Williston Saddlery to Celebrate 40 Years


October 2, 2019 | View PDF

Owners Bill and Karen Novak celebrate 40 years of Williston Saddlery.

A deep love of animals, particularly horses, plus a thirst for knowledge and a desire to share it, created the perfect combination for Bill and Karen Novak to take Williston Saddlery from a small tack display in an insurance business to a thriving ag business serving a 100 mile radius of Williston, ND.

The newly married couple on their first teaching assignments knew they would some day like to own a tack and feed business but did not want to compete with Williston Saddlery owner Clarence Moe. Moe had started the business in 1963, moving it to various locations in Williston, finally ending up in his American Family Insurance office on 2nd St. When the insurance company made him choose between the two businesses, he encouraged Novaks to purchase the tack.

On October 1, 1979, Novaks moved the inventory of primarily saddles and tack into their 14' X 70' mobile home and hired Kathy Rathert as their first employee. The couple continued to teach during the day, then ran the store after 4 p.m. Karen soon stopped teaching but Bill continued for another five or six years until the growing business demanded the full-time attention of both.

Construction on what is now the display area of the existing building began in May of 1980. Novaks remember it well since Mt. St. Helen erupted at that time, spreading ash all over everything. They moved in over the 4th of July holiday, with no lights and no water, just a strong desire to serve their customers.

Williston Saddlery grew by leaps and bounds during the 1980s and early 90s, with a 10 to 20% growth per year. They shipped their first load of Purina feed in May 1980 and went on to win the national sales award for calf weaning programs and a Purina CHC trip to Hawaii in 1985. With one or two salesmen covering nine counties in North Dakota and Montana for 25 years, plus nine satellite dealerships, the company sold a LOT of FEED. They also operated Watford City Feeds at that time. In 1987, an addition to the building doubled the warehouse space. The annual saddle sale in May was huge. Circle Y would bring a trailer full of saddles and, with over 150 on the sales floor, Williston Saddlery would sell more than 10 each day of the sale. "It was huge then," Karen commented. "It's not that way any more. Things have changed."

When Don Ware and Ray Lumber both quit handling lumber, Williston Saddlery expanded to offer rough lumber and posts to fill that need in the community. Since 2008, they have also greatly expanded their inventory of trailer repair parts to supply the oil field industry.

Novaks worked hard at providing information as well as product. They attended national education courses to increase their knowledge of nutrition, animal safety and handling. "In the 1980s and early 90s, people were hungry for information," Karen said. Novaks helped 12 veterinarians and nine county agents with nutritional information, and put on seminars on nutrition, health care and handling of ratites, hogs, cattle, sheep and horses. They also brought in nationally known experts such as Dr. Miller with his equine seminar, Dr. Ralph Johnson with equine acupuncture and Richard Shrake who conducted horsemanship clinics.

Feed tests were conducted so they knew what their products were doing. With three portable livestock scales, they were able to weigh their customers' calves, then reweigh to judge the calves' performance on their feed. Their work in preconditioning helped start the ND Extension Service program for calves and complimented CHAPS, Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software, through NDSU.

In order to connect their customers with the products they sell, Novaks took customers on tours of the Purina Research Farm in Grey's Summit, MO. They found the ongoing research fascinating as the scientists determined what was palatable and what performs best. On one tour, they visited the area with weaned pigs where they learned that baby pigs love strawberries, but only the real thing – no artificial flavors! Tours in the 1980s to feed manufacturing facilities, the IBP slaughter plant, and feed lots in Nebraska and Iowa connected buyers with feeders and resulted in better communication and pricing for local ranchers.

Christmas Customer Appreciation Suppers were another opportunity for customers to learn while they enjoyed great food. Presenters such as author Rodney Nelson, motivational speaker Ryan Taylor, and National Guardsman Gary Smith who served in Iraq, were some of the great speakers Williston Saddlery hosted. "Gary is from Dagmar and was there after the bombing stopped. He and his fellow guardsmen helped teach the Iraqis how to garden and irrigate, and he shared how deeply appreciative they were. He was excellent," Karen said.

During its 40 years of business, Williston Saddlery has offered its unwavering support to multiple groups within an 80 mile radius of Williston including Bovine Connection, MonDak QHA, saddle clubs and rodeo associations, and 4-H at county fairs. They also provided 4-H educational programs.

Williston Saddlery invites everyone to come and help them celebrate their 40th Anniversary October 10 – 12. Great deals, yummy refreshments and prize drawings are all part of the fun. The store is easy to find on Highway 2 west of Williston.


Reader Comments(1)

Irene writes:

Bill and Karen are two of the best people in the horse business a person could ask for. They get the best education for their customers. I've been going there for 20+years to talk about equine dentistry. The community is very fortunate to have such great people helping with nutrition and health of their animals. Keep up the good work.


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