Why do some boarding stables prosper while others fail? Many times it's not money management. A boarding stable's success depends heavily on the attitudes and communication skills that stable owners and boarders bring to the barn everyday. Following are some guidelines to help ensure a stable's success.
It helps to remember that you are in the business of providing services to people and their horses. As such, it is important to think of boarders and their horses as customers. The most successful business owners, whether they sell ice cream cones or skyscrapers, recognize that what is generally good for the customer is good for the business as well. The equine industry is no exception. The customer may not always be right, but your livelihood depends on their satisfaction with your service.
- Think of you and your boarders as a team, and that each team member has strengths and weaknesses. Build on the strengths and help improve the weaknesses for the general good.
- Prepare a mission statement for your stable and use it to establish some reasonable goals and guidelines. A mission statement should clearly the owner's core values, such as the general focus of the barn (e.g. showing, pleasure riding, breed- or discipline specific), its longterm goals, and its philosophy about the horses it keeps and the clients it serves. Above all a mission statement is used as a compass to help the stable progress through the years.
- Using the mission statement, establish a reasonable set of stable guidelines that support and protect the longterm interests of your clients. Stable guidelines should address the safety, health , and convenience of the clients and their horses, feeding and turnout policies, hours of operation, what is permitted activity, and what is not permitted in order to keep the stable in smooth operation. Through experience and years of operation, the stable owner's guidelines change and develop to meet the goals described in the mission statement. It is challenging, but it is worthwhile. Because each horse and horse owner is different, they should be regarded as guidelines rather than rules. Review them with prospective boarders face-to-face before they become a part of your operation to help them understand the basis for them. When people realize that policies support the good of everyone, including themselves, they will be looked at in a more positive light.
- Each horse owner has a unique set of needs. Therefore, consider the needs of your existing boarders when screening new ones. Find out what horse activities prospective boarders focus on, the time of day they ride, and consider how that will affect the daily operation. Using this information, determine if the prospective boarder will fit in or not. A successful stable is a delicate balance that can be tipped precariously if the needs of the existing customers are not carefully considered.
- Ask for and verify a prospective boarder's references. This is a reasonable request that most responsible horse owners can readily provide. However, references will not do you much good if you don't follow them up with a few phone calls for verification.
- Rely on face-to-face communication; Do not rely on written notes and signs to do your talking. Nobody responds positively to notes and signs plastered about the stable expressing dissatisfaction with what someone is doing or not doing or to announce a policy change. The time you take to discuss matters face-to-face will demonstrate your respect for your customers and will pay off in more positive attitudes.
- When bringing someone's attention to a problem or introducing a new policy, give it a positive spin. Begin with a compliment about the boarder's horse, the way he or she rides or takes care of their equipment. It gets a conversation off to a positive start and makes a person willing to cooperate with a new guideline or to correct an ongoing problem. When addressing a problem, I often begin by saying "I need you to help me make this better," or "Let's work together to solve this." When boarders understand that they can influence the solution, and that the solution is a team effort, problems can become positive goals.
- Listen to your boarders. The least experienced person can contribute a new idea that can help your business improve. But you can't hear well when you do all of the talking. Give people a chance to express themselves and you will be the richer for it.
- Listen to yourself, how you communicate with others, and how they respond to what you say. If things never seem to go well, it could be that an adjustment in personal style is necessary.
- Practice common courtesy in the stable. The magic words we learned long ago - please, thank you, and you're welcome - are not as common as they used to be, but people always appreciate them.
- De-fuse gossip as soon as you hear it, whether its about another stable, a judge, trainer, or rider/competitor.
- Gossip is a destructive force that can empty your barn and ruin your hard-won reputation as a stable owner.
Remember, although the stable may be your workplace, it is a place boarders go for enjoyment. Make it a pleasant place to be, a place where your customers can have fun with their horses. That's a big part of what they are paying for.
Keep a journal of how you resolve challenges and use it as a resource for coping with new ones. On many occasions, I have surmounted new obstacles by relying on past experience.
My good neighbor, Quarter-Horse trainer Dave Hudak always says, "We horse people have a lot in common. We must stick together to preserve our interests."
Horse and stable owners must stick together to surmount the challenges of the horse business, because they cannot do it alone. Boarders are our lifeblood and often make it possible to support our own love of horses. Properly screened and treated with respect, boarders are a vital part of the team that makes a stable a success.
David J. Wyatt is a lifetime horse owner, rider and trainer. He and his wife, dressage trainer/competitor Connie LaSalle Wyatt, own and operate a horse farm in Hinckley, Ohio. A professional freelance writer, David has published articles in literary, professional and sporting journals for more than 20 years.