Chrislar Farm: Owned by Chris Cassenti and located in Massachusetts. www.chrislar.com
Stalls: 40, with rubber-matted floors and wide and clear aisles made from airport runway grade hot top.
Indoor arena:?72 by 130-foot insulated and heated with windows all around (in summer, screens are on the open windows allowing air flow). The windows also allow the staff to see what’s going on outside in turnout paddocks, on the training track and in the riding ring to assure safety.
Barn: The building was a custom build adding to an existing small facility. The building was built with emergency doors (panic/push bars) and appropriate exit lighting, and an occupancy permit for 400 people. All of this was designed and built in such a way that the building would be used for some other use in the future if needed or sold.
Lessons: Instructors are all MA-licensed (as is the facility), and they teach 200 students per week (sometimes more). We teach half-hour private and one-hour group lessons.
Events/Activities: Approximately 30 events/activities per year. Chrislar supports the national level of showing at USEF “A” Rated Morgan Shows, as well as the local and one-day shows with students on lesson horses. Chrislar hosts fun shows, Halloween shows, UPHA Winter Tournaments, “Boot Camp” for riders; summer day camp for kids; adult educational evenings; trail rides on and off property; field trips to events like Equine Affaire.
1. What is your biggest profit center? Lessons! Lessons and other activities account for 50 percent of overall profits. Lessons brings clients along to eventual horse ownership and we usually sell them a horse and take them showing at some point. We do have many students who have been riding with us for 20 years and who will never own a horse or show. We rotate lesson horses around to accommodate the needs of our program and to allow those long-term students an opportunity to ride more than just one horse for those 20 years.
2. What is the break down of your revenues? Lessons account for 50% of our profit; shows/training make up another 30%; horse sales/brokerage average 15% of our income; and non-showing boarders account for 5%.
3. What is your biggest expense? Salaries. We employ six full-time staff members who have been with us for years. We provide them with a paycheck (a payroll company does payroll and deductions); we provide health insurance, workers’ comp, liability insurance, and more. We contract out for landscaping, maintenance, snowplowing, etc. To keep labor hours down, we spend a little more to purchase bagged shavings by the tractor-trailer load that the vendor delivers and stacks in our loft areas. This cuts down on the staff going back and forth with loose shavings/sawdust. For hay, our vendor delivers baled hay right into the loft areas so staff is not spending time handling deliveries. Blue Seal grain is blown into a hopper, three tons at a time, making feeding and storage convenient and easy for the staff.
4. What business tips have you picked up? We operate our facility as a business. We have set hours each day assuring that there are staff here at all times in case someone stops in. Clients understand that the barn is open for them from 9 to 9 on most days, and on weekends from 9 to 6. We are closed on Mondays (except we do allow boarders to come in to ride for a few hours when a staff member is present feeding, cleaning, or grooming the indoor.) Each staff member gets two days off each week and, because we also offer evening lessons, staff members report for work a little later on a day they work during the evening. Chrislar schedules all the vaccinations, shoeing, dental and more and then invoices the clients. The client does not have to be present for a vet appointment or for shoeing or regular services…we take care of it all.
Another important aspect of our business is location. We are in a populated area, 30 minutes north of Boston, and 30 minutes south of Portsmouth, N.H. And, we have lots of visibility for those just driving by. We abut the State Forest Land for easy access to trails and to assure no building or land loss.
We also believe in empowering and supporting staff’s decisions. We instill in our staff our vision, so our staff, vendors and clients have a basis for decision-making.
And, we endeavor to do what the client wants and not what we think they should want or need. Being right, even if you are, all the time doesn’t work long term. We prefer to educate. To that end, we prepare and document our business practices with an Operating Procedures flyer for clients, in addition to our regular Stabling Agreement. We also like to establish participation levels for our clients and students based on their skill level and financial level.
And, finally, we make sure someone answers the phone—if we don’t, the caller might find someone else to do business with.
5. What is your biggest challenge? Controlling expenses while maintaining the facilities and services at a good level. And we try to avoid purchasing a horse for the wrong reason (like an emotional decision) or at the wrong time.
6. Have you found any creative ways to boost profits? We always try to create new and exciting activities for our clients regularly—they will get tired of riding around in circles all the time. And we make sure our clients have a goal. Sometimes this can be as simple as being able to go on a trail ride with the lesson group. And that means they must be riding regularly in group lessons, on a few different horses, before they will be “qualified” to go trail riding. Also, we offer practice rides for students who are safe enough to ride on their own (a staff member is always there to supervise). Finally, we offer leases and half-leases, which have been profitable.
Outside of lessons and leasing, Chrislar has also provided horses and equestrians to participate in commercials for the Ralph Lauren Fall Collection 2012. We also provided wranglers for the behind-the-scenes filming of “Pink Panther II” and we provided a stunt double for a made-for-cable movie “Carousel Horse.”
We also offer consulting services to those who want to organize their business, or create a business.
7. What is your best marketing tool? Chrislar’s best marketing tool is, well, me! I get myself involved, on a national level—I am on government and Farm Bureau Committees, as well as other organization committees that allow me to network. Chrislar's location and established professional and ethical reputation has also been very helpful. And I also use all forms of communications: person-to-person; networking; electronic, Facebook; direct mail; and our website.
8. If you had to do it all over again, would you? You bet I would! I chose to specialize in Morgans in many disciplines and use Morgans in our lesson program and our top show string. And we take all levels of riders. A few hunter/jumper barns in the area won’t take beginners, so they send them to us, and that provides us with the opportunity to capture them, introduce them, and welcome them into our world. Chrislar is proud to say that there are many professionals out there in many different fields that started right here.