SBJ/November 13 - 19, 2006/This Weeks News

Vendors corral clients at PBR expo

To get close to the tallest horse in the world, you had to get past a bucking chute, which holds a bull while a rider mounts him, a squeeze chute, which holds cattle still for branding or medicating, and several other imposing structures usually found in the countryside, not in the middle of Las Vegas.

Neal O’Donnell tries out one of his best-selling
items, an Italian leather sofa that sells for $3,900.

Priefert Ranch Equipment used Radar, an 8-year-old Belgian Draft horse, to entice people to take a closer look at its wares in an exhibit hall that the Professional Bull Riders says drew 65,000 people during the 10 days (Oct. 27-Nov. 5) of the PBR World Finals. Priefert was one of 28 PBR sponsors and about 100 other vendors that had space in the hall at the Mandalay Bay Resort.

A few years ago, Eddie Priefert, president of the company his grandfather founded in 1964, wouldn’t have expected to find as many customers in the PBR exhibit hall as he does now. Back then, Priefert Ranch Equipment made gear for traditional ranching operations, but not those that deal with “rough stock,” the animals used for events such as the PBR’s. When bull rider Mike White, who is sponsored by Priefert, suggested that the company add rough stock equipment to its product line, Priefert was doubtful. The company, he said, didn’t know much about the rough stock trade.

Still, Priefert was intrigued enough to start talking with cowboys, breeders and PBR executives, and not long after that the company was not only building rough stock equipment, but was adding its own innovations, such as rounded bars to keep the metal from biting into a cowboy’s leg when a bull is leaning against the side of the chute. The PBR began using Priefert’s equipment in August 2005, and Eddie Priefert soon began to see a benefit from being a sponsor and supplier for the organization.

Eddie Priefert says nothing pulls customers
in like Radar, the world’s tallest living horse.

“We had no idea it would take off in the first year,” said Priefert, who wouldn’t divulge sales figures. “It’s all about exposure. If you look at the PBR’s demographic, half or 75 percent are our core customers.”

Priefert is friendly and enthusiastic about both his business, based in Mount Pleasant, Texas, and the PBR’s. Though no small man himself, he is dwarfed by Radar when he walks into the horse’s enclosure. Radar, featured in the 2006 Guinness book of world records as the tallest living horse, stands 19 hands, 3 1/2 inches (that’s 6 feet, 7 1/2 inches at the withers — the ridge on the horse’s back between his shoulder bones) and weighs more than 2,400 pounds. Priefert also owns Goliath, the previous title holder (a mere 6-5 and 2,200 pounds) and a team of draft horses that travels the country.

Priefert ignored signs that said Radar would bite. Kids ignored it, too, as they reached out for the animal. In truth, they probably were safe. “He’s never really bitten anyone,” Priefert said. “We just don’t want there to be a first time.”

VENDORS LARGE AND SMALL: For every large space occupied by a sponsor such as Priefert, Rocky Boots and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, there were three or four run by smaller vendors.

Eddie Priefert

Beverly Hills, whose business, The Rhinestone Cowgirl (based, coincidentally, in Beverly Hills, Calif.), has sold bejeweled hats at the PBR Finals for seven or eight years, said she likes the crowd that comes to town for the bull riding.

“They’re not afraid to spend a little money,” she said. “You’re able to get your retail price.”

For Hills, that means anywhere from $29 up to $45, where you’ll find her best seller, the Rhinestone Tiara, which is just what it sounds like: a colorful hat with a tiara embedded into the crown. “I don’t sell the traditional cowboy or cowgirl hat,” said Hills. “I sell the fashionable hat. Everybody likes a little sparkle.”

And maybe a little leather. Neal O’Donnell was hoping to sell several of his best-selling items, an Italian leather sofa ($3,900), with accompanying chair and ottoman ($3,700 for the pair).

Beverly Hills, the vendor, not the city,
shows off the jeweled hats she offers.

O’Donnell is the proprietor of Austin Garrett & Co., a San Antonio company that has sold western furniture, rugs and accessories at the PBR Fan Zone for three years. He uses kiln-dried Brazilian pine for most of his furniture, because it is durable while being soft enough to easily take the intricate carvings he designs into it. He had to stop talking for a minute to help a customer haul away six dining chairs that had stars carved into the tops of the seatbacks. The buyer was a Las Vegas man who the previous year had bought a dining table and chairs (for about $1,900), but needed more chairs before a Thanksgiving gathering.

Like Hills, O’Donnell has found the PBR crowd willing to pay for what it wants — “And I don’t sell cheap furniture,” he said — though, a few days after the show, he said that this year’s crowd was a little more thrifty than last year’s.

“It was a good show, but not a great one,” said O’Donnell, who named his business after sons Austin, 13, and Garrett, 7. “I think it’s just the economy.”

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