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The events of 2020 have forced many yard owners into the realisation that their existing business model may no longer be viable in the long run. The management of yards and the packages on offer may need to be reviewed to meet the changing demand from horse owners. In some cases, a complete yard overhaul may be required.
Unfortunately, this year has seen many yards change hands, reduce capacity or even close for good, but for those wanting to continue with their yard and move forward, there are still plenty of options. You don’t need to diversify to a different industry to change things – there are a whole host of ways a yard owner can alter what is offered to their clients, to fit into a new niche market with a higher demand than their traditional livery packages and facilities.
A regular review of what you offer within your livery packages can only ever be a good thing. As well as checking you are charging the right amounts financially (see our article on How to Make Your Livery Yard Pay), you also need to make sure you are meeting market demand. Just because you want to offer full livery, does not mean there will necessarily be the need for it in your area, and you can’t guarantee that other yards aren’t already meeting the demand. Is there a specific demand for a livery type in your area that is perhaps different from what you initially thought of offering, but that may be more profitable if the demand is higher?
With lockdown issues, many horse owners have moved away from higher priced serviced livery packages and are opting instead for part livery or assisted packages – meaning they will only get help if and when they actually need it – to help keep their costs down. Another way to change what you offer is to look at whether your packages can be simplified by reducing the cost and options available, whilst continuing to be viable. If this seems like a feasible solution, then it is certainly worth considering whether you could offer something like a base livery fee with bolt-ons for additional services, as and when they are needed.
Many yards these days slip into the trap of trying to cover too many bases to meet demand, and as a result offer every livery type under the sun in order to fill spaces and turn a profit. Sometimes simpler is better and sticking to one or two specific packages can be the way forward. It is much better to perfect a certain type of livery package, with all clients and horses on the same basis, than to have all sorts of differences between packages and clients. That can make things confusing, complicated and more time consuming.
If a ‘niche’ in the market can be found, then why not fill it. Or even better, create your own niche. Over recent years the services offered by yards have really expanded. Yards are not only running as standard livery yards but are making a name for themselves by offering unique services in their area. If you have a niche, then horse owners are likely to pay more and travel further for specialist or unique services or facilities.
The number of yards offering track livery has been on the rise for a couple of years, due to the increasing demand for horses to live a more natural lifestyle, as well as the ability for most to live out in this manner year round, thus reducing management and costs. A vast majority of these horses are also retired, meaning owners need not visit daily to ride and therefore are more willing to travel further afield if the yard is taking care of all or a majority of the day to day care. There are also an increasing number of specialist rehabilitation and treatment yards, offering packages for rehabilitating or recovering equines with all the necessary facilities on site. Whilst the financial investment in such large scale, technological facilities can be high, offering a unique service also allows you to charge a premium.
If you have unique or rare facilities or services, as well as including them in your livery packages for regular clients, you could also offer these facilities and services to external clients. Whether this involves short stays on livery, a single visit or regular block bookings, there are many opportunities. Many of these tend to be based around rehabilitation, training and therapy, and could range from facilities as simple as canter tracks or gallops and indoor arenas with training mirrors, to higher value investment items, such as hydrotherapy, Equine Treadmills or Oxygen Therapy Chambers. If highly specialist, you could set up a separate business using these facilities as a separate income stream, by holding regular sessions or opening the facilities to groups such as riding schools or clients of other local yards.
It is certainly worth ensuring your riding facilities – such as gallops and indoor/ outdoor arenas – are well maintained. Many yard facilities spend a lot of their time unused when they could be generating a profit. Events such as training or clinics with instructors or professional riders, clear round events, demonstrations, and informal shows can all help facilities pay for their own upkeep. Many riding clubs and pony clubs also look for good quality and well-maintained facilities for their training events. If you have a small schooling cross country course, why not make more of it and hold clear round days or even clinics, where liveries and external participants can improve their technique. If you have a range of riding facilities, you could even think about holding riding camps over the course of two or three days, using your own or external instructors.
On the other hand, you may be near other yards or venues that have facilities, with whom you could make arrangements for your own clients, either on a paid or reciprocal basis. For example, a local indoor arena, whereby your clients are able to book at a discounted rate, or to arrange regular schooling sessions. Lots of yards organise group events for clients where transport and costs are shared, making it more affordable to school and train at alternative venues, be this an indoor arena, cross country course or even a beach ride. The regular events and ease of transport may make this appealing to those wanting to train regularly or enjoy leisure time, riding away from the yard.
Many livery yards are located only a short distance from larger equestrian and competition centres, many of which hold large affiliated events throughout the year. This can attract riders from further afield, who may find travelling and returning home in one day hard work, or may wish to stay for several days in the case of longer events. There is always the potential, with the correct biosecurity procedures, to offer short term event stabling for such events; the venues often look for local stabling to recommend to their competitors. This could be in an existing yard, or you could look at creating a temporary stable yard and extending your capacity by renting temporary stables from the likes of Woodhouse.
If your yard is located near a particularly busy and popular venue that runs regular events, you could consider investing in your own temporary stables, to erect as necessary for seasonal use. One way to do this is to purchase ex-hire stock at a reduced rate. Such stables can also be ideal if you run your own large events, such as shows or riding camps, in order to offer stabling and storage, and in turn increase your capacity and income.
Unfortunately, the changes made to licensing and the spiralling costs over recent years, has seen the closure of many riding schools, yet many have continued as livery yards. If you have a large yard with the facilities of a riding centre – substantial riding areas, show jumps, etc – then there are ways to use this to your advantage. Many former riding schools are creating private riding clubs, with either their liveries or with external riders loaning/part loaning horses from their yard, and participating in lessons, training and events. Some are even buying horses and ponies, or using their old school ponies, specifically for this. You can also arrange and offer riding camps, specific training packages or intensive training packages. Whilst not strictly a riding school, you would have to ensure that such change of business was covered appropriately.
If you have parents on your yard, you’ll know that it can be hard for them to find time at the weekend to ride, away from the kids. This allows you the opportunity to set up a group for liveries children or external children for a couple of hours once a week, to learn about horses, spend time at the yard grooming and doing stable jobs. Spending time outside is something a lot of children are short of these days, so to be outside, learning a new skill, can only be a good thing. You can make it fun by holding quizzes and competitions.
For larger yards, the difficulty filling stables can result in a number of stables being empty at any one time. There are often other equestrian professionals looking to rent stable blocks and facilities, either to keep their own string of horses, or to run as their own yard. This can often be more cost effective and practical than renting to individuals; although the overall cost may be less than renting individual boxes, this sort of arrangement on a rental basis means you can introduce a minimum rental term, so as to guarantee you’ll have the stables let for a set period of time.
If you’re considering sub-letting to someone for them to let as their own yard, it is important to avoid any conflict of interest in the range of services offered. For example, a professional rider may wish to rent a block of stables to offer schooling or sales livery alongside keeping their own horses – this is no problem if you don’t already offer this, but if you both offer the same services on the same yard, things may get complicated. It can be beneficial to use each other’s skill and knowledge to run joint training events, shows and suchlike. You would also need to carry out due diligence to ensure any person deemed professional has the necessary competence, qualifications and insurances to be running the yard.
Staycations are becoming increasingly popular. If you’re in an excellent area for access to top class facilities or amazing off-road routes, you have the potential to draw in riders from further afield. You could set up your own accommodation for riders – tents, yurts or static caravans – or make arrangements with local accommodation owners to host the riders. Then, you can either put in place a structured plan for those visiting, or keep it as simple as offering accommodation and DIY livery, to allow them to explore the local area in their own time.
There are a huge number of ways that owning a yard can help earn you an income, other than simply offering ‘standard’ livery packages. On LiveryList we have hundreds of yards listed across the UK, many of whom are diversifying to offer niche packages, services and events, just like those above. By keeping up to date with what’s happening locally, trends on social media and doing a little bit of market research, you can find out how your yard could diversify, whilst still remaining a yard.
If you are a yard owner looking for support to manage any aspect of your yard, LiveryList also runs the Livery Yard Owners UK- Discussions and Advice Facebook group. A closed group especially for verified owners across the UK, it is a friendly and welcoming group, allowing yard owners to discuss and share advice, as well as network with other yard owners in their area.