It's Better to Give...

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According to Debbie Smith, who runs the Bay Area Equestrian Network, most of the Christmas gift giving that goes on at Bay Area stables involves horse owners slipping a stuffed envelope to the stable employees who have helped train or look after their horses during the year. The same situation holds true throughout the country. But increasing numbers of stable owners are now also realizing that a strategically chosen gift for clients, whether at Christmas or other times of year, is a valuable and memorable marketing tool that expresses gratitude.

Not every stable can duplicate the effort made by Audrey Haisfield at Rancho Quesaba in Solvang, Calif. She recently had a chocolate mold featuring her stable logo made at a cost of around $1,000. The mold is kept at Dark Horse Chocolates, enabling Haisfield to order crates full of customized boxes of chocolates whenever she needs them.

“We want to make sure we are associated with quality and professionalism,” she says. “I saw it as a way to ensure the stable is remembered favorably by whomever we do business with. We give out chocolates at Christmas to our clients, but also make it a year-round thing and travel with a few boxes to hand out.”

Dark Horse Chocolates, part of a company called Harbor Sweets (1-800-243-2115) offers a range of boxes of equestrian chocolates that can be ordered directly, via several catalogs or from 500 tack shops. The most commonly purchased boxes range in price from $9 to $22, and variations, such as chocolates in a mug, can be arranged.

Other stable managers pore over catalogs or magazines for weeks to come up with the right gift in the $20 range. This year, Una Sittock of Stacy Fillock Stables in Chino Hills, Calif., selected a traditional English tea towel with an equestrian print, which she found in a magazine. Then she had the towels embroidered locally with the name and logo of her stable.

Obviously, the more your gift relates to your stable by using logos or images, the more effective it is.

Both print and online catalogs, such as Back In the Saddle (1-800-865-2478) offer further ranges of possibilities such as a 1-pound gift bag of Blue Mountain Horse Biscuits for $12, a deer skin treat pouch for $23 or a hoof-pick shaped like a horse for $16. Outside the horse world, Vermont Teddy Bears (1-800-282-3131) has recently introduced both Equestrian and Cowboy Teddies at $85.

T-shirts and baseball caps are another common favorite, but on the downside they are so common that a T-shirt has to say something special for the occasion to stand out. And, in fact, every stable ought to already have a box full of T-shirts ready to sell.

Sometimes a little creativity is all that is required to produce an effective gift. Jenna Reveal at Buteo Farm in Bethlehem, Conn., prepares a calendar made up of pictures of the horses she boards. Important shows and event dates are highlighted in the calendar and on the back, a round-up of all the previous year’s competition results for the horses in her care are printed.

“We send it out like a Christmas card, not just to clients, but to everyone that has worked here,” says Reveal, “so they stay in contact and still feel a part of what is going on. It is also a functional tool that keeps us firmly in the minds of our clients.”

Sometimes the simplest gift works well. Camelot Auctions in Cranberry N.J., buys 250 turkeys every holiday season from a local organic farm and distributes them to their local dealers, who have now started to look forward to the turkeys as an annual tradition.

Another way to give back, and it costs nothing but time, is a gift certificate for a lesson or training session. Done up nicely on a computer, gift certificates can be presented in a Christmas or birthday card.

No matter the budget, gifts for clients can be a great way to say thank you, and that can be the best marketing tool of them all.