buying a boarding barn...how do I find its previous reputation?
We are VERY interested in buying a beautiful boarding barn that is an area that I don't know well. The existing place has been half full for almost 2 years due to failing health of the owner and the place being taken over by non horsey family to sell.
I don't feel that talking to the existing boarders will get me too far plus if I want them to stay in the future I don't want to come across snarky or gossipy.
However, I have been in several barns as a boarder and I KNOW the importance of word of mouth in the horsey world.
The barn has no web site and when I googled the name nothing comes up so I doubt they were very involved in shows around the area or advertised boarding or lessons.
How can I jump onto the area grapevine and make sure I am not swimming upstream by buying this place? I'd like to think positive too and maybe it has a GREAT reputation but where do I find this out?
PS: It is the only farm for many miles that has a beautiful indoor area and barn so it is begging for year round activities that I believe will attract good boarders.
In the conditions you describe, you have an excellent opportunity to start over with a clean slate - "Under New Management" does wonders for places sometimes.
Of course it would be great if the place already has an excellent reputation (although existing customers may then compare you to the previous owner, lol) ... but if it is the only indoor in miles and is still only half full, you've gotta wonder.
There is a local barn in my area that was purchased a couple of years ago. It was a DUMP with a poor reputation. The new owner spent a fortune and made many improvements - big new outdoor ring, new footing in the indoor, cleared a lot of land for paddocks, and built a very fancy new barn. She got a bunch of customers right away.
As it turns out, she was a terrible manager and very difficult to deal with (has gone through three trainers in the past two years, with 3-400% turnover in boarders) ... but the facility is nice enough that new people seem to continue to be willing to give it a try.
So... if the facility is nice and you are a good manager who can make boarders happy, I wouldn't worry too much about the past.
********** We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.
I agree w/Lucassb. It is not the past that matters. Potential new boarders will be interested in how things are run once YOU are in charge. Even if the barn has a great reputation most prospective boarders will want to see how things are run once you are in charge.
Agree with the other posts. Plus if they have never done much marketing, you have the advantage of introducing your place YOUR way with a beautiful web site, maybe have a big open house with door prizes, etc.
Believe me, if the facility is nice local horse owners will bombard you with requests for tours or stalls when they here you are taking over.
Don't worry about the past. But do make sure you can afford to run this place up to your standards AND create a board price that your local market will bear.
More often than not, this is the problem behind boarding barns that fall apart. The owner can't charge what it costs to maintain the facility and fill the stalls. Boarders (a group including me!) often don't know about the hidden costs behind the faboo farm but do watch their bottom line and have only so much to put into the horse's rent. Misunderstandings can abound, as can BOs cutting corners until there's nothing left.
One more thought: If the barn is built such that it has a mold problem (as in built on wet ground) or a dust problem (as can be the case with a shedrow along an indoor) these "features" can cause respiratory problems in horses or the reputation for producing those. Of the top of my head, this is the only kind of problem that I would treat as something that could not be fixed... at least without lots of time and money.
I also agree that the previous reputation isn't so important.
If the place has a great reputation, then you will always be compared to the previous owners. "Well, so-and-so always did things THIS way." That would drive me nuts.
If the place has a bad reputation, the phrase "under new management" will give you a fine chance to start fresh.
I bought a falling down decrepit farm that was the lowest of the low end boarding farms. I had all of the old boarders move out, did a ton of replacing/ renovating and upgrades, and then reopened. I don't think the previous reputation of this place has affected me at all--my fees aren't cheap and I have a wait list. I do get those annoying phone calls from people looking for super-low-end boarding who are then huffy when I tell them my rates, but then doesn't every boarding barn get those?
In any case, I think you are right to be concerned about the logistics of transferring boarders from another BO to yourself. Maybe you will want to keep things exactly the same, but chances are you will run the barn differently and sometimes people can be resistant to change. When we bought our farm, it was obvious to me that the boarders who were currently on the farm were not compatible with the type of operation I wanted to run. So, although it would have been nice to have some boarding income in that initial phase, I did not want my name attached to that kind of boarding business--I think that would have affected my reputation poorly. As part of our purchase contract, all the boarders had to be off the farm before closing.
Over time I have made many changes, built an indoor, divided the pasture up into paddocks, built two new outdoor tings, built a n X-C course etc etc.
Some of the old boarders did not like what I was doing and left, some left and came back, some did not come back.
AS the facilities improved others came along who wanted to board. We've been full or almost full most of the time.
So I wouldn't worry too much about the previous management, if you hear the phase "Taht's not what they did before" just smile and go on your way, if the they don't like it they'll move. And in the end they'll realise that it's your way now.
Do however check into things like, local laws regarding animals, and whether the place is properly built and whether the land is in good shape or has problems.
Good Luck. Hope you enjoy your barn as much as I enjoy mine.
Melyni (PhD) PAS, Dipl. ACAN.
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If you want to know, you could ask in local feed stores and vet clinics, saying you heard that place was for sale.
Let people answer you and generally they will offer information, if they know it and what they know about it.
And do check with planning and zoning etc. to make sure it is all legal. You'd be surprised what people build without permits or contrary to covenants. You don't want to invest if there could be a problem there. Check taxes and current senior/veterans/agricultural exemptions; see if you get the same break or not. Lookout for impact fees and lump sum retroactive taxes on some farms. Visit other barns and find out what they charge. If it looks too good to be true....