For 20 Years, 'More Than Just Great Saddles'
The unique vision of Double J Saddlery is to combine traditional leather-making talent with a passion for the new and innovative
Double J Saddlery, located in Yoakum, Texas, was founded in 1991. Since starting out producing quality saddles and tack, in successive years the company has burnished its success by branching out to include fashion-forward handbags, belts and accessories. And along the way, it has grown into a family business.
“I’ve basically been in the saddle even before I graduated college – I had some experience of various kinds,” said founder and owner John DeBord. “My father-in-law was Leland Tucker, who was one of the founders of Circle Y and I worked for him for about two years. He passed away rather unexpectedly. Then I worked there for the next 17 years of so.”
DeBord’s experience and accomplishments at Circle Y served him well.
“In the time I was there we grew it into a pretty big company. We built about 500 saddles a week with about 300 employees blowing and going. Did lots of different things, interesting things over there,” said DeBord.
In 1991, DeBord founded Double J Saddlery. DeBord and a group of investors took over the board of investors at Circle Y, and eventually sold the company.
“When I started Double J, I think sometimes the Good Lord takes you by the hand and he leads you in the direction he wants you to go, said DeBord. “I didn’t really have any great plans with starting Double J. After I left Circle Y, just a series of things happened, and one day, I’m back in the saddle business again.”
The then-fledgling company’s name was conceived with family in mind.
“Double J Saddlery, the two J’s come from my two sons – I have two sons and two daughters, said DeBord. “My two sons are Jesse and Josh, Josh is actually Joshua but we call him Josh. I had to come up with a name and I had a good friend that I was consulting with at that time. We were bouncing ideas around, and we chose Double J because when they were little guys, that was, oh, 20 years ago, when this was all taking place, they were 5, and 6 years old, they were always, “Dad, we’re going to help you build saddles one of these days.” So, I chose their names and of course you know that’s always a little dangerous when you’re dealing with 7- or 8- year-old boys. I was thinking, well, if just one of them comes it’ll be John and Jesse or John and Josh and if neither one of them comes it’ll be “Just John” with tow J’s and it’ll be OK. My two daughters, they kind of take little defense at that from time to time, but they’re very active in the business as well.”
DeBord said that he did not have any grand design for his family to enter the business, but “my children are in the business and they do represent third-generation in the saddle business in Yoakum.”
I didn’t build the company to provide a job for them or anything of that nature, but they have stepped forward and wanted to be involved,” said DeBord. “Everybody’s involved in some form or fashion. Everybody carries a little different hat.”
Oldest daughter Chaedrea Kenley said that every family member has an input on design. Son Josh is primarily a sales representative for the company. Son Jesse oversees factory operations. DeBord’s wife, Nancy, built and maintains the company’s website, having taught herself html coding to do so. Kenley was in sales and marketing and now coordinates advertising. She has taken on a diminished role to devote attention to her young children.
“She’s working on the fourth generation,” said DeBord.
Of his youngest daughter, DeBord said, “Kristyn, she’s been really involved in the business since she graduated college. She’s been out a couple years now, and she got a degree in fashion and design. She designs a tremendous amount of our new product and the handbags and that’s a pretty important part of our business now.”
In fact, DeBord noted that the fashion aspect of the business currently accounts for approximately half the company’s sales. But how did a saddle and tack business become a fashion presence?
“An evolutionary process, that’s about the best description I can come up with,” said DeBord. “When my oldest daughter started selling for us she wanted a purse line. We had developed a few styles along the way, pretty much hardcore Western-themed. As the girls became more involved, you know, ‘we’re going to step it up and get things that are better and a little more progressive.’ So they started buying different materials and fabrics.”
Double J Saddlery crafts every item it sells in its Yoakum facility. Nothing is imported and re-branded.
“We do it all. We build all of our products right here in our shop. We don’t import anything. We in fact did dabble in it, oh, 10 years ago, and it was a really big mistake. I know it’s pretty standard in the industry today and I know that’s where all the product’s coming from. But you know, we can build the product almost as competitively as you can get it from over seas,” said DeBord.
In March 2008, Double J moved into a new facility, a more than 25,000-square-foot building that comprises about 5,000 square feet of showroom and offices and approximately 20,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
“We’re ready for the rebound,” said DeBord. “We built it big enough so that we could grow. It’s like having a three-car garage. It doesn’t take long to fill it up. We could easily move some stuff around and up production. And there’s a pretty good little labor force available now, too.”
DeBord said that Double J will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the company during 2011, but the details have not been finalized. There are plans to put more detailed videos on their website (built and maintained by DeBord’s wife, Nancy) telling the story of what the company is and what it does. There will be commemorative merchandise and perhaps a 20th anniversary saddle.
As for the next 20 years?
“We’ve just got a really strong commitment to quality handmade products right here in Yoakum,” said DeBord. “We’re trying to carry on the traditional leather-making talent and history combining with our love of the new and innovative. That’s what we do. I know from my experience I used to see a lot of shortcuts, a lot of ways to make things less expensive, but that’s not who we are and that’s not what we do – we’re not going to make that compromise. We’re dedicated to building a quality product. We realize that there will always be less expensive stuff available in the marketplace. If we really wanted to go down that route, we could do it, but we choose not to do it. I guess time will tell if that’s a really good decision, but so far, it’s been pretty good.”
By: David Renfrow