Keeping it in the Family
Eleven Generations with Three Centuries of Expertise Have Created Top International Equestrian Brands
A successful business needs a passion to develop products that really understands the needs and wants of its customer. That passion often dies with the founder and many businesses die as a result. This is a story of three different companies, from three very different cultures, with three different histories. Their differences share one uncommon feature; they all develop products that contain a living passion for excellence that cannot be replicated. Many companies try to copy successful products, but in doing so they lose the essence of what makes the product exceptional. It’s the same way a photograph differs from a hand painted portrait; it lacks the soul of its artist. The challenge for any family company is passing down the founder’s legacy. An apprentice needs not to only understand his teacher’s work, but to absorb his life force. Without it, it is impossible to evolve and develop the founder’s work whilst retaining his brilliance.
Three Generations of Making Helmets for a Safer World
World famous for raising the bar in safety, Charles Owen is celebrating its 100 year birthday as a leading British manufacturer of riding helmets. When Charles Owen himself founded the company in 1911, his mission was to make products for a safer world. Now under the direction of Charles Owen’s grandson, Roy Burek, the mission has remained the same, but has extended its reach to all parts of the globe.
It was in 1924 that Charles Owen was granted a patent that improved ventilation and dramatically improved the fit for all shapes of heads for military helmets used in the tropics. Fit has become a theme for the company throughout its history. The introduction of custom fit motorcycle helmets and today’s 3D sculptured equestrian helmets have the microfit system that creates a fit and comfort for which the company is renowned around the world.
It didn’t take long before Charles Owen started becoming involved in the revolution that has become the modern look of helmets of today. In 1928, the first Charles Owen motorcycle helmet was born and just ten years later, the Charles Owen jockey racing helmet was worn by the winning jockey of the famous Grand National steeplechase. These early helmets have a shadow of the modern technology in today’s helmets, but their introduction had an immediate impact on the racing industry by, for example, reducing rider skull fractures by 50%. Staying at the center of helmet development was very much at the heart of the company’s success, such as being involved in the very first helmet standard. Today, Roy Burek is regarded as a global expert in head protection and is passionate about educating the community to create a safer world.
In short time, the company began to understand that fashion played a huge part in the popular adoption of helmets. The 1960’s saw many flavors of the 1956 motorcycle helmet standard designed to enhance the wearer’s identity. It was in 1972 that fashion had a major impact on safety with the introduction by Charles Owen of the first full facial motorcycle helmet that met the then current British Standard. Following in the wake, equestrian helmets started to develop. Charles Owen saw the first dual standard riding helmet in 1983 in response to the demand by Pony Club for safer helmets. Today’s triple standard helmets are seen by many as the “Gold Standard”.
“Using one’s life to make a real difference in others’ lives is what drives me, like it did my father and grandfather” said Roy Burek, Managing Director of Charles Owen. In our Centennial year, it has been an amazing opportunity to reflect on the fact that the values that my grandfather had are well established in my DNA. The challenges that made the company flourish in his time are still very much here today: Fashion, Fit and Function. Staying true to one’s traditional values has
been the secret of the company’s longevity, along with
a bit hard work.”
Sergio Grasso was established at the beginning of the 1980’s.The aim was to combine quality with traditional Italian skills to create the ultimate high tech riding boots. The twenty-year experience of the industrialist from Verona is intertwined with his huge passion for horses and riding. The entire Grasso family is involved in the project. Monica Grasso deals with customer relations, both for Italy and abroad, consolidating and expanding the worldwide branding. Emilia Grasso looks after the production and the quality control, working closely with the staff, who are truly master shoe-makers, to ensure that each and every article is made to the highest standards. “Every single pair of boots has to be of the highest quality”. This is the ideal that drives the factory’s productivity, along with a strong belief in the product.
“The technology present in my factory is the best available for the boot manufacturing process. But this is not the most the important factor. It is merely a way of working better and more efficiently. The quality is created by the craftsmen, with the experience, care and the pride they exhibit in their work. Not the machinery.”
“We always buy the best leather available on the market, but this is still not enough for our exacting standards. Each hide is carefully examined and all the natural defects such as scars, abrasions and tears are noted and that area of the hide discarded. This ensures that the boots are cut only from the best part of the leather. This method creates a large amount of rejected material but results in a higher quality finished product.” Each stage of the production schedule is this precise in the quest for perfection. For example, the shoe cream is smeared on the boot using only natural sponges -the same used to bath babies- because for Sergio Grasso, the synthetic versions are too harsh and can damage the leather. “Making a boot is not difficult. The difficulty lies in making a Sergio Grasso riding boot.” says Sergio with an infectious smile.
Six generations of designing and making the finest gloves
Jakob Roeckl was a master leather tailor. Leather tailors of the time manufactured all sorts of small leather goods, but gloves in particular. After successfully passing his examination in Munich “with much praise and approval” to become a master craftsman, Jakob travelled to Vienna on foot, where he was able to broaden his knowledge and perfect his skills as a tailor and dressmaker at the imperial court. In 1839, Jakob dared to take the leap to found Roeckl and become independent with his small leather tailor business. Five years later, Jakob came up with an extraordinary innovation, a tanning procedure, which enabled him to make leather softer than ever before possible. As a result, King Ludwig I, who had initially denied his consent, personally granted him permission to open a glove factory in Munich. The Roeckl company was later appointed to become a royal purveyor to the Bavarian court. Even Empress Sisi and the fairytale King Ludwig II only treated their royal hands to the gloves manufactured by the Roeckl company.
Over the course of 172 years, Roeckl stood the test of time even in the most difficult periods in history and always remained true to itself. By tradition, the family company time and again successfully rises to the challenge to maintain the highest standards of high quality craftsmanship and contemporary design. Though operating on a global scale today, Roeckl has remained a down to earth, family run, medium-sized enterprise.
Roeckl, which is now in its sixth generation, stands for quality, perfection and innovation around the world. That is why the guiding principle “Innovative by tradition, Preserving proven techniques, Making good even better!” still applies today. Due to this guiding principle, the wealth of experience and by focusing solely on gloves, Roeckl
Sports now disposes of a large number of patents, exclusive materials and processing techniques, thanks to which they have evolved into the quality and market leader on the sports glove market.
A Family of Brands
It doesn’t take much imagination to see why Charles Owen became close to the other brands; they share so much in their commitment to deliver brilliance and performance. Realizing the passion that is infused into each and every product is not easy. “It became so obvious that there was a need to create a distribution structure that mirrored the passion encapsulated in this group of equestrian products. We needed to educate that second best is not an option and that the products needed to be widely available and supported by the best possible customer service,” states Roy Burek.
In today’s world of cuts and efficiencies, it is truly inspirational to think that islands of brilliance still exist. By experiencing these products, you too will engage in a partnership that will encourage you to new heights of excellence from three of the finest European manufacturers today.