When a person decides to gallop into the horse business, it usually stems from a very particular passion—breed, discipline, etc. And, subsequently, that barn becomes focused on attracting clients with similar interests. The business’ identity often becomes inseparably attached to whatever drove the owner to start the business in the first place. Too often, though, inflexibility or an unwillingness to embrace different trends leads to missed revenue opportunities.
Picture this scenario: A barn manager is going about his or her daily activities and is also being peppered with questions from boarders. The manager responds to each as personably as possible, but silently dismisses the interactions as unreasonable requests from the resident squeaky wheels.
Slowly, but surely, those boarders full of questions and suggestions start to pull out of the barn. The owner realizes that the sad, and unprofitable, part of the picture is that nothing new is happening at the barn. The core group of long-term boarders continues to provide consistent revenue, but turnover replacements no longer stimulate the environment with their fresh enthusiasm, which is often accompanied by enthusiastic spending. There just weren’t any new clients knocking down the doors.
Our manager might have avoided this predicament by listening more closely to those persistent questions and suggestions. Whether it was a recent magazine article about a new technique, a new approach to horsemanship and training, or a shift in the style of equipment offered at the local tack stores, the boarders’ comments were dismissed because they reflected a riding style or interest that did not fit with the barn’s original mission.
Corporate mission statements intend to provide a framework for developing strategies and driving the activities of the company. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t, and shouldn’t, be changed.
One prominent example: Mighty IBM, once a benchmark manufacturer of business equipment, realized in the 1990s that the future looked dim for mainframe manufacturing. Self-analysis revealed that the company had developed a core strength in consulting. As a result it shifted its business model, eventually selling off manufacturing divisions to focus on a new service-oriented model. It did not happen overnight, but IBM completely changed its business. In some situations, a similar adjustment to your business could realign your barn’s identity with industry trends and the dollars that follow those trends.
You might ask yourself how dramatic a shift might be necessary to spark new interest in your barn among the local community. The answer will have everything to do with what your clients—and potential clients—might be interested in doing with their horses.
Of course, there are limits to how much you can change your stripes. If your barn trains barrel racers, but you decide to try hunters, you might encounter some resistance within your barn. The barn that once bred top draught horses, however, may have an easier time adapting its breeding program to accommodate warmblood sporthorses.
Often, there is much business benefit to be gained from compromise. With just a small change your business can instantly open the potential for exposure to previously unavailable market segments.
Considering a Change
Fortunately, there are alternatives to abandoning your personal vision of the perfect barn for the sake of staying in business. A creative barn manager needs to step back and assess her situation from the perspective of a prospective client.
It is appropriate to consider what trends have changed the local horse community. Are they fundamental changes in the horse industry? Have new riders gravitated to an equine sport other than your specialty? Are boarders asking for services or amenities that your barn does not offer, but could with some effort or investment? Are they willing to pay for those services or amenities? If the boarders are willing to pay, would they be willing to change barns in order to gain those services or amenities?
It is also appropriate to consider how your facility could be adapted for use in new ways. What impact would the changes you are considering have on your current boarders?
Finally, you must consider your willingness to compromise that vision of your perfect barn. Entertain the possibility that the professional challenge and the new clients may lead to a barn even more perfect than you ever imagined. If the business changes that you are considering spark a new interest in your current boarders, you stand to find yourself in a situation where everyone comes out a winner. The boarders gain some horsemanship education and skill; you create a new revenue stream and generate some real client satisfaction.