You’ve heard it—and probably said it: "We’re not in the equine business for the money. We just love horses." Undoubtedly that’s true. But at the same time, deep down you also know that if you don’t make money, you probably won’t be able to keep the business going or cater to your equine passions.
Like many equestrian facility owners, you might eventually find yourself looking for new revenue streams to augment the profit flow coming from your main business, such as selling tack. After all, with your built-in client base and your equestrian knowledge, it seems like a simple way to beef up your bottom line.
But is running a tack shop out of your farm really that simple? And can it truly yield the kind of payoff you may be imagining?
The Profit Picture
The bottom line is that, yes, you can actually turn a profit by selling tack on your farm—but you won’t get rich. Exactly how much you make can vary tremendously, though, based on an array of variables, including:
- The type and quantity of tack you stock and sell. (It takes a lot of fly spray and hoof picks to equal the net profit from one high-end saddle.)
- How many customers you have and how often they purchase from you. (If you can develop a loyal clientele that comes to you for purchases large and small, your profit picture looks good.)
- The cost of overhead for the shop. (For instance, you might use more electricity, and you’ll need to purchase store equipment and supplies.)
- The number of employees you’ll need, if any, and the number of hours they work. (You may find it difficult to run the shop and your primary business by yourself and still have time for all your other farm duties.)
- How much debt you incur to open the store depends on what you stock. (At the bare minimum, you’ll need to invest in products to sell; more likely you’ll also need to purchase other items to make the shop a reality, such as shelving and a cash box or cash register.)
- The economy, which typically has a direct effect on any retail business, is improving, but are your clients willing to spend?
You should also realize that a portion of any profits you make will go back into the store to buy merchandise and upgrade/expand the store facilities.
Seven Vital Questions
If you’re not deterred by these profit realities, then take the next step: Ask yourself the following questions to help determine whether or not a tack shop makes sense for you.
1. Is there a need?
If your area already has a good local tack shop that seems to serve the needs of the horse community, there’s probably little room for your store. But if area horse owners drive long distances to reach a tack store, or the local shops are missing a market niche, then your shop could satisfy a genuine need. One person who started a farm tack shop in 1970 did so because there were no tack shops existed nearby, and she could help her students by selling a few basic products. Another farm tack shop start-up did have established tack shops nearby when she opened her store, but those retailers catered to high-end customers seeking top-of-the-line saddles. She began by stocking saddles and supplies for mid-range buyers.
2. Who will be your customers?
Your initial customer base probably will consist of people you already do business with—riding students, boarders, training clients or people buying the horses you breed. But think long-term and big-picture as well: Is there a wider audience that you could eventually serve? If so, there’s a greater chance for your shop to flourish. One farm tack shop owner who hosts shows at her facility said people began to plan on shopping her tack shop when they came for a show. Another farm tack shop owner takes a mobile version of her tack shop to a flea market on the weekends, and she draws customers from several states.
3. Do you have the space?
You’ll need at least a small space to house your tack shop. This could be a small room, as You could remodel a garage, set up in spare stall space, an unused shed or your home’s basement. Or you could build a separate building just for the tack shop. Just make sure the spot you choose has enough room to display your inventory and allow customers to easily move around; sufficient lighting to show off your merchandise; and secure locks to safeguard your goods. Ideally, you’ll also have space on your farm to move into if your tack shop keeps growing.
4. Do you have the time and/or the staff?
Running a tack shop is a time-consuming task. First, of course, you or someone you hire must be available to help customers when the store is open. The good news is that you can set those open hours. You might open only when you have regular farm/stable hours, or you might have hours for the store that are outside regular farm hours (such as Sundays and Mondays).
You’ll also need time for handling tack-shop paperwork, creating promotional materials (such as ads, fliers or a website), ordering products and, when they arrive, pricing, tagging and setting the goods out on display. To handle these chores, you might require assistance. While Tanner and her husband do as much of the work themselves as possible, they hire one or two people to help out on weekends.
5. Can you afford it?
Even if you set up shop in empty space at your barn and use display units you already own—such as old bridle holders, saddle racks, clothes hangers, bookshelves and tables—starting a tack shop requires a capital investment in merchandise. And that cost can put quite a dent in your savings account. If you buy 10 to 15 saddles—which is a small order from a manufacturer—then you’re looking at around $5,000 to $10,00. Beyond that you’ll also need price tags, bags and a cash box or cash register. If you’ll accept credit cards, there are additional equipment requirements.
You can trim corners here and there. For instance, you could re-use plastic grocery bags rather than buying new bags printed with a store logo. You also can make your own advertising fliers and provide some sales via the Internet.
You’ll also need funds for advertising and promotions, although you can often find fairly inexpensive avenues to get your store’s name out, such as local horse club newsletters or regional equine periodicals.
6. What will you sell?
What you sell goes back to the first two questions—the need you’re filling and to whom you’re selling. Perhaps you only want to stock a few basic items, such as muck boots, hard hats, halters and fly spray. Keep in mind who your immediate customers will be, and keep items that will be of immediate need to those people.
7. Where will you find merchandise?
Whatever you sell, you’ll want to purchase it from a manufacturer or distributor at wholesale prices. You can start by getting catalogs and dealer information from well-known manufacturers, many of whom have Internet sites. Realize, though, that some major companies have minimum order requirements that will be too large for your small store. If you run into that roadblock, you could visit nearby tack or horse auctions and ask who their supplier is, or even going online to eBay or Amazon, which regularly hosts some tack wholesalers.
You also might consider starting as a used tack shop. You could sell other people's tack on commission (no outlay of purchasing stock), or buy it outright and sell it at a profit.
It’s Still Service
If you decide to go ahead and add a tack shop to your facility’s services, check in with your local chamber of commerce and state department of revenue. They can tell you which business and tax licenses you’ll need to obtain, based on the laws in your area.
Once your store is actually up and running, perhaps the most important point to remember is the same one that helps your main business stay strong: good customer service. With that in place, your tack shop stands its best chance of making a solid contribution to your bottom line.