Getting new customers
My training barn is in trouble. The owners have told me what is happening. Several years ago it was full. Lots of people boarded or trained there. Since then the economy has gotten a little worse. Some people have left for other barns. Some people went off to college. Some people took their horses home. A few people have come in. They take lessons but do not have a horse. The area still has money but it is not in this barn. The board price is reasonable. The facilities are nice for this area. There are lots of barns around.
The chairs for watching lessons need to be cleaned out every day. They get dusty. They get used for storage. It is not pleasant there if someone is dressed nicely.
The lounge is nice. It is not pleasant to watch the lessons from there. It is the living room of the relative that lives at the barn. There is a couch, TV, and a kitchen. I have been a customer for years and I do not like going in the lounge unless it is cold.
The owners have dogs. The dogs are VERY friendly. They also like to get dirty. They come to the car to meet you. They jump. They drool. I do not mind. Some people might.
There are cats. Sometimes the cats stay away. Sometimes the cats want in your lap. I am allergic to cats. This may put some others off.
The barn is nice but needs some cleaning. The floor is swept pretty often but the walls are dusty. The arena needs light bulbs changed. The barn ceiling has brown dots everywhere.
The barn is a training barn. If a boarder wants arena time they can only come certain days or evenings. I do not board my own horse there because of this reason.
I would like to help. The owners work hard and are friendly. This is their dream. They are not far from closing the doors. They did not ask me to tell them what is wrong. Should I tell them what I think the needs are? Should I stay out of it?
If they told you what's happening, they might be open to some suggestions.
When I was looking for a new barn, one of the places was also a training barn. I wasn't interested in training board because I don't compete nor am I bringing my horse along nor anything like that, although I like regular lessons and would've been willing to take them at that barn. The facilities were beautiful. But I also realized that my non-lesson riding would be greatly restricted since non-training boarders were essentially second-class boarders there.
And it's fine for the barn, they obviously have sufficient clients to do that. I often hear that just boarding, without training, doesn't bring much money, so I totally understand why a barn would cater to training. But if the economy means no/few training clients and you need to attract other boarders, you have to make it worth their while too.
I also personally despise dogs jumping on me. I like dogs - either well-behaved ones, or fenced-in ones. Although if I was a potential boarder looking for a new barn I might write that off as a one-time incident (wrong in this case obviously, but I'd have other things to consider and a friendly dog jumping on me might not register too high). Still, these dogs should be trained or restrained.
The barn being dusty, and lounge less than ideal, and pets being around are not what keep people away. Will a good spring cleaning help get people's attention? Sure.
What brings clients into a training barn is the trainer. If they are empty, it's not because of the dust or the dogs or the cats... Growing up, one of the best trainers in the area worked in a dump of a barn. She started there when she was young and unproven, and stayed even after developing her reputation. She always had that barn full, despite it being dirty, old, run down, and less than ideal turn out because people were there to ride with her.
I'd ask if they would consider changing their plans to being a boarding facility rather than a training facility until they are back in the black. Boarding doesn't make a profit, but it can help to cover their expenses while they get organized. A quick spring cleaning, and then get people like you out there talking to tack shop owners, feed store owners, farriers and vets to let the community know that the barn is now open for general boarding.
You have to be flexible if you are going to stay afloat in a bad economy. Now's the time for them to start flexing. Changing the focus to offer boarding/lessons/shows/additional disciplines/clinics/events/different pricing/etc on a scale that the locals can afford will go a long way towards keeping their barn above water until things improve enough for them to go back to their primary dream of training. Rather than getting into changing the window dressings with them, I would start a conversation about brainstorming ideas to offer more/different services to start them thinking about changing the focus a bit. Thinking positively will get the wheels turning sooner than pointing out the negative. You've got to get the windows of the mind open first. Once they are on the path of flex and change, then a day with the cleanup crew will be easy to slip into the schedule! Make sure you offer to participate in the cleanup once the idea takes hold! They'll love you for it!
I expect dust and cats at a barn. In fact, the one barn where I found neither was the worst barn I've ever ridden at! No cats equalled a nasty vermin problem, and the lack of dust was because no one was riding regularly!
There are lots of reasons why people might not be coming- stiff competition, lack of quality marketing, not the right niche for the horses/riders in the area.
If it's a training barn, the owners might want to consider how people looking for training would a) hear of the facility and b) what sort of impression they would gain regarding the facility upon doing some research.
I disagree with not worrying about the details. If you are going to be a professional training barn you have to keep up a professional appearance.
If they are training other people's horses they need to make the owners feel that their horses are in steady hands in with a good training schedule. If the arena is dusty they need to dampen it down when needed. If the viewing area is in someones house, set up another area to watch from. Keep the dogs in an enclosed area if they jump on people. And so on. Making a living with horses is really tough in the best of economies and one has to give a knowledgeable impression no matter how nice and hard working they are or they will never make it to the big time. JMHO
eta: There's really not much you can do unless they ask you. If they don't want to stay as just a boarding facility, I would start looking around for another place.
Rather than analyze the dust, analyze the comparative experience and money for what people can get there vs. elsewhere.
Do they allow outside trainers at all or is it the barn's trainer or bust?
Do they allow outside trainers with a fee that the next barn down the road DOESN'T charge so people can get the same trainer for less down the road?
I have seen barns without a speck of dust in the place flounder because they insist on charging above market prices for everything, are restrictive about outside trainers, and charge extra fees for everything. They think people will pay out the nose for nice architecture but really they won't.
I have also seen barns with plenty of dust and "friendly dogs" (etc) be consistently bursting at the seams because people are allowed to bring in their trainers, ride at hours that accommodate working people, and aren't being nickel and dimed at every turn.
Short version: It ain't the dust.
In what disciplines are they training ? Are they doing well at shows? Are they good at what they do? I expect to see dust, dogs and cats at any barn. I do agree that hyper, jumping dogs should be contained when things are busy. You also didn't mention how the horses they do have are cared for? The biggest thing I see is no arena use for those who board there.
I can answer some questions generally.
If they were a boarding barn only their price is good. They are the only trainers allowed. They could sub-lease some empty stalls to a local wandering "trainer". they are not yet starving nor stupid.
People are loyal to trainers here. If you train with X you believe that Y is no good. X might sell you a blind 3 legged lame horse. Y is still no good. I think they are good. Locally there is one trainer that maybe better. Owners do not allow fools free rein.
The horses are cared for well. I would like more hay fed but that is preference, and hay is scarce this year. Stalls are well cleaned 6 of 7 days. The footing seems good. The arena has a sprinkler system. I do not know if it is used often. Dust will still come sometimes.
I agree to find new uses for the barn. Insurance is a problem if it is not horse related.