The start of a new year can often bring new beginnings, and new business ideas, such as the opening of a livery yard. This may be a brand-new facility, or an existing yard that has been taken over by new management. Either way, it is the start of a new business and it must set off on the right foot. In this article, we caught up with Cheryl Johns, owner of LiveryList and The Yard Owner Hub, to find out the most important considerations for anybody looking to open a livery yard in 2024. This may not only be useful for new business owners, but a useful refresher for existing yard owners too.
Consider your costs
First and foremost, before you even open your doors, you should ensure that you have not underestimated your costs. Before advertising your livery yard, and deciding on prices, you need to fully investigate and calculate the costs that you will incur for providing those livery spaces. It is vitally important that this exercise is undertaken with great care to make sure that you are covering your own costs, as well as including within your costs a wage for yourself and for your time spent running the yard, both practically and administratively.
Whilst it is a good idea to see what local yards are charging, it is important not to let this govern what you decide to charge for your yard, as your charges should be based upon your costs. Once you have calculated your costs, you should stick to these for all clients, and ensure that you are keeping suitable records, with procedures in place to allow the implementation of price rises as and when necessary to ensure you are running a sustainable yard.
Another significant consideration is that you are appropriately insured for the services you offer within your livery packages. It is essential to consider your insurance needs and to make sure you are covered appropriately. The level of insurance you need will be determined entirely upon the type of livery services you are offering, whether you are a licensed establishment, the facilities you have on site, and the level of care you offer equines on the premises.
You also need to ensure that you are insured appropriately for anybody employed on the premises, whether this is grooms, instructors or handymen, and the same should be applied to volunteers or even friends and family working on site. It is important to understand your obligations as an employer and to seek suitable advice from a specialist Livery Yard Insurance provider to make sure anybody working on the premises is covered.
It is also ideal to check that all of the equines on your premises have appropriate Horse Insurance, or at the least are insured for third-party liability, and to ask horse owners to provide a copy of this upon arrival at your yard, and subsequently on the renewal of the policy.
For peace of mind, it would also be prudent to ensure that any third-party offering services on your premises- such as freelance grooms, coaches, equine body workers and such like are appropriately insured with a professional insurance policy.
Contracts are key
Before going into any business arrangement with the liveries, you should decide exactly what obligations and expectations will be of both parties and to make this clear. The easiest way to achieve this is to make sure that you have a suitable livery contract that is signed upon arrival to confirm the agreement in place. It’s also worth considering if any other additional paperwork is necessary for your records or to confirm your arrangements, such as details of horses on the premises, details of their owners, copies of insurance and vaccination records, and any other documents you may need to exchange.
Alongside a livery contract, it is also a possibility that you can issue a yard handbook to your liveries which explains rules, policies and other important information that would not necessarily fall under the scope of the contractual agreement. This can be easily updated and should relate to the general day-to-day running off the yard and any information delivery clients should know.
Deciding your rules, and sticking to them
To run a harmonious yard, it is important to have rules. Then everybody is clear on expectations when they are on the yard. It is easier to try to preempt these rules, although naturally some will develop overtime as and when occurrences or situations arise that may warrant a review.
Such rules could be basic, like the opening times for the yard, or whether you permit children, dogs or smoking on the premises, to more specific rules such as whether you permit third party service providers- such as coaches and freelance grooms- to provide their services on the yard, or any rules that you have around your livery clients sharing or loaning their horses and ponies. Some of these can be important decisions because they may directly affect your own income from the yard, for example if you offer grooming services whereby you may, in theory, be losing income by allowing an external service provider to cover holidays or other services such as clipping.
Another imperative consideration are your bio security procedures, not only in terms of your process for new arrivals, but also surrounding visitors on the yard. To reduce the likelihood of infectious diseases being brought onto your yard. Considerations around visitors on your yard will also go some way towards your rules around security to make sure you know who is on the premises and where they have access to.
Getting spaces filled
When it comes to advertising your yard, it is important to make sure that you do this effectively. It is wise to have a website, social media pages, and to also have a presence on other dedicated platforms such as LiveryList. Make sure that you use these things well, consider the following:
Another point to consider is those that you choose to take on as livery clients. When starting out, you may be keen to fill your spaces as quickly as possible, but in doing this you could end up with clients who are unsuitable for what you are offering, just for the sake of filling a space. It is important that you find horses and owners that suit what you are offering, understand the premise of the yard, and are happy with the procedures and facilities you have in place, as well as the day-to-day routine of the yard and horses.
If you are in an area where there are many livery yards, you should find a way to make yourself stand out from other yards and appeal to clients. One way to do this is to find a unique selling point, – something that helps you stand out from the crowd- be this a specific facility, service, or skill. This can make you appeal to a different type of client, gives you an alternative target market to other yards in the area, can give you the extra edge when it comes to filling your vacancies, and can even add value to what you offer.
Keeping on top of finances
Many aspects of your business arrangement should be clarified through the existence of a livery contract or yard handbook, this would include things such as payment terms and consequences in the event of late payments. It is very important that these are implemented when necessary, and that you ensure your liveries are paying their bills in full and on time. Whilst there will likely be situations every now and then where liveries have difficulty paying their bills, ultimately you are a business and they are your client, and you must ensure it is treated as such and take swift action to ensure that you are not left out of pocket by allowing delayed payments.
Similarly, it is important to keep good business records so that you can correctly assess your costs each time you review your pricing, it would be recommended to do this at least annually, and at such point to implement a price increase if necessary. Price increases should also be a clause within your livery contracts allowing you to increase your livery charges a reasonable amount at the same time each year in line with at minimum the government inflation.
As the yard owner, it is important that you act as such and always remain professional with your staff and clients. Understand the boundary between yard owner and livery client. Whilst friendships can develop on a yard, make sure that these are not taken advantage of by the expectation of special treatment, freebies or favours.
All clients should be treated the same irrespective of who they are. Even if they are your friends or family, if they are a livery client then you have a business arrangement with them, and it is important to maintain this relationship.
If any issues arise with liveries, discuss this with them in the first instance. This may simply revolve around reiterating to them rules and policies of the yard, maybe that they need help or assistance in some aspect of caring for their horse or pony, or maybe a more serious occurrence that results in you wanting to serve them notice. In all cases, you need to remain calm and professional, to consider the ways that you communicate and the language that you use. If there are issues with liveries, all efforts should be made to remain amicable, even if the problem results in them terminating their contract with you.
Consider the way you communicate with your clients, such as reminding about yard rules and procedures, sending out invoices or payment reminders or giving general yard information – remain professional in any communications, written or verbal. Online methods of keeping in touch with clients- such as WhatsApp, Facebook pages, group texts or messages, can be a great idea and allow quick and easy communication with clients, enable you to get quick responses and see who has read messages. This can also work both ways as an open line of communication. However, it is also an idea to have specific times that you can be contacted with yard related issues, allowing you to have peace and quiet in your private time (unless it is an emergency!).
The easiest way to avoid confusion or issues surrounding the services you offer and procedures on the yard are to make sure everything is in writing. It is ideal to have a policy for everything. From a bio security and new arrivals policy, to a health and safety policy, to detailed livery contracts and yard handbooks all of these can offer clarity when it comes to your clients understanding your procedures and processes for the yard. If there is any confusion or disagreements, then these documents can be referred back to. It is also a great idea to regularly update your policies and contracts.
In conclusion, this is just a very brief overview of the considerations that yard owners and potential yard owners should put into the management of their yard. Yard ownership is not easy and can often be a 24/7 job. It is important to make sure that you have a life too and that you are still able to enjoy and ride your own horses in your own time. Try to ascertain and maintain as many boundaries as possible with your clients so that everybody understands what you offer. Horse owners that are well informed about the way the yard is run, and feel there is an open line of communication with the yard owner, are more likely to be in it for the long haul as your livery client.
Originally Posted to the SEIB Blog 03/01/2024
About the author
Cheryl Johns, SEIB Equestrian Business Writer and the founder of LiveryList and the Yard Owner Hub, is a qualified and experienced yard manager, marketing advisor and business consultant with experience across a range of industries.
SEIB have been arranging livery yard insurance and riding school insurance for over 60 years. This experience allows us to tailor policies to suit your circumstances and ensure that you and your horses are covered should the worst happen.
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