You can have one of the finest breeding or training facilities in the country, but if no one knows about your business, you won’t get far. Getting the word out about your equine enterprise is crucial to finding new customers.. That’s where marketing comes in.
Of course you must have a good business to start with. Then you need to determine who your potential customers are and let them know about the services you offer. Fortunately, you don’t need to hire an expensive marketing firm to get the word out to the public about your stable or farm (although you can do that if it’s in your budget). Either way, marketing must be part of your annual business plan. Below we’ll give you some tips from your peers about ways they handle their marketing.
Using the Internet
Many farms and stables don’t have a lot of money to spend on advertising to call attention to their business, which is why creative marketing is so important. You can do a lot to get your business in the public eye without having to break the bank.
One of the easiest—and most necessary—ways to market your business these days is via the Internet. Having a website is a must for every business in today’s high-tech world, and the horse industry is no exception.
You can hire an individual or a company to design and maintain your website, or you can do it yourself. A number of website design software programs are available for downloading, and they provide a simple, user-friendly way to create your own site. These programs have built-in templates to help you design a site that is pleasing to the eye. (An example of this are the easy-to-use templates available on GoDaddy.com or ones that you can build through Word Press.)
You can also pay an expert to create a site for your equine business if you don’t have the time or inclination. You need to do the ongoing content maintenance (posting news, photos, content, etc.), or provide that information to the person who is maintaining your website.
Maintaining your site on a regular basis is important if you want to make it a quality marketing tool. Content you can use includes horses for sale, important wins (by the farm/stable owner, trainer or clients), boarding openings, shows and events at your facility, and other newsworthy events. If you have time, consider adding a blog to your site, which will allow you to write about the latest happenings on your ranch or farm.
You must give people multiple ways to interact with you, including email, phone, and surface mailing address. Since visitors are already on the Internet looking at your website, allowing those visitors to contact you via an email address or a fill-in form is essential. Be sure to check your email daily so you can respond to those queries in a timely fashion.
“Many clients visit our website and recommend that their friends do, too,” said Miriam Brooks, co-owner of Brooks Quarter Horse Ranch in Jamestown, California. “The good word-of-mouth increases sales that way and leads people to our website.”
Brooks also utilizes social media to help promote her ranch’s training, sales and breeding services. “We have started using Facebook, which we hope will take us to another level,” she said.
Facebook provides a no- to little-cost way to market your equine business. A basic business page on Facebook is free, and it allows you to post photos and a variety of information about what’s going on at your farm. For small fees, Facebook allows you to target your page to users with an interest in horses, or even specifically the type of horses you breed, sell or train.
“Our Facebook page is great because we can track sales directly,” said Richard Johnson, owner of Diamond J Horses, a sale barn in Murieta, California. “It also leads people to our website. We know that’s the wave of the future, so we don’t want to miss out.”
Again, regular “sharing” of information and responding to comments on your Facebook page are essential to make it a successful marketing tool.
Facebook isn’t the only social media site that can help you market your farm or stable. Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, Vine and a number of other social networking sites allow you to promote your equine business using noto low-cost media.
While the Internet allows you to utilize today’s technology to reach new customers, traditional marketing methods are still valid and should be used to their utmost.
Buying ads in both print and online equine publications is still a reliable way to attract new customers.
“We take a ‘retro’ and modern approach to marketing,” said Meghan Look, barn manager for Morningside Farms, an eventing training barn in The Plains, Virginia. “It’s important for us to do it that way. Retro marketing methods lead us directly to new clients and promote the good culture we work hard to have.”
Look explains that her barn uses both local magazines and newspapers, sends out a newsletter to clients, and has a Facebook page and a dedicated website.
At Briggs Stable and Tack Shop, a training barn in Hanover, Massachusetts, partner John Dougherty explains that the more than 20 events per year hosted by his facility help get the word out to the community about their business.
“We sponsor fundraisers and are a partner with the Special Olympics because we have a therapeutic riding program,” he said. “The Boston Globe has featured us now and again because of that. They came out recently to photograph our horses playing in the snow.”
According to Dougherty, different kinds of press are good for business.
“We market effectively by having a diversity of (outreach) methods,” he said. “We have a limited budget, but we do advertise in local and regional print journals and magazines.”
Combining both digital and print marketing methods proves to be the best strategy for many equine businesses. Sue Peterson, owner of Another Farm, a sale and training barn in Woodbury, Connecticut, has found success by using a variety of marketing outlets.
“We used to stick only with the traditional methods—discounted lesson packages in circulars, advertising in local newspapers, horse shows, fundraisers, pony club—and all of this has worked for us for a long time,” she said. “Now, we also have our website and Facebook page. Recently, we did a Groupon [a discount coupon available through www.groupon. com href="http://www.groupon. com"]. It worked so well that we plan on using other methods like this in the future.”
Although word of mouth has long been the number-one method of bringing in new clients to farms and boarding facilities, the many marketing and communication opportunities available today make it easy for farm and stable owners to reach even more potential customers.
“Marketing is necessary, and we do the best we can within our budget,” said Jennifer Kaiser, owner of Forest Hill Farm in Lafayette, Indiana. “Having exposure through marketing helps get the word out.”