Advertising is one of the most important parts of your business budget, but it can be expensive, and if not well planned, it can also be ineffective. Careful planning, along with a little creative thinking, can go a long way to stretching your advertising dollars.
Rhonda Hart Poe of Chattaroy, Wash., horse owner and editor of “The Gaited Horse,” suggests that, “Stretching the publicity dollar is good business for many reasons, not the least of which is that come audit time, it shows the IRS how hard you are trying to make a buck. Which is why we are in business, all love of what we do aside—somebody’s got to buy the groceries.”
Most barns have two advertising needs—long- and short-term advertising. Long-term advertising should make the barn name recognizable and let the public know who you are and what you do. Some things that help put your stamp on your advertising are a logo, barn colors, perhaps a tag line, and a business name that stands out and sets your business apart from the others in your field. This information should be on all advertising materials including business cards, farm signs, display ads, brochures, Websites and work clothing.
Short-term or seasonal advertising includes stallion promotion, camps, lesson programs, events, horse shows, sales and other seasonal activities. An example is a spread in your breed journal to advertise your stallion or an ad in the local paper for events like summer camps, shows, clinics, or a benefit trail ride. Make sure your advertising connects your activities with the interests of potential customers. Evie Hornak, public relations specialist for the Catevo Group in Raleigh, North Carolina, suggests making a list of what you have to offer, including amenities and services. “Use the list as a basis for determining what sort of customers will be interested in your barn,” she says. “Have realistic expectations. The level of services and amenities you have to offer should be in harmony with who you have a desire to attract.”
BRINGING THEM IN
Promoting your barn should do two things: get your name in front of the public and create barn traffic. Creating barn traffic is the key to growing your horse business. Experts say for every one hundred visits you bring into your place of business, ten are potential customers. Of those ten, one will actually become a client. The numbers will differ when it comes to a horse barn, considering that people largely come with the purpose of riding already on their minds, but the theory still stands. Besides, a good promotional plan will bring people to your barn to see what you have to offer and to ask questions. Then you can let your own personality and charisma do the rest.
There are many creative ways to create barn traffic. Holding a themed open house is one way. If you breed Arabians, have an Arabian Nights festival, or with Quarter Horses, host a Cowboy Party with a campfire, chili, and western music. Have draft horses? Plan a party with a renaissance theme. Have your visitors sign a guest book or fill out door prize tickets including name, address, phone number and e-mail address to use in creating a database. Use that information later to send out a newsletter or announcements.
Charity events are another way to be part of the community and also bring people to your barn. Sponsor a horse show and have riders pay their entry fees with canned goods or housewares to donate to a local woman’s shelter, or bring pet food for the local humane society. Prepare a press release and give it to the local papers, radio and television stations.
Other charity projects that will also draw attention to your business are doing a barn make-over for a family that has lost a barn to fire, raising money for a sick or injured horse, raising money for a variety of community needs like youth programs, community centers, or equine welfare organizations. Keep people aware of what you do, without seeming self-serving.
When it comes to getting the word out to media outlets, if you are not a writer, hire one—or at the very least find a student who is an English or journalism major—to write it for you. Be sure to include a good photograph. Poe recommends writing three versions of your press release so the editor can choose the one that fits the space available. “Each of the three should cover the same topic, but one should be about a quarter to a half a page long, short enough to be used as a filler, the other roughly a page, and the third up to two pages.” She again emphasizes the importance of a good photo submitted with the press release to insure it will be published.
OUTSIDE THE BARN
In addition to creating barn traffic you want your name to be the one people think of whenever they think horses. Purchase logo hats, shirts, and jackets—and wear them. Signs painted on your truck, trailer and other vehicles are like a traveling billboard. Be sure to include the phone number and Website on the signs. Magnetic signs adhere to your vehicles, are inexpensive, and can be removed when it’s time to trade in the vehicle for a new one.
Create flyers or brochures and put them in tack shops, feed stores, horse show bulletin boards, YMCAs, community centers, and schools where permitted.
Horse shows are all about promotion, whether you are an instructor with students showing, a trainer with your clients’ horses or a breeder. Beth Thomas, trainer at Stone Hollow in Johnstown, Pa., says, “Winning at horse shows always helps, especially when you have ribbons hanging on your curtains. People see that particular stable has done well at that show and that encourages inquiries from them.”
Hosting a breakfast or other type of party at a show is a way to encourage people to stop by your stalls. Invest in stall curtains and create an inviting atmosphere with an attractive sitting area. Use flowers, pictures of your winning horses, and of course, the ribbons.
THE CYBER WORLD
Many people turn to the Internet when “window shopping” for a boarding stable, breeding stallion, trainer or instructor. To catch their attention you can build your own Website, often at no cost, as many Internet providers offer free Web space. But a poor site can often do more harm than good. If you are not creative or comfortable with the thought of making your own Website, hire a professional to do the job.
Once you create a site, you have to attract people to it. List it in the major search engines using all the keywords you can imagine, including the farm name, breed or riding discipline, your name, location, anything to help the surfer come to your site. Books such as, “Search Engine Optimization for Dummies” by Peter Kent or the Website www.searchenginewatch.com are two tools that can help you learn how to draw attention to your barn’s Website, says Hornak. Put the Website’s address on all your print advertising, on your signs, business cards, your e-mail signature, and anywhere else you have your farm name. Then keep your site updated with a calendar of events, shows, or horses for sale.
A well thought-out marketing campaign can boost business and keep people coming, and it doesn’t always cost an arm and a leg. A little creativity and strategic placement can get your farm’s name into the most desirable places.