Even Cowgirls Get The Profits

Corralling the rodeo duds market

No one has to ride herd on this teenager. At 17, Casey Collier, a high school junior in Shawnee Mission, Kan., is already a seasoned rodeo rider and marketer. ArenaWest Inc., the company she and her mother founded four years ago, sells clothing decorated with Western designs at rodeos and on the Internet.

A 1994 Christmas shopping trip planted the idea. Casey and younger sister Corey, both regulars on the rodeo circuit, wanted cowgirl-theme T-shirts as gifts for pals. But designs only featured cowboys. Said Casey: "Mom, let's just make our own." A few weeks later, a school counselor mentioned the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation's MADE IT program, a weeklong boot camp for mother-daughter entrepreneurs from around the country.

At the program's end, the Colliers beat out 11 other teams, winning $3,500 in seed capital. Back home, they priced local screen-printing services--and nixed the lowest bidder when he ignored Casey. All three Colliers think up designs, which the girls take to school for market research.

They started selling from booths at local rodeos in late 1995, roping $50,000 in sales in six months. Since then, they've added baseball caps, denim shirts, and other duds to the T-shirt line, and put up a Web site, though their wares still sell best at big shows such as the National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas. Now they're branding products with the ArenaWest logo, hoping to break into wholesale. Annual sales are "low- to mid-six figures." Profits go to college funds for the girls.

Casey, who plans to run ArenaWest from her college dorm, has gained more than just a nose for business. "I used to be a nervous Nellie," she says. "Now I'm calm." Or as calm as anyone can be when going at a full gallop.

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