Brit Ellerman has been roping his whole life. His dad, Jay, is a five-time NFR qualifier; mom, Tammy, won the Perry di Loreto in 2014; and sister, Taya (McAdow), is now a rodeo coach at Northeastern Junior College. It’s something the family does daily still, but at 26 years old, the youngest Ellerman points out that it’s not what’s most important. Rather, for him especially, it’s the business. And the business is about the people.
“What I think is really cool,” Ellerman said, referencing his various entrepreneurial ventures, “is it has been because of the relationships and the connections that I’ve made through roping.”
Before Ellerman had even graduated from business school, an Arizona jackpot provided the perfect opportunity for Texas Saddlery owner Dale Martin to approach Ellerman about taking his leather shop to the next level. A craftsman in his own right, who had grown up working leather like his cowboy granddad had taught him, Ellerman found the proposal attractive enough to stretch his fledgling business wings.
“I ended up becoming partners and being the majority owner, and we kind of just went from there.”
By “from there,” Ellerman means from making belts, which were the company’s primary offering in 2011, prior to Ellerman’s buy in. Now, Martin is back to making saddles, and the products offered are vast. Not only that, but Texas Saddlery goods are also available in 120 stores throughout North America.
“We have eight reps now that are all over the U.S. and Canada,” Ellerman said. “So, the wholesale side has grown. My reps do an awesome job. We’ve got part of the manufacturing and the production process going on in Dale’s shop in Alba, [Texas;] and then we’ve got all the shipping and receiving and customer service going on up here [in Fort Lupton, Colorado].”
In the five years or so since Ellerman has taken the reins, the needs of the company have opened his eyes to the many needs of the industry, and Ellerman has been quick to respond. Not only does Texas Saddlery make and market leather goods through Western retailers, it’s also created a lot of leatherwork for the Paramount Network’s hit TV drama, “Yellowstone,” and has even merged into outdoor recreation industries through private label manufacturing, as well as being able to offer design and marketing services. It’s been no small feat, and according to Ellerman, it’s all because of the people around him.
“There’s obviously things that only I can do. So, the roping: I’m the only one who can go to the rodeo and rope. But I’ve gotten around so many great people that do so much and see the vision and see where we want to go and those people that work with me are so, so great. Like, Tori. She works in the shop and is kind of the controller of everything. She knows the ins and outs of all of the businesses, and she can handle so much of that while I’m not there.
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“My dad helps a ton, and my mom and my sister both help a bunch. Then, I started working with some college friends who are very talented, and now we can do anything from printing to graphic design, photography, video and audio. They have so many capabilities that we partnered on that now, when we go to a business, if I see a need, I have a good solution. I can say, ‘This is what we use for our inventory system and we’ll show you how to run it.’ Or, ‘This is why your online store doesn’t work,’ and, ‘here’s Joe, and he can fix it for you.’ It all ties together.”
And, it all ties back into the roping, which Ellerman finds time to do daily.
“I rodeo still and I really love horse showing. I absolutely want to make the Finals and try to rodeo a little more every year. It’s kind of a timing thing—getting your horses the way you want them and just not rushing things, especially with all the other things that we have going on. Part of that is because, growing up in the industry, I get to see it from beginning to end, and know that roping is a great thing and a great tool, but it can’t consume you.
“We do a lot of business during the day and in the afternoons, we set everything down and we focus on our roping. And that’s where it’s always been different. We’ve always gone about roping as a business. Because it has to make sense because it’s expensive to do. So, I work at it every day and just try to get a little bit better every day and try to get my horses a little bit better every day.”
Because Ellerman has such a passion for people, helping others get better every day is a significant part of his business plan.
“It’s a whole-family operation most of the time. So, we ride some outside horses still and I horse show a little bit for some people and we still do a lot of lessons. We started putting on schools again about a year ago. My dad did that forever and is really good at it—he’s a great teacher. So, we do a lot of that and work that into everything too and that led into another business I ended up becoming a part of called Smart Arena. It’s an online coaching platform that’s live coaching for your team roping.”
Smart Arena allows users to upload videos of their competition runs and, over time, with the information gained from those runs, will offer performance statistics. From there, users can get live, online coaching from certified coaches and professional ropers.
“Sometimes, it’s not feasible to go to a school and haul your horse out there and take a few days off work,” Ellerman stated. “And, sometimes, people’s competition runs are different from their practice runs. We might be able to get somebody to catch 10 out of 10 steers at home on some good steers, and then you might go to a jackpot somewhere and the steers might run a little more or there’s a barrier involved and your mind gets to going faster and people usually don’t perform the same at a jackpot. It’s just another way to help people with their roping and to help them maximize their time.”
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A final tool Ellerman designed to maximize resources is the creation of the now-launching Ellerman Brands, which offers everything the Ellerman family offers—from real estate to training to leather to marketing and more—in one place.
“All my family, they’re really good at something. There’s eight or nine different mini businesses within the whole. I just want to make it easy and accessible for people to do the things they want to do.”
For someone who has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time, Brit Ellerman swears he’s taking the slow and steady approach to his business, his roping and his people.
“It’s always taken me longer. I’m committed to the process and being okay if it takes longer. I’ve learned that, really, people are your biggest asset. I try to focus a lot on the business relationships, rather than trying to sell something. I’ve learned that you can just build that relationship first and focus on the people becoming a part of what you’re doing. It’s about the people and the relationships you make.”
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