Feast or Famine: Finding and Sharing Clients

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It seems like running a boarding farm or stable is feast or famine--there either are too many clients wanting stalls, or not enough clients to keep your stalls full. This has been a topic of discussion in the StableManagement.com forums. So how do you find good clients when you have openings, or what do you do with "overflow" clients when your barn or stable is full? Here are some ideas.

Feast

When you find you have more clients than you have stalls or fields, what do you do? This might be a good time to learn a new business term called "co-opatition." This is cooperation between competitors.

You know the other people who are in the same business are you are in your area. If your place is full, make a recommendation to one of your competitors. And make sure they know that you recommended them to a new client! Do the recommendation to the client--and inform the competitor--in a professional, courteous way.

To the client: "I'm sorry Jane, but I have no openings in my barn right now. You might try Janet Smith's farm. It isn't too far from my stable and she also has quite a few dressage riders, so you should find some folks who have things in common with you."

To the competitor: "Janet, I recommended that Jane Jones give you a call to see if you have room for her. She's a dressage rider who just moved into the area and is looking for a place to board and train and I'm full right now. I thought she might fit in well with your facility. Her phone number is 555-555-5555 in case you want to call her."

You should ask each person you have to turn down because you are full whether they would like you to contact them when and if you have an opening. Keep a file of those people. If you end up with an opening later, you might check with them just to see if they found a place they are happy with. You don't want to be seen as "stealing clients" from another barn, but if they had asked you to follow up with them, then you are just doing your job.

Again, be professional. Your call might go something like this: "Janet, this is Beverly Burns at Burns Dressage Stables. You had called me about two months ago looking for a place to board your horse and train and I was full at the time, but you asked if I would contact you if I had an opening in the future. One of my boarders is moving to another state because her husband changed jobs, and you were on my list to call."

If Janet is happy at your competitor's farm, then congratulate her, ask how things are going, and take her off of your "call" list of clients and move on to the next person on your list. If Janet would love to move to your farm for whatever reason (it's closer to her house, she liked that you had an indoor arena, she has friends who board at your farm), work out the deal and make the arrangements.

Famine

If you are like many stables in recent years, your boarders either have fewer horses, aging horses that slowly die off and aren't replaced, aging owners who get out of riding, or owners who just can't afford to board horses any more. So how do you find that new generation of horse owners to keep their animals at your facility?

First, be involved in your industry. The more you are visible to the people in your breed, discipline or area, the more likely you are to have people think about you when they want to board horses.

Second, if you aren't teaching beginning riding lessons at your stable, consider starting. Getting youth or adults "hooked" on horses is easier when the price of admission is a weekly lesson rather than a monthly board bill. Then, hopefully, a percentage of those will want their own horses and will want to keep them with you.

Third, let your competitors know that you have some openings at your facility. If you are in an area where everyone is looking for clients, then this won't work. But, if you just happen to have some openings at your farm or stable and you know some of your friends or competitors are full, let them know you have room for a few more clients.

Fourth, make sure you can be found online. Keep your website up-to-date at the very least, and use your social media to get the word out if you have an opening.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you can do to either share clients, or find clients. If you have ideas on how to cope with the feast or famine of running a farm or stable, feel free to leave comments below.