5 September 1997

RUMMAGING CAN PAY OFF

There is an interesting array of outdoor clothing and saddlery outlets. Tamara Farrant looks at the options with price, quality, or "shopping experience" in mind

Second-hand specialist

Maybe it was the influence of "grunge" era, or the careful spending of the 1990s, but second-hand riding clothes are definitely "in". Local saddlers report a strong demand for second-hand items, and find it hard to draw in the stock to fulfil it.

There are even shops springing up around the country dealing mainly in second-hand country clothing. Probably the longest established is the Uppingham Dress Agency. Opened 31 years ago, it is now run by Adrian Brand who travels the country emptying the wardrobes of those who have outgrown clothes or are discarding designer labels.

For them their clothes and shoes provide a return – 53% of the price made at the agency. For the purchaser there is an exciting choice of well-made, quality clothes. Of the 10 rooms in the Leicestershire village shop one large one is dedicated to riding clothes, and another to outdoor clothes.

The good buys are there, but it may be frustrating when there is nothing suitable in your size. Among goods offered when the writer called were jodhpurs £15; boots with trees £100 patched, £200 better quality; hunting coats, womens from £140, mens from £170.

Auction

The auction wins for both the best buys and the worst. Getting the best buys involves spending most of the day in a cramped auction hall – too hot in summer and then too cold in winter!

Yet spending a day off at an auction has the adrenaline flowing and can be very satisfying when you carry home a selection of kit for the family at under half price.

At Ashford Market, Kent, quality leather hunting boots will sell for as little as £8. But will they fit? The only way to find out is to turn up early for the viewing and meticulously go through every item on display – it will not necessarily match the catalogue!

However what you pay will always be more than what you bid! Most of the clothing sold is new jodhpurs, chaps and hats. Some of these will be subject to VAT. Then everything carries a buyers premium of 5% plus VAT. If you decide you want to take the item back, the best way out is to sell it at the next auction.

Discount sales

In the tradition of weekend "golf sales" and "ladies jacket sales" that appear in hotels, Snowhill Saddlery has built up a busy itinerary. It visits village halls and sports centres across the south-east and unloads two artic loads of stock. So when the doors open at 6pm, in scenes reminiscent of Harrods January sales, people rummage through the boxes of jodhpurs to find their size before they are snapped up.

Price tags show superb savings compared with the recommended retail price, although the reality is that few saddlers actually sell at that maximum price. But there are some genuine good buys, particularly in everyday tack and jodhpurs. To carry the wide range of sizes, the brands and styles are fairly limited, with Harry Hall predominating.

Peter Dale who started the tack roadshows 15 years ago is now franchising them out, so they will be expanding to other parts of the country.

If in the heady rush for a bargain you buy the wrong size or colour, Snowhill will replace or issue a credit note, but they will not be back in to the same site for six weeks

Prices: Jodhpurs £24.50; show jackets from £54.50; quilted jackets from £24.50

Saddlers

For a choice of brand names it is the local saddlers that come out on top. They may not necessarily have your size in stock, but most goods can be ordered and arrive within two to three days.

EJ Wickes at Lambourn, is the veritable Santas grotto for the confirmed "tacky" – the horsy equivalent of a "foodie". Jacket brands include Musto, Puffa, Lavenir, Caldene and Harry Hall. On most accessories they cover the full market range from stable lads and lasses low incomes to well-heeled Berk-shire families.

The huge range of human and horse clothing is squeezed into an "L" shape totalling the size of a double garage. Like many of the larger local tack shops it finds its second-hand section increasingly popular, and it takes goods in part exchange.

Adding to this the expert advice on hand makes it a great place for horsy shopping.

Malcolm Benticks and Sandra Nolans family business has run since 1905 and opens 8am to 5.30pm week days and 8.30am to 12.30pm on Saturdays

Prices: Quilted coats from £17.95; jodhpurs from £25.

Superstore

For the hardened "tacky" who is used to rummaging in shops the size of a closet, the wide open aisles and the bright lights are a shock to the system.

There are a handful of independent names with one or two warehouse-style outlets, but only one that is a true multiple, Petsmart. Those who go in expecting Petsmart to have started a Tesco v Sainsbury price war will be disappointed. However, where it did score was in the feed stuffs: All competitively priced – probably a cunning marketing ploy to draw customers in on a regular basis!

All the necessary riding gear was there in a good range of sizes, but a surprisingly limited choice of brands, mainly Harry Hall. Prices: Jodphurs from £24.99; casual jacket £24.99

Catalogue

Thumbing through a catalogue in the comfort of your own home is very useful for those with hectic lives. It has the knock on benefit of a parcel arriving in the post a few days later, when you can congratulate yourself on saving time and petrol.

Unfortunately, for low value goods the postage makes the process slightly more costly than the local tack shop. Then for high value goods there is a natural reluctance to write a large cheque for something you cannot see and feel.

Many tack shops offer a mail order service. For a wide range of goods, from clothing to stables, the CAM catalogue has grown from strength to strength. The brands are limited, but there is a good range of styles to suit all tastes and budgets. Prices: Harry Hall – Puffa-style £39.99; Harry Hall jodphurs, womens £24.98; tweed jackets £84.95; one style of leather boot £140.34, without trees.

&#8226 Prices quoted are the lowest for adult sizes, at the time of the research. They are intended only as a guide.

Quality boots are knocked down for £8 but there are extra costs.

Theres much rummaging for bargains at Snowhill Saddlerys weekend sales in village halls.