One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the last ten years of boarding horses is how important it is to be very clear on what you offer at your barn. You can't assume your potential new clients will already know or have a clear understanding of how you do things. There have been many times that I have given a tour and the person signed on to bring their horse to my barn and it seemed easy enough. In most cases the new boarder is so excited to move their horse that they might not be fully listening to all you are telling them.
What many new boarders don't understand is that each barn will have their own turnout times. We may bring the horses in a little earlier but we put them out earlier than most places in our area. This is where communication and a little education on how you do things will be key. Your new boarders will never see how you do chores in the morning (unless you are open that early) and they might even think the horses aren't turned out to eight or nine in the morning. All they will see is the afternoon and evening chores. Usually once I take the time to explain the process much more clearly they start to relax and understand.
Here is a list of some of the things I believe you need to very extremely clear about:
- barn hours - If you are not clear that lights are out at the designated time you will have clients at your barn after the closing time every day.
- How you feed and time you feed - Be clear about the time of day you feed for both morning and evening. You need to be very clear about feeding extra hay and if you allow it or not.
- The weather and turnout - This is a big one. Weather will play a huge factor and even if you try to explain how you do turnout depending on the weather and season, there is a very good chance that you will be talking with your new client several times before they start to feel comfortable.
- Barn rules - Every barn will have a different set of rules and you can give your new boarder a copy of the rules but you will have a few people that come back to you to discuss why you have some of the rules you have. I encourage you to take the time to talk with them and explain why you have them in place for your barn.
- How you bed your stalls - We don't bed heavy in our stalls (unless a horse has a lameness issue) but when I give a tour and show a potential new client how we bed our stalls they always seem okay at the time. There have been times after a person moved to our barn that I start to get complaints about the bedding. As the barn owner you need to have a heart to heart and explain to them that you showed them exactly how you bed and they were fine with it when they chose to come. You need to be okay with their questions and concerns but ultimately they need to understand that you are not going to change how you do things. In most cases things usually work out.
- Herd size and mixed herds or not - This is one that seems to be a hot spot for many barn owners as well as clients. Be very clear on if you mix herds and what size your herds are. Each barn does it differently and how you choose do handle this part of your business needs to be extremely clear for your clients.
Being direct and extremely clear about these areas of your barn management will many times eliminate issues and frustration in the future. Now it will never be perfect and you might even have a boarder that just can't adjust to how you do things and you need to be okay with that. Sometimes it just isn't a good fit. It doesn't mean the boarder is a bad person. They might be a wonderful person but your barn might not be the right barn for them and they will probably give their notice. Don't take it personally even though it will be very hard not to.
We try our hardest to make our barns the best place with the best care for the horses but everyone will have a little bit different view of what they want in a boarding barn. If you lose a boarder because it wasn't a good fit, a new boarder will come that will absolutely love your facility. It is the way of business and life. Each has their own ideas and you will find many boarders that will love your ideas of barn management and they will stay for a very long time.
One more thought - Give your new boarders time to adjust and let them ask all the questions they need to until they feel comfortable. Many times you will have boarders that came from bad boarding situations and they just need some reassuring and that might mean they question things more than normal. In these cases it is not that you weren't clear or direct enough. You were, they are just operating out of fear and they need a little more time than many other boarders to adjust. The longer you do this the easier it will be to read the difference between a client that is dissatisfied with how you run your barn and boarder that questions out of fear. You might not ever be able to satisfy a boarder that thought or expected things to be done differently at your barn but a boarder that is driven with fear will come to be one of your most loyal clients once you can take away the fear they have and replace it with trust.
Take is one day at a time and learn from each client that comes to your barn.
If you are new to my blog, then welcome! If you are struggling with any of these issues with your clients, I encourage you to check out my book, "The Total Horse Barn Management Makeover." This book will encourage you and help you work through the issues that I believe all equine professionals go through from time to time. You won't find a more honest book about horse barn management and the relationship between the barn owner, manager and client.
I wish you the very best in your horse business,