Ideas behind small businesses tend to spring from familiar places and from entrepreneurs who see a need, have a passion, are good at what they do and want to turn it into a labor of love.
The best small-business concepts often combine all those aspects into one enterprise. Which makes sense, because with all the difficulties of running a business comes the realization that, for it to work, it has to be sustained over a long period of time. Thus, the necessity, of doing what you love.
Writers, likewise, often are told to “write what you know.” Pat Nulis knows the equestrian world, and her business So Southern is a premium boutique that specializes in making functional items beautiful – especially equestrian items like English saddle covers, Western saddle covers, bonnets, helmet bags and more all handmade from designer fabrics.
She founded the company in 2012 when she couldn’t find a cover for her new saddle.
So Southern was founded last year by Pat Nulis, a horse lover who makes functional products beautiful, especially equestrian items.
(Photo Courtesy of So Southern)
“All I found were unappealing covers made from synthetic materials,” Nulis said. “I wanted a breathable material that looked beautiful yet was practical for a busy mom.”
Nulis said her daughter has always had a love affair with horses, and she herself rode a lot when she was younger. She picked up riding again a few years ago, and bought her horse last year.
So she went about designing a saddle cover that’s machine-washable and would protect the saddle from dust, scratches and the sun. Once that first one was produced, feedback – and special requests – from friends inspired Nulis to start her own business.
After making her own saddle cover, it grew from there.
“I started the business a year ago in January, and it was a little daunting at first,” she said. “I went at a slow pace. I wanted to make sure I don’t neglect my responsibilities as a wife and mother. It’s been about a year now, and things are wonderful. I’ve had people who’ve received the products very well. The industry as a whole is very conservative and traditional, so we focus on great, quality products.
“I do have customers in Canada, customers from California, all the way up to Pennsylvania and down South. I would like for things to take their time, go slowly and surely. I want to make sure the quality of work is not impacted because I grew too fast.”
So Southern specializes in handmade saddle covers, and all fabrics are handmade from designers like Amy Butler, Jennifer Paganelli, Michael Miller and Blake Riley. Not only are none of the business’ products mass-produced, but no more than eight products are made from a single product and many of the company’s products are one of a kind.
Nulis operates the business from her home and sells products through the online marketplace Etsy, which is popular for its handmade and craft items. Recently, So Southern also expanded to offering in-house monogramming.
Nulis’ life and friends are what inspire her choice of products, and all of So Southern’s products are named after the person who inspired them. The company’s original product is the Levendi English Saddle Cover, named after Nulis’ horse.
Other product names include the Mary Jane Western Saddle Cover, the Aimee Warmblood Bonnet, and the Emily Helmet Bag. After learning a friend was diagnosed with cancer, Nulis designed the Marjorie Chemo Hat.
So Southern also believes strongly in giving back.
“I thought it was very important for us to develop a charitable giving strategy, even as a young company,” Nulis said.
So this year, So Southern is donating 10 percent of all Marjorie Chemo Hat sales to The St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity committed to funding the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers.
All in all, Nulis said she couldn’t be more pleased. The business had a strong year, despite the economy. Nulis said there are a lot of things in the works. Down the line, she’d like to have employees – it’s a one-woman show at the moment – so that she’d be able to crank out a greater volume of products than she’s able to now.
“The response to our products has been wonderful,” she said. “There is nothing like our saddle covers out there, so people are always excited when they see them for the first time. The future for So Southern is bright and we have big plans to keep making functional products beautiful.”
Visit So Southern’s website at www.So-Southern.com, or its Etsy site at www.etsy.com/Shop/SoSouthern.