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Purchasing An Existing Horse Boarding Business?

There are many barns and stables for sale across the country and there are many people who are in the process of purchasing what looks like a new dream career with clients and horses already included. It seems like the perfect situation where the barn is established, the management is set up and everything is running smoothly.  At least that is what it looks like on the outside.  All you have to do is sign the papers and take over as the new barn owner. 

Then it happens...​​You are in your first month of barn ownership and you start to sense things are not quite right in some areas.  You brush those feelings aside because of the natural high you have been on since becoming a barn owner and your mind is reeling with all the great plans you have for your new place.  Then the monthly bills start to come in and the checks start going out and they keep going out as more bills come in.  All of a sudden you realize that a lot of money is going out and not as much is coming in as you thought.  On top of it, the person that was hired as the barn manager seems to know less than what you thought they did and they sure do take a lot of breaks during the day!  The employees are there all day and you start to wonder what they do all day long.  You don't see them much but their paychecks sure reflect a lot of hours put in.  ​

The horses seem happy but you are starting to have questions about how the turnout is designed and why you are going through so many shavings in all the stalls. There is no check list for what each horse is fed for grain or supplements and hay is a free for all. More checks are going out!  You also realize that the board rates for the current boarders is too low! You start to have some concerns that maybe things are not quite right with the financial part of the business but the previous owners didn't keep good records at all so you really don't know what is going out for expenses each month and the revenue coming in from board is not enough to cover the bills. 

If any of this sounds a bit familiar to you then I want you to know you are not alone.  Purchasing an established boarding barn seems like a wonderful thing but I want to stress the importance of doing your homework to make sure you don't start losing money right from the start.  Many barn owners do not keep very good records of expenses and costs for the entire business so when a new person comes along and wants to buy the business they are usually in for a few big surprises.  

Before you purchase

If you are thinking of purchasing an established business then I have a few things I want you to think about.  

  • Ask the owners about the financials and see what records they have of expenses going out each month.  Unfortunately many barn owners do not keep good records and they might be losing money and you would not know it.  You are going to want to know what they have paid out for hay, bedding, fuel, water, electric, labor and repairs, insurance, taxes for the year and that is just the beginning.  

  • Board rates - You need to find out what is included in board and that includes special services. It all adds up if you are offering blanketing and other services and you are paying people to take care of those jobs.  

  • Employees - Find out how much was paid out to employees and you should spend a week watching how the chores are done both morning and night.  You could be losing a lot of money on employees right from the start.  

  • How efficient is the system in place - Many boarding barns lose money because they do not have an efficient chore routine.  A job that should only take two hours is taking four hours and you will lose money. 

  • Boarding contract, barn rules and liability waivers - Find out if the barn has a current boarding contract and barn rules set up and in place.  If not, then you need to make sure you have this taken care of as soon as possible. Even if there is a boarding contract in place, you need to discuss this with your attorney to make sure you are covered and protected until you can get your new boarding contract written up.   Without barn rules  you most likely will be walking into a mess and could quickly find out that you have issues between boarders and much drama and that will be one headache you had not planned for.  

  • Organization - How organized is the tack rooms, hay, grain and bedding area.  You may not notice these things until you are there for a while but when things are unorganized then it will create extra work for you as the barn owner.

  • All four seasons - If you live in an area that has all four seasons then you are going to want to ask about flooding and snow.  Barns and stables always looks great in the summer but when the fall rains come and then the snow you could have some unforeseen huge problems if they were not disclosed.  Ask around and even talk with the current boarders that have been there for a while.  You might get a different picture of how things are being run once you have a conversation with them.  

  • Business plan - I encourage you to put together a business plan (even if you are not seeking a loan) to help you get a real clear idea of the financial numbers and everything else that is part of the business.  This will be one of the most important things you do.

  • Talk with your accountant to get a good understanding about taxes and how they work with a boarding operation. 

There is so much to think about and cannot be all covered in a short blog but this will give you a good starting point.  

It can be fixed!

If you have purchased an already established boarding stable and you are finding out that you have a mess on your hands, don't get discouraged.  It can be fixed in most cases as long as the income coming in and the revenue going out are not off the charts on opposite ends of the spectrum.  In simpler words it might take some time and extra money in the beginning to get things organized and running smooth but it can be done.   

Purchasing an established boarding barn is exciting but you need to remember that the boarders have been doing things a certain way for a very long time and change is not always easy.  In fact it might be met with some resistance from a few people especially when you start creating your own barn rules and a different way of doing chores and turnout for the horses.  It is a very real part of barn management and there will be some growing pains for all involved and you could have some turnover in clients.   

If I can give you some advice - take it one day at a time and tackle issues in order of importance.  It is easy to get overwhelmed especially in the beginning with a large place and many horses to care for. You also need to remember that it can take several months to get things in order as you start to get a real feel for how the barn operates.  Don't get discourage if you have had a bad day and it becomes overwhelming.  I encourage you to find someone outside your business to mentor you and give you a fresh set of eyes on the operation and their trusted feedback is valuable.  It will get easier and you will grow as business owner.  The best is yet to come 

If you are new to my blog, then welcome!  I wrote my newest book to give you an in-depth look into the business of boarding horses and all that it entails. This post today is one small example of what my new book addresses. If you are boarding horses or are planning on it, please check out, "A Step By Step Guide To Starting And Running A Successful Horse Boarding Business."  It is a very comprehensive book on boarding horses and covers every part of it from building your barn or stable to solid barn management.  I wrote this book because I realized there is an information gap when it comes to this career and my goal is to help others so they don't make all the mistakes I made when we first opened our boarding facility. 

Wishing you the very best in your horse business,  ​Sheri Grunska

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