Horse Boarding – Competing In a Competitive Market
Boarding horses is a challenging business – raising feed cost, increased labor cost, labor shortage, declining horse ownership, etc. You not only need to know what to charge, but you need to offer the best possible horse care and the right products and services to attract enough customers to make money. Hopefully, you have figured out what you should be charging from our blog; Horse Boarding – What to Charge? We hope the example we used made you think about all the expense, capital cost and labor that goes into owning a horse boarding business.
Now that you have figured how much you should be charging, do not compete on price! Compete with exceptional horse care and products and services that provide the best possible environment for your customers and their horse or horses! I know what you are thinking! But, what about the boarding stable down the road and the one across town that are charging less then what I need to charge? Believe it or not, this is an opportunity to fill your stable by being the premier boarding stable in your area at a profit! First you need to think about the demographics and psychographics of people who board horses.
1. They are spending their recreational money and do not expect a return on investment (ROI). Recreational horse ownership has the same ROI as owning a ski boat. The only expected ROI is having fun enjoying what you love – your horse!
2. Their horse is a family pet, much like a family dog or cat. In fact, more than 90% own a pet besides a horse. We all wish we were treated like the family pet is treated!
3. They can afford a horse; they can justly a fair priced board. The average income of people who subscribe to equestrian magazines is greater than $100,000. The majority of people who have a horse boarded subscribe to these magazines. A boarding charge of $50 - $100 or more than the boarding stable down the road or across town is not going to make their decision. You and your stable’s horse care and products and services are going to make their decision.
4. This is what they want to do for recreation and they want to enjoy it in a well-organized, well maintained, friendly and safe environment.
5. The average age of the person paying the board bill is 39, and more than 80% are women.
This demographic and psychographic information is from a large national sample. Obviously, there could be differences depending on your geographic region and the type of boarding your stable offers.
First impressions are important! Your facility needs to be clean, neat, well organized and safe. It doesn’t need to be an elaborate equestrian center with fancy stall fronts and white board fencing, but it does need to look like a well-managed, safe stable with healthy horses. Every detail is important; including the small things like safe stall door latches, clean water buckets and secure feeders, etc. It is surprising what a recently swept or raked center aisle, clean and well maintained safe stalls, a well-organized tack room and a few strategically placed flowers will do!
Potential customers will be interested in the appearance of the horses in your care. The appearance of the horses in your care is a direct reflection on how you will manage their horse or horses. The horses’ appearance is an indication of the feed and water quality you provide, and the preventative care you require and maintain. equineGenie will assist you in all of these, and help you gain a competitive advantage over your competition.
Because horses are hindgut fermenters, good quality hay is the most important feed in a horse’s diet. Knowledgeable potential and existing customers will examine the quality of your hay and look how your feed is stored and managed. Hay stored in direct sun light loses most of its nutrition value in less than a year. Grain and supplements stored in the open are subjected to rodent infestation and mold. equineGenie doesn’t make you store your feed properly, but she does help you manage a nutrition plan for each horse, the amount you feed each horse and how much feed you have on hand. equineGenie helps you setup each horse’s nutrition plan individually and then, automatically manages each horse’s nutrition and feed expense without any daily involvement by you or anyone else.
Often, it is the feeding methodology, not the feed composition, which leads to digestive disorders in horses. Tracking and managing each horse’s nutrition should be taken very seriously. Being able to demonstrate how you manage each horse’s nutrition is an obvious competitive advantage. Digestive problems can result in a horse’s premature death. Far too often, you hear someone say they feed their horse a couple of flakes of hay two times a day and a coffee can of grain. That might be acceptable to some, but not at a well-managed stable. The probability of a digestive problem is far less if a horse’s nutrition is defined, measured and scheduled using a well thought out nutrition plan. The plan should consider a horse’s weight and body score, its use, and discipline, where it is in its life cycle, the nutrition value of its feed and how it is stabled and its care. It is well worth the time you will invest and it will be noticed and appreciated by potential and existing customers. You only have to do it once and then maybe tweak it a few times to get it right. An investment in equineGenie and less than $75 in a proper scale can help prevent a $5,000+ colic surgery, an unhappy customer and a bad stable reputation.
Some boarding stables allow their customers to purchase and or feed their own horses. Don’t do it! First you lose management control and then, you could be held responsible for something you didn’t do! You purchase liability insurance for your business, why would you take the risk of letting a customer feed their own horse. If their horse needs special feed or fed more often, manage it for them just like you would all the other horses in your care. It could be a source of additional profitable income.
equineGenie reminds you when to purchase more feed. I know, you can count your bales of hay, bags of grain and cans of supplements – don’t, go do a customer care or profit improvement task or activity and leave the mundane to equineGenie. She is your partner and assistant and probably, more business disciplined than you.
equineGenie provides a Daily Feed Instruction chart for each horse. The chart is another competitive advantage that will be noticed by your potential and existing customers. The chart can be printed, mounted in an inexpensive ‘Walmart’ frame and displayed on each horse’s stall door, or where the horse is fed. The chart helps ensure that each horse is fed its nutrition plan at a scheduled time. Remember, the best prevention against the dreaded ‘colic’ is quality feed, fed consistently on a schedule.
A horse’s nutrition is so vital to its health and performance it should be considered part of a horse’s preventative care protocol. equineGenie will provide the information you need and assist you in setting up, managing, tracking and communicating a horses’ daily nutrition and feeding schedule. Remember, equineGenie assists you in managing the nutrition of the horses in your care and helps give your stable a competitive advantage. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it! Your potential customers and existing customers will notice and spread the word!
equineGenie makes sure you have the feed you need, when you need it, but not more than you need. This helps you keep your feed fresh and manageable. As important, it helps you manage your cash so that your cash isn’t tied up in unneeded feed inventory. Excess inventory is cash at rest. Spoiled feed is cash on fire. Cash at rest isn’t helping you improve or expand your business. The artificial intelligence embedded in equineGenie automatically resets the reorder triggers if there is any change in the consumption rate per horse or in total.
The other major influence in a horse’s appearance is its preventative care. A horse’s preventative care starts with its teeth and ends with its feet. A boarding stable has a considerable responsibility to both the horse and the horse’s owner. The business is obligated to provide a safe and healthy environment for each and every horse. A mandatory preventative care plan can be another competitive advantage that is not provided by most horse boarding stables. At most stables it is left to the horse’s owner and out of the stable owner’s control. If you provide and manage it, you will benefit, the horses will benefit and your customers will appreciate it.
At most boarding stables horses are coming and going all the time – shows, equestrian events, trail rides, etc. Therefore, it is your responsibility to make sure each and every horse participates in a well-planned, well-executed preventative care program that tracks, manages and documents each horse’s preventative care and health status. Setting up and managing the preventative care plan for each horse in your stable is easy with equineGenie. equineGenie generates reminders when preventative care is due and identifies the preventative care that needs to be done. equineGenie generates reports on what preventative care each horse needs, when it is due and if it is past due. These reports can be posted in your stable’s customer communications area.
A comprehensive preventative care program should include:
1. The monitoring of a horse’s weight and temperature at scheduled intervals.
A mature horse that is not feeling well will go off its feed. A young horse that is not feeling well will continue eating like a ‘little piggy’. A simple way to tell if a young horse is not feeling well is to take its temperature. Taking a horse’s temperature on a schedule is easy and worth the little amount of time it takes.
2. The evaluation of a horse’s body score at scheduled intervals and connecting their body score to their nutrition plan.
Feeding a horse too much is no different than feeding ourselves too much. It is not only unhealthy and can lead to serious medical problems, but it is an expense that can be avoided. Unnecessary feed cost is the obvious waste, but when you factor in all the ancillary medical cost, the time required to evaluate a horse’s body score is well worth the effort. equineGenie helps you observe, track and manage each horse’s body score on a schedule with reminders you set. clubGenie, a free member service for all equineGenie users, assists you in understanding the importance of evaluating a horse’s body score and how to do the evaluation.
3. The implementation of a vaccination plan and vaccine schedule based on each horse’s age, gender, use, discipline and geographic location.
A vaccination plan that controls infectious diseases is an important function in any horse business. It can maximize the health, productivity and performance of horses in your care. However, you need to realize that a well-planned and well-executed vaccination plan, in the absence of good horse management practices to control infection, is not sufficient for the prevention of infectious disease. You should always develop your vaccination plan with a licensed veterinarian, yours or your customer’s.
4. The implementation of a deworming plan and dewormer schedule based on each horse’s age, use, discipline and geographic location.
Establishing an effective parasite control program is as important as supplying a horse in your care with clean, plentiful water and high-quality feed. Internal parasites are silent killers. They can cause extensive internal damage without you even realizing a horse is heavily infected. All horses in your care should be part of a rotating parasite control program. equineGenie enables you to set up a rotating parasite control program with alternating dewormers with reminders. Unfortunately, there is no single deworming program that suits all horses and all situations. Therefore, you should always develop your deworming program with a licensed veterinarian, yours or your customer’s.
5. The implementation of a dental plan and examine schedule based on each horse’s age, use, discipline and nutrition plan.
There are many factors that affect how the teeth of a horse in your care will wear. The way their owner uses them and the discipline in which they are used will also affect the frequency with which they may require dental care. Only allow a licensed veterinarian to diagnose dental problems on a horse in your care. Only use a licensed veterinarian to help you develop a comprehensive dental plan for each horse, yours or your customer’s.
6. The implementation of a farrier plan and farrier work schedule based on each horse’s age, use and discipline.
We have all heard the age old saying “no hoof, no horse”. Maybe I should have added “no teeth, no horse” to #5. The saying, “no hoof, no horse”, applies to every discipline in which a horse is used, and is just as important when a horse is in the autumn of its years. Your responsibility as the business owner extends to the feet of any horse in your care. Nothing will turn a potential customer off more than seeing lame horses in your stable. It might seem ‘over the top’, but a farrier plan and work schedule developed with a licensed veterinarian and a certified farrier should be considered.
Many boarding stable owners leave the responsibility for a horse’s preventative care to their customers. And, they generally have several excuses as to why, but none qualify as a good business decision. Don’t do it! Again, you purchase liability insurance for your business, why would you take the risk of letting a customer’s horse infect all the other horses in your care. If you manage it, you know it gets done! And, it could possibly be another source of profitable income.
Have a horse return from a trainer or a show and bring back strangles or some other communicable disease that could have been prevented and see how fast your customers leave and go to your competition.
Now that you have made sure your customer’s horses are receiving the best feed and care, make it a special environment and a horsey family. Provide horse care clinics your customers can participate in like grooming and seminars where they can learn about such things as the latest equine medical treatments. Invite your feed provider, or their suppliers, such as Purina to participate in a feed seminar. Have your stable veterinarian and farrier participate in some of your clinics and seminars. This will build your customers’ confidence in you as the caretaker of their horse or horses and increase their equine knowledge while strengthening your competitive advantage over the stable down the road or across town.
You should consider charging for any clinics or seminars, particularly if the stable veterinarian, farrier or outside experts participate. Think about the price if you charge for a clinic or seminar and make sure you get a large enough audience to breakeven or even make some money. Allow your customers to invite some of their horse friends who hopefully will become customers. You will definitely benefit as the place to board a horse. equineGenie helps you here also with her batch billing, invoicing and emailing. This batch billing, invoicing and emailing is also a significant time saver when billing your customer’s board and other same customer charges. All your customers can be billed, invoiced and the invoices emailed from within equineGenie with a few ‘click’ and a few minutes.
You should also consider providing essential tack for you customers to purchase if they break or lose something like a halter, lead rope or lung line, etc. The purchasing and inventory management in equineGenie enables you to set a safety stock so you can always have what you can sell on hand, but not more than is necessary. A fair markup of 15% to 30% on something less than $50 is not unreasonable if it prevents a customer from having to run to the nearest tack shop to purchase a needed item so they can enjoy their horse day. Many equineGenie customers have a tack shop as an ancillary business to their boarding, training and or lesson businesses. equineGenie provides a point of sale capability and a customer receipt.
Like we stated initially, boarding horses is a challenging business. But, if you are the best you will not have to compete on price and will have all the boarders you need to absorb your overhead and make money. I am sure you can expend on this blog and make your boarding business better than anything I can think of how to do. I don’t board horses. I am a breeder and that is also a tough horse business in which to make money.
Next time we will discuss batch billing, invoicing and emailing from within equineGenie. Remember, equineGenie tracks, manages, analyzes, teaches and raises your horse business I.Q.
Here’s to your successful boarding business!
Bob Valentine, Ph.D.
President, GenieCo, Inc.
PO Box 271924
Ft. Collins, CO 80527
Dr. Valentine taught Equine Business to graduating seniors in the Equine Science Department at Colorado State University. He has been involved in the horse business for many years. If you have any questions, you can reach Bob at email@example.com, or call him at 970.682.2645 (office) or 970.231.1455 (mobile).