Name: Emily Mitchell

Age: 37

Title: Co-owner with husband Bill Rafuse

Company: Hemphill’s Horses, Feed & Saddlery, Vassalboro

About: A retail tack, feed business with horses for sale or lease.

Website: www.facebook.com/Hemphills-Horses-Feed-and-Saddlery-Inc

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

The weather. I never realized the weather has such an effect on retail, especially one that doesn’t have an online presence. When you have snowstorms and have to shut down for a couple of days a week for the last couple of weeks, it has an impact.

March is when it really starts to pick up. It’s when we get our first load of horses for the spring. As soon as the snow starts to melt and we get some more sunny days, people want to get out. And tax returns are also beneficial.

We buy and sell and lease horses to summer camps and trail riding businesses all over New England. We’ve picked up a camp in Maryland and we may go as far south as Virginia this year.

We bring a load of horses in at New Year’s, and we get them from the West in March.

When we bought the business in November 2014 and started with our vision, we had no horses in the barn. We started with 45 and doubled it the next year. In our fourth year, we’re up 125 horses.

Another (challenge) for us (is) our advertising and getting our name out there and letting people know we are a going concern. The business has been close to closing twice, and we took it over when it was on the verge of closing for the second time.

We appreciate the Hemphill family. This was a going concern for a long time. I had worked here as a teenager. I didn’t even think I wanted to do horses for a career.

But I walked in in August of 2014 to buy grain — I have a lesson barn at Lupine Farm; it’s still a going concern — and saw a sign on the door that the business was closing. I jokingly called my husband and father and said, “Maybe we should buy it.”

And in November, we opened the doors after three months of crash business plans and loan acquisition.

We have taken our retail store on the road, and we had a booth at the Windsor Fair. I can’t tell you how many times people stopped by and say, “You’re still open?”

It’s about exposure, and that comes with time, too.

What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

My dad, who passed away in September 2016, always said, “Do whatever it is that you’re most passionate about, because what the world needs most is passionate people.”

My dad was James Mitchell of Vassalboro.

I was a lawyer, but I have been enthusiastic about horses all my life. When the opportunity presented itself, it was a wonderful leap of faith.

The other piece of advice is to say “yes” to help and get advice from people. That’s one I learned.

My mother, Libby Mitchell, is also the best provider of wisdom, advice and confidence when things get shaky. (My mother and husband) are both a huge part of this business and its past, present, and future.

How do you foster creativity in yourself or your staff?

We’re always trying to think of new ways of presenting things, to think of new avenues of attraction of business or taking our business on the road.

There are three full-time employees besides me and seven part-timers, and some will pick up more hours after school gets out for the year.

Very frequently, I say “yes” and figure it out afterward.

We have staff gatherings so we can ask questions and see if we’re on the same page and if we have any ideas.

I try to stay current on social media, and I look at what tack shops and sale barns are doing to stay current.

My dad always told my mom that I could get out boxes like a bunny.

And I stay optimistic; that’s kind of a joke around here.

And sometimes I just step away from desk and get on one of the horses and go for a ride. That’s why this all started.

What’s your biggest fear right now?

I’m not fearful, but as we grow the business, it’s cash flow.

We’re in pretty good shape for year three, but we’re waiting for the magical year five.

We’re taking care of the staff appropriately and we reward them for the great work they do.

Also, I’m expecting a child in June. I just hope she doesn’t come early, before we send the horses off to camp.

I think people see horses sold and what they are priced at. … They don’t see the enormous amount of overhead that we have.

Where will the business be in five years?

Ideally, we’ll continue to grow in scope and number of horses, with additional stabling and camps.

People are starting to come up from New Jersey, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I think they are seeing good options at lower prices, and in terms of retail, we’re going to be online by then. It’s hard to compete with only a brick-and-mortar store. But I am one of the few people who prefer to touch a thing before I buy it.

We’ll continue to go to horse shows and look at ways to reach out and take the product to the people.

We’ll keep the feed store. If you have it, we can feed it.

And the horses are a double thing, with the sales and the leasing.

Ideally, we’ll expand the delivery business. It’s good customer service, but we need more staff and trucks for that.

We love having our kids grow up here. Our son Elliot is 6, and Willa is 4, and we have one on the way.

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