,' Shaun reports. 'We expect pounds 90,000 during 2003.'
Now the foot-and-mouth crisis is over, internet orders still account for 25% of Carousel's business. Impulse buys make up a large proportion of new business, with browsing customers splashing out on a new saddlecloth for pounds 19.95 or a riding hat at pounds 48.95. Not bad for an operation that cost just pounds 5,000 to set up and pounds 150 a year to maintain. Rather than going round in circles, Carousel Saddlery, it seems, is ready to ride off into the sunset.