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"Good Horsemanship is Built on Solid Basics...So is Good Business!"

First Impressions
By Lisa Derby Oden

How does the public see your business? Take a few moments each day to
assess how your horse business looks and performs, just as you would your
prize horse. As with your horse, unnoticed small changes can add up to big
problems. For your horse, it may result in poor health, soundness problems
or training issues. For your business, it may mean lost clients, prospective
clients that don't return a second time, or a constant turnover in clients.

Remember - it costs 10 times as much to get a new client as it does to bring
an existing one back!

There are several aspects of your horse business that can help of hurt
your business, and many of them require frequent attention. If you've got a
good service or product to sell, be proud of that and present it in a way
that honors it. Don't mix messages to your clients by making big claims that
aren't backed up by your treatment, presentation, and consideration.

Put Yourself in the Consumer's Shoes:
1) Begin with the front of your property and overall outside appearance.
* If you own a barn, start by viewing your driveway and barn entrance area.
If you run a tack shop, the parking lot area and sidewalk require scrutiny.
Are these areas clear of snow, mud, litter, and debris? Do you have an
attractive sign that catches the eye? If you are a free-lancer or
independent contractor, take a look at your vehicle. Is it clean and neat?
* What about your outdoor arenas? Are they raked and neat? Are they full of
rocks or dangerous equipment?
* The outside of the building and condition of windows will also leave an
impression. Granted it 's difficult to keep barn windows clean daily, but
establishing a regular schedule for their attention helps a lot. If you own
a tack shop you'll want your display window sparkling and clean daily. Is
your front door easy to find? Are your hours of operation posted in an
obvious location?
* What condition is your fencing in? Are horses turned out in fencing that
is not maintained properly? If your business is a store, you won't have
fencing, but what about your displays? Do you update them regularly? Are
they interesting and organized?
* Your landscaping and vegetation will also impact the consumer's first
impression. Is what you have trimmed, watered, weeded and taken care of?

Remember - your prospective client will take less than 10 seconds to
determine whether they will stay or leave your business. These exterior
details work towards pleasing all their senses immediately.

2) Enter your horse business next and consider the impression and experience
that the consumer will have.
* How does the aisle look if you're a barn? What about the layout of your
store if you're a retailer?
* Are the horses in your care well-groomed and healthy?
* Is your tack and other equipment in good repair, neat and clean?
* Is the wash stall clean and are grooming tools kept in an organized
fashion? For retailers, is merchandise neat and tidy or in disarray?
* Check the stalls next. Are they adequate size, clean, well ventilated, and
fresh smelling? For retailers, what is your lighting like, and how about
climate control?
* Are the feed room and tack room well organized, or will you always wonder
where your equipment is and if your horse's supplements will ever be found?
* What are the client "comfort facilities" like (bathroom and lounge area)?
Retailers, you may require a dressing room - what is that like?
* Last but not least - what experience do your employees provide? You want
your clients to feel comfortable and safe. Assistance needs to be easily
accessible, prompt and courteous. How do your employees dress?

Remember - think like a consumer. Be critical - the consumer won't verbalize
this, they just won't come back!

Little things make a BIG difference:
Incorporate change and new ideas into your horse business. This helps to
keep your concept fresh and your clients interested. Make yourself a monthly
chart and assess the following throughout the year:

Lesson ideas
Other educational

Try some of these simple things that will add up to a big difference:
* Write up a press release on a special event or new line of tack.
* Change displays on your bulletin boards, in your windows, tacked on doors.
* Change the layout if you're a retailer. Make it interesting for your
clients to stay longer and discover more items of interest. If a barn, make
it interesting by offering more programs, clinics, field trips, etc.
* Send your business flowers - for the barn office or lounge, or - for your
store window display or check out counter.
* Put out a unique Welcome mat.
* Send holiday cards to your clients and birthday greetings.
* Wash the windows, cob web the corners. Spruce up your plants and
* Hang a suggestion box.
* Write a business newsletter, one page that highlights a new program,
product line, or client success.

(Lisa Derby Oden has been providing business development, marketing, and association consulting services to the horse industry since 1995. She is the 1999 AHC Van Ness Award recipient for outstanding service to the horse industry.
She can be reached at: (603)878-1694; email at; or visit her website at

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