Marketing is one of the most important business functions a stable owner needs to consider. A stable’s approach to marketing is similar to that of any business. One key difference is acknowledging the connection that owners have to their animals. “Horses are a hobby and they are [pets]—a luxury, really, when it comes to someone who boards. Therefore, it is personal,” said Carla Wennberg, IHSA Western coach and instructor at St. Andrews University and an AQHA professional horsewoman.
The five marketing tips below will help ensure your time and financial investment in marketing will yield the desired results.
Communicating with current and new clients is not a new concept. However, what’s often forgotten is that communication is a two-way process, meaning it’s as much about listening as it is about sharing.
“Your clients want to talk to you about their horses and their concerns. They will tell you how best to provide services for their horses if you listen,” said Kathryn Stewart, president of Stewart & Associates, Inc., in Louisville, Kentucky, which handles many national and local equine accounts.
Simply behaving as if you care about your clients and want to help them to better know you and what you are about will often lead to more business. When it is time to talk with your clients, Stewart suggested using language that is easy to understand. “Once you know your client and adjust your communication style to his or her understanding, you will be better able to educate that horse owner to use your advice and services ideally,” she explained.
Maintaining regular contact establishes a deeper relationship with your client. Find a way to reach out to your clients often and remind them of your interest in the wellbeing of their horses. Newsletters, blogs or social media can be used to share information and stay in touch.
Conversations with clients will not always be easy, especially if a horse was injured or is not training as expected. “Don’t leave clients wondering or worrying; be first to approach hard topics,” Stewart said. “Clients usually won’t tell you if they were dissatisfied. They will just be less likely to use you or recommend you.”
Finally, be confident in sharing your story. “Hone a strong ‘elevator speech’ that identifies in a few words what is unique about your stable, your skills, your services or your approach to delivering these,” she said. This message should be communicated in everything you do, from meeting new clients to sending out reminders to existing boarders.
2. Develop a Plan
Listing services on a website is not enough to let people know what you do and what services your stable offers. Advertising online, in print publications, through a blog or with social media are all tactics that can be considered for attracting new clients, but they can be costly and time consuming if you don’t have a plan. Developing a marketing strategy first can help you decide how/ where to share your message while receiving the most value for your investment.
A marketing plan should include a process for evaluating the success of the tactics used. You can’t measure everything for return on investment (ROI ), but you can measure some things. The results provide a picture of how well the current strategy accomplished the defined goals, also offering insight into how the strategy should be modified in the future.
3. Demonstrate Value Be honest about the services you offer and the fees you charge. Also, because horse owners care deeply for their horses, they want to know that the barns that will care for their horses are clean and safe.
“Put the health of the animal first,” Wennberg said. Be attentive to each horse and keep the owner informed of any illness or injury. “As a boarder, I have to count on barn managers to handle my horse when I am traveling and know they will keep an eye on my horse; that is so important.”
Be honest and up-front with boarders in regard to the services board includes and any fees that are extras. “Don’t ‘nickel and dime’ people,” Wennberg stressed.
Scheduling is key in demonstrating value to your clients. Owners have to coordinate their schedules around family, work and other obligations. If you tell them the horses will be fed at 4:00 p.m. and don’t feed them until 5:00 p.m. when the owner shows up to ride, it’s going to cause a problem. Stable owners and managers must make a schedule and follow it.
4. Learn from Others
“Look for advice from those who are successful—specifically, stables that are similar to yours,” Wennberg suggested.
Talk with other professionals and learn what marketing techniques have worked for them. Industry events that cater to the discipline your stable serves can provide insight into marketing strategies that have worked for others.
5. Follow Through
Perhaps the most important marketing skill is following through. You can invest time and money conducting market research, strategizing and preparing, but if you don’t follow through and take action, your efforts will be fruitless.
“It’s like exercise or nutrition; to be successful requires a long-term commitment,” Stewart said.
She concluded, “Whatever it is you choose to do to get your name out, be it advertising, social media, writing articles or attending events, make sure you plan to continue it—or don’t start.”