Extra Services and Boarding Horses

Any manager of a horse boarding stable will receive requests from clients for extra services. By 'extra', I mean any service which is not part of the standard package which the client is paying for, so what might be 'extra' at one stable would be 'standard' at another. However, no matter how basic or how extensive of the boarding package is, there will still be requests for more. In many cases, the way in which these requests are handled can determine the success of the boarding business.

Cost Considerations

The manager must never forget that any additional service costs more in terms of time, material or both. A common mistake is to agree to requests on the basis that it will only take a moment each day. However, if one adds up all these moments over a month, it can be a substantial amount. To illustrate this, consider the following example:

  • Client pays monthly fee of $300 to board a horse.
  • After all the costs are paid (not just hay and straw, but all costs such as water+electricity+insurance+bank interest+machine repair/maintenance) this may leave a monthly profit of $50
  • An extra 2 minutes per day (which may not seem much) equals one hour per month. If labor costs are $10/hour (including all employment taxes, not just the basic hourly wage), this is $10/horse/month
  • So, by agreeing to this request, the stable manager has reduced the profitability from $50/month to $40/month (a 20% reduction).

Nor does it stop there, since requests can pile up. Some common requests that we receive at our stables are: provide grain twice a day (our contract is only once), put a fly mask on the horse in morning and remove at night, provide medications when horse is ill, provide musli instead of grain, take fat horses off pasture at mid-day and put in box, provide extra straw/hay/grain, fetching a horse from the pasture for the rider or farrier, soak hay in water to remove dust before feeding to horse. If agreeing to one request can cut profit by 20%, once one has agreed to several such requests then the business has been moved from being profitable to no longer being viable. Consequently, one needs to:

  • Carefully consider what is included and what is not included in the standard package.
  • Preferably document both items in the stable contract, so that there is no future confusion or dispute.
  • Be firm with clients and not damage the business by giving away extras (see exceptions below), even if you want to be a nice person and it will only take an extra moment.

Profit Opportunity

The other way of looking at these requests is as an opportunity, rather than a cost. Many stables are actually dependent on extra services in order to survive, as they do not make a profit on the 'standard' package, but offer additional services at a price which generates a profit. Examples include:

  • Different box sizes, with the larger boxes costing more than standard boxes.
  • Premium bedding (e.g. wood shavings instead of straw)
  • Additional feed (e.g. grain, musli) for a monthly fee.
  • Training (of horse, rider, or both). 
  • Access to additional facilities (e.g. riding hall, round pen) which are not part of the standard package.
  • Grooming and/or turn out of horse ready for riding
  • Providing worming and other medication which has been prescribed by a vet

The business savey manager will identify which services their client base want, generate a standard package which includes the basic services that all clients will want and then offer additional services with a corresponding schedule of fees. It is typical in such cases for the standard package to have a modest profit margin (in order to attract and build a client base), with most of the profit coming from extra services.

Client Perspective

The attitude of many clients is 'I already pay $300 per month and this only takes two minutes, so I should not have to pay any more for this little service'. When a stable manager either declines the request or agrees on the condition of additional payment, such clients can become angry and aggressive. This needs to be avoided, since an upset client may leave and even if he does stay, unhappy clients can lead to general discontent. Therefore, stable managers need to handle such requests in a sensitive and diplomatic way. Possible approaches include:

  • Explaining to the client that although it only takes a moment, how much it is extra per month.
  • Explaining to the client that if they do it for him, they have to do it for everyone, with the associated extra costs for all the horses.
  • If appropriate, agreeing to provide the service for a reasonable additional fee. 
  • If necessary, agreeing on a short-term basis to provide free of charge. For example, agreeing to medicate a horse (e.g. by adding the medication to its daily grain feed) but only for a certain time period (e.g. a week), after which the client would either need to do it themselves or pay extra.   

One also needs to take into account what the client is feeling at the moment. If his horse is very ill and he asks you to administer the daily medication, he may be too emotional to rationally discuss extra payment. Likewise, if a horse has just been put down, asking for additional payment to help with the administration of disposing of the body is inappropriate. Although one needs to protect the profitability of the business most of the time, in some circumstances it is best simply to be supportive.  

Precedents

Regardless of which approach one takes, one should be aware of setting a precedent. If one agrees to provide a service, the client will then expect it forever after unless one specifies conditions otherwise. In addition, if one agrees to provide the service for one client (either free or for a specific price), one needs to be prepared to provide the same to any other client who requests it. It is difficult and risky to agree to something once but then refuse it at a later date (or request a higher payment), or to offer it to one client but not others. Consequently, anything you agree to, you should first be certain that you are prepared for the long-term implications and to providing the same deal to other clients who request it.