MAYFIELD - The best ideas are often the simplest.
For Lisa Penge, an experienced hair stylist and horse enthusiast, she simply saw a need and devised a solution when she invented the catalyst for her latest business venture, Taily Ho Braided Show Tails.
The patented product Penge invented is a braided hair accessory that attaches to a horse's tail, eliminating the need to continually braid and rebraid the hair.
Lisa Penge poses for a photo with one of her braided horse hair pieces at her home in Mayfield.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
The invention merges two of her passions: she has a 25-year career in hair styling and experience showing horses.
Horse shows can last for days -sometimes weeks - and if an owner is looking to maintain a braided elegant look, that can require continual braiding by a groomer throughout the competition, which can become expensive at about $60 per session.
Also, Penge explained, a horse's hair can become thin and damaged from continued braiding.
"Sometimes the hair breaks off and there's nothing left to braid," Penge said.
Like humans, some horses are born with thinner manes and tails. Others may rub their hair against their stalls, which ruins the braid.
"Being a hairdresser and going to these big horse shows, I noticed some of them would rub their hair off, and I thought, 'what can I do?'" Penge said.
So one day she bought a hair piece from her beauty supplier, took it apart and created "what was really a rough draft" of her Taily Ho braided accessories.
There is a market for hair extensions for horses. Competitors can purchase extensions that can be looped to the tail bone to make the tail hair appear longer and thicker, but there was nothing on the market that could be attached to the top of the tail for a braided look.
It was 2005 when she first had the idea, but it wouldn't be until 2007 that she would be granted her patent. The process of getting a patent wasn't easy, she said. It began with a three-to-four month period where the product was evaluated to make sure it's proprietary.
That alone can cost $800.
"They send a portfolio with a lot of statistics on how they think it will fare in the sporting-goods market. It was evaluated and it came back in pretty good standing," Penge said. "There's nothing out there like it."
The finished product is the result of years of trial and error as she used different products and tried them on her family's horses, Lexus and Mali.
"It just morphed into something cool," Penge said. "I just kept playing with it and experimenting with different hair and different ways of styling it. At first it was all hand stitched."
Then her husband, Bob, bought her a Bernina sewing machine from the Gloversville Sewing Center, easing the process. She still makes all of the tails herself. The real hair she buys from her beauty supplier in Albany. The only other materials are neoprene, used as the base, and cotton velcro.
The accessory wraps around the horse's tail and is fastened using velcro. The neoprene is very soft and comfortable for the horses, she said.
"After I had the prototype I went for the patent. I went to trade shows to sell it. I didn't want to be in manufacturing and figured someone else could be crafting the trail," Penge said.
But as an experienced entrepreneur, she knew any business venture requires a bit of flexibility.
She continues to make the braided tails herself. She begins by visiting an interested client's horse and taking measurements. The hair of the braid can be dyed to match the tail.
It's delivered in a wooden box crafted by her husband. The logo, designed by graphic designer Stephanie Perras is lasered onto wood by engraver Elizabeth Snyder in Northville, the finished product being a detailed keepsake in which the tail is stored.
The product is long-lasting and reusable. The price ranges from $150 to $250. The accessory can be washed and rebraided. Penge said she will rebraid the tails for a nominal fee.
Penge now is looking to sell the business and has already received interest. In the meantime, Penge said she will continue to visit trade shows with the product and sponsor some horse show classes to get the brand name out there.
She's always had an entrepreneurial spirit having operated her own hair styling business and once co-owned a diner.
"Don't give up. Keep plugging away and chip away at it," she gave as advice to other inventors and entrepreneurs who may be going through the difficult first stages of designing a prototype and applying for a patent.
"Just try to take a little bit at a time. Work on one thing at a time. You can't put it all on your plate at once," Penge said.
Having positive people around is also a must, she said, adding that her friends and family helped her through the downs and celebrated with her through successes.
Networking with other people also is helpful, she added. Friends like Chris Sutphen, whom she boarded her own horses with in the summer, and Barbara Ferraro, of Sablewood stables in Glen, helped her through the process, she said.
There are many inexpensive resources available for budding entrepreneurs, too. Penge said she was shy about being the spokeswoman for the product, so she attended business communications classes at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
"At the end of one of the classes I gave a presentation on the tail. It was nervewracking, and I had to step out of [my comfort zone]," Penge said.
Now she's working to get the tail into a horse supplement catalog called Smart Pak where businesses promote products.
"It has been a labor of love and a lot of fun," Penge said.
For more information, visit the business on the Web at www.tailyhobraidedshowtails.com.
News Editor Amanda May Metzger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.