One of the biggest complaints I hear from other barn owners is that they have boarders that don't clean up after themselves. There is always manure left in the arena and aisle way and sweeping up dirt and horse hair is only done by a few. They find themselves picking up tack that was left all over the place and it starts to become a very sore issue for many barn owners and managers.
Today's post is not about bashing boarders and how they leave the barn. Today's post is about very real barn management and how to communicate with your boarders and correct a problem in a direct and positive way. I truly believe every issue you have at your barn can be corrected but it needs to start with the barn owner or manager. It may take a bit of work to change habits that are already established but it can be done and the results will change your barn in so many positive ways.
I am going to tell you right now that if you are struggling to get your boarders to clean up after themselves then it is because you are not enforcing your barn rules and managing your barn with confident leadership. It you want your barn to stay clean with everything in its place and the manure picked up, then it needs to start with you. I can say this because I was in the same situation as many new managers when we first opened our facility many years ago and it became very frustrating and even exhausting at times. You need to remember that you are already going to be working very long hours and often seven days a week so you don't need the added job of cleaning up after your clients.
Everyone has a different idea of clean!
As you already know people are all very different and each has their own idea of what clean is. You can ask anyone that knows my husband and they will tell you that he is a cleaning machine. He loves everything in its place and I am definitely more easy going especially when it comes to our house. The truth is I tend to leave a pile of clothes in our bedroom and dishes in the sink and it drives him crazy. The same will be true for your barn. You will have many boarders that will leave your barn cleaner than how it was before they got there and then you will have a few clients that frustrate you because they leave the same stuff out continually or never pick up the manure their horse left in the arena. It is part of running any business but how you choose to handle it will separate you from the other barns.
When David and I first opened our barn we were shocked at how dirty our barn quickly became. It was a brand new facility and we wanted it to stay that way but each night we would go out to do evening water and check the horses one last time and we would find the place a mess. There would be manure left in the arena and not just one pile. Sometimes there would be three or four piles! We would find manure in the cross-tie areas and that was just the start. People were not sweeping up after themselves and tack was left all over the place. We were so new at this whole business thing that we would spend thirty minutes just cleaning up after our boarders and with each evening we found ourselves becoming more frustrated and angry. It seemed like people didn't care what kind of condition they left our barn in and we were doing all the cleaning up. Things needed to change!
It needs to start with the barn owner/manager
I haven't had those kind of problems in years with our boarders. I had to learn how to talk and be direct with my clients and start reminding them to clean up after themselves. Was it uncomfortable at first? Sure it was! In fact, I dreaded it because I had this fear that they were going to become upset with me or annoyed that I was asking them to clean up. I even took it a step further. I feared they would leave our barn if I bothered them too much. Isn't that crazy! The truth is that many of us have had those same thoughts and that is not healthy for running a business. I had it completely wrong the way I was doing this whole barn manager/client thing. I was allowing them to decide how the barn was going to be managed instead of me deciding how it was going to run and that included cleanliness of the barn.
I had it completely wrong the way I was doing this whole barn manager/client thing. I was allowing them to decide how the barn was going to be managed instead of me deciding how it was going to run and that included cleanliness of the barn.
The more I started reminding the people that were leaving manure, dirt, hair and tack all over the place, the more people started to slowly clean up after themselves. They didn't want to keep hearing from me and the more I did it the easier it became. I would leave reminders by email and in person or I would text and I even called the person if they had left the barn already. It seemed like a lot at first only because I needed to break the habit that had been created because I had let it go on for so long. I was slowly learning to run a barn even under uncomfortable circumstances but things did change and they changed for the better. Do people honestly forget now and then? Sure they do but not very often. Those old habits are gone and now my clients keep an incredibly clean barn.
This is important!
If you don't care if your barn is clean then you can't expect your boarders to keep a clean barn! What happens often is that the barn manager gets burned out in this area and stops trying. Then the boarders who were doing a great job of cleaning up after themselves get fed up also because no one else is helping or doing their part. Eventually things go down hill from there because the clients who didn't clean up still don't and now the clients that used to clean up don't either. They start to have the attitude of "why bother." It becomes a vicious cycle with nothing positive coming out of it. You need to be very aware of your own actions so it never gets to this point. You want your boarders to take pride in a clean barn and have ownership in it. After all - it is their barn home.
It's not personal, it's business
The most important thing you need to realize is that it's not personal, it's business. You are running a business and you want your barn to stay clean. It reflects on you and your facility and when new people come to your barn for a tour you don't want their first impression to be what a mess the place is. Believe it or not that happens a lot. There are a lot of barns that are so messy and dirty that you have a hard time walking through because of all the junk everywhere. If you want to look professional then keeping a clean barn is a huge part of it.
Be professional, direct and nice
You can't worry if your boarders become upset or annoyed at you because you asked them to clean up their mess. They will get over it and I have never had anyone leave because they were asked to clean up their mess. How you talk with your clients will also be an important part of the results you get. It is okay to be firm and direct especially if you have had the same reoccurring issue with the same boarder for a while but don't say words that you will regret. Keep it professional at all times. There is a huge difference between being professional and direct and being irate and rude. I am going to be totally honest and tell you that there have been a couple of times early on that I lost my temper over this kind of issue and to this day I regret how I handled it. I let my emotions get the better of me and it was not the way to handle the situation at all.
Have it in your barn rules
When writing up your barn rules make sure you include how you want your barn kept. Be very detailed for both the arenas, barn and tack rooms. Many of your boarders will have come from other barns where they have learned to do things differently. There is a chance that they didn't have to clean up as much at the barn they were at or the barn owners just didn't care. This will be an adjustment for some of your new boarders but once they see how clean your barn is they will grow to love and appreciate a clean barn. I also believe a clean barn represents a well-run and organized business.
You will learn from each experience and if you make a mistake in how you handled an issue, apologize to your client and move forward. It is all part of running a barn and learning to run it professionally. Treating your clients with respect is all part of it. Getting your boarders to clean up after themselves is not difficult but it needs to start with the barn owner and manager. Remember with everything you do, do it with honesty, integrity and treat your clients with respect. You will be surprised at the wonderful results and how it will change your barn in positive ways you never imagined. That I am sure of!
A special thank you goes out to my boarders for keeping our barn so clean. Many of you keep it cleaner than me at times and for that I am forever grateful!
If you are new to my blog, then welcome! If you would like to learn more about horse barn management in a very real and honest book, please check out my newest book, "A Step By Step Guide To Starting And Running A Successful Horse Boarding Business." It is the most complete barn management book out there that deals with the barn owner, manager and client relationship. This book will give you a solid foundation for your boarding business and help you in so many ways with the issues you will come across at your barn. I am thrilled that this book is making its way into equine programs across the country.
Wishing you many blessings in your horse business, Sheri Grunska