I was talking to a man the other day who was appraising our farm for the bank who we were refinancing our business loan with. He has been in the agriculture business for many years and has seen many horse farms in the Midwest area and he was telling me that many of them go out of business after the first couple of years and the reasons were usually always the same. Poor barn management and business skills. He went on to tell me that many of these horse boarding facilities were beautiful new barns with many wonderful amenities and so much to offer. These places had no problem bringing in boarders but they had a big problem keeping them. The turnover was extremely high. Another common thread to these barns going out of business was the lack of business skills the barn owners had and they would get themselves in over their head with debt and couldn't get out. Most of them didn't have a healthy grasp on how much it cost to feed all the horses in their care or the other huge expenses it took to run a large horse farm.
After our conversation was over I spent all afternoon thinking about what he had told me and my mind started going back to many years ago when we built our barn and opened for business. I totally understood what he was saying because I was there. I was a new barn owner that had zero business skills and really didn't have a grasp on how to run a large horse farm and all the costs that went with it. I did have a business plan that I had to write-up for the bank to approve our loan and I know now that was one of the best things we ever did. That business plan really did open my eyes to so much about the business side of a working farm.
When I am asked by someone how we have kept our horse boarding business alive even under the worst financial circumstances in the beginning, my answer is always the same. We learned to run our horse farm as a business and I learned strong barn management skills from many mistakes along the way. I had on the job training every day! I believe the key to success is not always doing everything right the first time. Successful barns are created from people who make mistakes as they are learning but are willing to change the things that need to be changed and move forward.
Turn-over is bad for business
One of the worst things a barn can go through is high turn-over. It is bad for business and it is exhausting for the barn owner. We had extremely high turnover during our first couple of years and it made my job so much harder then it needed to be. Horses were leaving and when the new horses came in it was like starting over. Everything from introducing the horse to a herd to a new feeding program was part of it. Making sure the new clients understood the barn rules and were finding their way around the barn became something I was doing frequently. Losing a boarder once in a while is normal but we lost many of our boarders during the first three years and it was more work then I could have imagined. High turn-over is bad for a reputation and when you are a new business you have the pressure of making sure your reputation grows in a positive way. That is hard to do when people are leaving often and as we all know people will talk.
Today I encourage you to start making the changes at your barn that you know are hurting your business. If you are just starting out and thinking of building a new barn or have been in the business a few years but still having problems, find a person that can mentor you through some of the tough issues you are going through and who will give you honest feedback to how your operation is running. Sometimes all we need is someone from the outside to look at our situation with a fresh pair of eyes.
Remember that good barn management skills are more than just feeding horses and cleaning stalls. It is about learning to communicate with your clients and learning to resolve all the issues that will come up at your barn. It is about learning to educate and not micro-manage. It is about learning to say no when you need to and standing behind your decision. It is about making smart choices about your money and not making decisions based on emotion. It is about running a consistent barn with honesty and integrity.
I believe the horse barns that are the most successful are not the barns that have the greatest amenities like an indoor arena or jump course. You can have the best of everything but if you are not smart on your financials for the business and leading your barn the way it needs to be run then it could really hurt your business. Don't be a statistic. Take it one day at a time and don't be afraid to learn as much as you can and grow with your business. The horses will be the easiest part of your job. Get ready to change your barn, business and life in ways you never imagined.
If you are new to my blog, then welcome! I have just released a new book that will help you set up your boarding stable with a strong foundation and this book covers every part of barn management and the business. I want you to be successful in your horse business and not regret it. I encourage you to check out my book, "A Step By Step Guide To Starting And Running A Successful Horse Boarding Business." I guarantee there isn't another book out there like this one. This book is also making its way into equine programs in colleges across the country. I am passionate about this book and believe it will give you the right tools to be successful.
Wishing you many blessings in your horse business, Sheri Grunska