A LIFELONG affinity with horses provided the starting point for a fast-growing family business.
Now Equi-Trek Ltd is galloping ahead of the field as a leading manufacturer of luxury horse trailers – with eyes on expanding beyond its existing markets of the UK and mainland Europe.
Holding the reins is managing director Tom Janion, 26, who has risen through the business started by his father, Raymond, and whose exploits as a competitor at major showjumping events made him ideally placed to understand the transport needs of horse and rider.
“I first sat on a horse when I was 18 months old,” says Tom. “I was competing in a gymkhana at Honley Show. When I was older, I competed for the British team and at events such as the Horse of the Year Show and the Royal International Horse Show with some level of success. But riding is a full-time job – and so is running Equi-Trek – so I haven’t been riding for some time.”
Instead, Tom is turning his attention to horsepower of a different kind. The company is developing Motor-Trek to provide trailers for the motorsport fraternity.
It’s a logical extension of the business, says Tom, who will be promoting the concept at the Dirt Bike Show next month.
“It has been on the ‘things to do’ list for a few years,” said Tom. “But it has come to a head now because we have expanded the Equi-Trek range to cover every aspect of the market – from a little girl who needs a trailer for her small pony to John Whitaker and his 20-ton truck.”
John is just one of Equi-Trek’s star customers. His signature is emblazoned across the sides of his Equi-Trek Enterprise, a luxury horse trailer which provides comfortable living accommodation for both rider and steed. Features for the rider include double bed, kitchen, seating, toilet and shower – with fittings and fixtures which put many a camper van or caravan to shame.
The Enterprise is part of a range of large horseboxes and trailers which also include the Endeavour, Envoy and Voyager and which have impressed several top riders, including Huddersfield-born Oliver Townend and Robert Smith.
Making an impact at some of Europe’s biggest horse shows is a far cry from the company’s beginnings with Tom and parents Raymond and Hilary. “About six years ago there were three of us,” says Tom, “We set out with the intention of designing a better horsebox. Horseboxes and trailers hadn’t improved for 50 years. We came up with a better design and got it patented. We have had horses all our lives and that’s the biggest advantage we have over other manufacturers. Knowing what horse and rider need has helped the business grow.”
Equi-Trek has developed from a small manufacturer of side-loading horse trailers to introducing bigger motorised horseboxes in the mid-2000s before the launch of the 26-tonne Enterprise, which can carry up to nine horses in comfort.
The trailers have proved hugely successful, with thousands sold worldwide. Its a success which helped Equi-Trek into the winners’ enclosure at each of the past two Examiner Business Awards.
Now the firm employs more than 100 people. It has a showroom and factory at Bent Ley Road, Meltham, and sites at Meltham Mills and Slaithwaite. Ninety per cent of its employees are from Huddersfield and a sizeable number are aged are under 25. “We seem to attract younger people,” says Tom. “We have developed our staff in-house and they share our enthusiasm and drive. We have worked with Huddersfield University and we have recruited several of their engineering graduates.”
Tom joined the business straight from Honley High School, admitting: “I was helping out on an exhibition stand when I was 15.” He served in the Air Cadets and had dreams of being a jet fighter pilot. “My eyesight wasn’t quite good enough,” he says. “I have flown a variety of aircraft, but the RAF was out, I’m afraid.”
However, Tom still gets more than his fair share of flying. He attends horse shows across Europe, joking: “I’ve clocked up more air miles than some of the pilots! We cover the whole of mainland Europe. In the past two years, the only countries I haven’t visited are Liechtenstein and Andorra.
“It sounds glamorous when someone asks ‘where are you going this weekend?’ and you say ‘Zurich’. But you catch a plane at 3am, you see nothing of the country and spend three days at an exhibition before getting a 10pm flight back. But all that travelling has taught me an incredible amount about the European market.”
Tom may end up travelling further afield. Equi-Trek has already opened a dealership in New Zealand and has also had a “huge” amount of interest from Australia and the United States, although he says its very early days to consider attacking those markets.
The company has ridden out the recession, says Tom. “Horse riding is one of the most expensive of all sports,” he explains. “Comparing it to motorsport, you can put the car in the garage and not use it for three weeks. If you put the horse in a stable for three weeks you still have bills for feed and veterinary treatment. The biggest bulk of our customers are professional people.”
Just as Tom’s knowledge and experience of riding has helped develop Equi-Trek into a market leader, so his love of motorsport is set to help Motor-Trek take pole position on the grid.
“Motor racing isn’t something I’ve had time to try out myself,” he says. “But I go to Le Mans every year with Peugeot on a corporate trip and I attend rally events. The Le Mans Challenge is probably the most demanding form of the sport for both the cars and the drivers. It’s fantastic. It’s the work that goes into preparing and maintaining the engines for 24-hour racing and the stamina of the drivers.”
Tom’s other sport is squash. “I took it up about 18 months ago. A friend had always talked about playing and we finally got around to it. I play a couple of times a week at Huddersfield sports centre. I also like a good pint after work!”
Devoting six or seven days a week to the business, Tom lives “half way between work and my mum and dad’s house”. He says: “I live close enough to walk to work in the morning, which is way better than commuting. The nearest I get to a traffic jam is at the crossroads in the middle of Meltham.”
Role: Managing director
Holidays: Little time for holidays, but earlier this year I went on a lads’ holiday to Las Vegas
Car: Nissan Navara pick-up
First job: Straight from school into the family business
Best thing about job: The challenge. No two days are ever the same.
Worst thing about job: The red tape imposed by government. It’s like the government is there to stop you doing business
Business tip: You only get out what you are prepared to put in. The final 20% of effort is 98% of the success
Work: Manufacturers of luxury horse transport
Sites: Meltham and Slaithwaite
Phone: 01484 852121