A horse is a horse, of course, but is it also a four-legged equine entree into a new sales base?
Automotive supplier Donnelly Corp. hopes to follow polo and rodeo riders into new business opportunities with its HorseVue remote video camera system, which allows animal lovers to monitor their pets during transport. If the concept wins acceptance among breeders, trainers and horse aficionados, it will give Donnelly a piece of the estimated $6.3 billion ``equine accessories'' market and also may spark growth in its fledgling remote electronics business.
The Holland, Mich.-based injection molder already is the top global manufacturer of automotive mirrors. It also produces electronic systems used for automatic dimming mirrors and specialized lighting on exterior mirrors.
Last year it launched a new series of remote electronic sensing units - first with the BabyVue, a remote camera and tiny monitor mounted to interior mirrors to help parents keep tabs on infants and toddlers while still keeping their eyes on the road.
Donnelly is not releasing sales numbers, but said BabyVue has generated interest, making an appearance on Oprah Winfrey's talk show and turning up in a question on the game show Hollywood Squares. The company has tracked 70 million hits on its Web site advertising BabyVue, said spokeswoman Beverly Snyder.
Other remote monitors have followed, produced at Donnelly's Norton Shores, Mich., facility. But others exposed to the BabyVue were anxious to take the concept into areas the developers never imagined.
``You can't believe these people with horses,'' said Lee Allen, president of Logan Coach Co., a Logan, Utah-based horse trailer manufacturer and former Donnelly employee. ``They treat their animals like babies. I told them that they needed to make a BabyVue for horses.''
So Donnelly beefed up the injection molded plastic housing for the camera and connecting cables to withstand a harsher environment and rolled out HorseVue on March 20. The camera and 21/2-inch monitor let drivers keep an eye on their animals' condition as they move from the farm to horse shows, racetracks, rodeos and other competitive sites. Contented animals, Allen said, perform better.
``These guys will spend $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 on a hobby horse,'' he said. ``Another $500 for a camera to make sure they're happy is nothing. And it's a very fashion-driven industry. If somebody in their club has it, and it's seen as new and better, then everyone has to have it.''
His company will install HorseVue in some of its trailers and make it available through its distributors. Success in the equine industry, Allen predicted, will lead to even more opportunities.
``It's a product that can get out there, get people aware of it and using it, and get some real momentum going,'' he said.