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Really weird idea: letter of intent for potential boarders?

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  • #41
    Originally posted by APirateLooksAtForty View Post

    No profit FROM THE BOARDING. Sales and leases only. Get a life, you people truly suck and need to go volunteer at the soup
    kitchen. Or as a pm just pointed out, maybe you are jealous. Seriously if you aren't being helpful (or at least intelligent) what's the point of posting?
    This is a bad idea from an economic standpoint. Boarding barns, as a rule, are break even operations in most places. If you don't shoot for a profit you WILL run at a loss. That will require you to support the boarding operation, your least profitable arm, with the money from your more profitable works and that leaves you in a net zero situation. That is unsustainable without significant outside income support.

    e still don't know your locale so we can't make an intelligent analysis if you're even in ballpark on your boarding plan. That's not being mean spirited or or jealous or anything else. You claim a lot of experience in all this. If that is true then you know how quickly a boarding barn can turn into a three ring circus of catty behavior (whether the boarders be male or female or a mixture).

    So thicken up your skin a bit. If you that questioners have been harsh here then maybe your well of experience is a bit more shallow than you'd have us believe. And when you get to the local "shark tank" (i.e., the bank) it will get even rougher.

    Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raa, Uma Paixo


    • #42
      Maybe call this proposed letter a boarding reservation agreement that requires a deposit? would be similar to booking a clinic

      My concern is this "trainer Y".... so they decide to flake out on you, then what?


      • #43
        I'm against asking for "letters of intent" for several reasons.

        First of all, that's just not done in the boarding/training business, and I think it sends the wrong message to clients, i.e. that you will be doing things "differently." They will wonder, what else are you going to do differently?

        Secondly, I think that these letters could create pointless awkwardness. Unless you are asking for a deposit with the letter, really people are under no obligation to follow through, but you might end up creating an uncomfortable situation with someone ends up not wanting to follow through and feels guilty or awkward about it. You definitely don't want this to happen, because someone like that might be a great customer a year down the road (even if they flake out the first go round).

        Thirdly, I don't think letters of intent reflect the way people actually make the decision to move to a new facility. Most people--good clients especially--take their time about moving. The best clients that you get might end up coming to you AFTER your barn has been up and running for 6 months to a year. Those people will be dropping in to take a look at the facility AFTER it's up and running to check out the footing (I've seen people spend ridiculous amounts on footing and still end up with issues), check out the stalls, meet your staff, etc. What I'm saying is that good clients are not the type to barn hop. Good clients, even if they think your place is great and are genuinely considering moving, aren't the type to hastily move horses because of a "grass is greener" situation. You are going to have to be more patient.

        If I were you, I'd build what size facility YOU want. I would not build extra stalls because of the wants or needs of other people. Think about staffing, wear and tear, how much traffic you want. If you aren't in a position to need boarders for financial reasons, I would consider keeping the number more limited. Then, I would definitely keep people posted via social media (or whatever medium you intend to use) regarding the progress of your building and you can certainly create a list of people who are interested in spots. As you get closer to actually opening the facility (within a couple of months) if someone does indeed want to reserve a spot, I would allow them to sign a boarding contract with a specified start date and accept a deposit for about 1/2 of a month's board. If I were you I would be VERY lenient about ripping up contracts and returning checks if anyone changes their mind.

        And I would plan to take six months to a year to fill the facility. This might vary, but I think that building a base of quality clientele is more important than getting stalls filled quickly, given the information you have shared.


        • #44
          Originally posted by TheMoo View Post
          OP I think you can answer your own question. Would you be willing to sign a letter of intent and if so under what conditions? If not, well there's your answer.
          OP, remind me why you'd build these extra stalls? Because folks asked for them, and it would take no money or anything else out of your hide to accommodate them? Because you see a way to make money with those stalls? Because building them to fill with boarders now means that later, you can shift their use over to the more lucrative business you do want-- the sales and leasing part?

          I have seen just one barn owner do well in a market where there was pent up demand. She charges about 30% more than her competition, and still doesn't make money at the boarding piece. Rather, she (and her grateful boarders) feed better, bed better, do more blanketing and maintain better footing than her competition. But she still finds herself having to do the "customer care" part of the boarding business, and that's necessary PITA. And her barn, at 18 stalls and what this market seems to bear** (and restrictive land-use law), isn't quite big enough to allow for a full-time employee.

          **At 30% above what other barns are charging, and no boarder batting an eye when that price was raised in a big leap after her first year in business, I'm not sure where the limit is. But the relevant point for you, OP is this-- if the standard of care in your area is so low that no one has seen (or paid for) anything like what you want to do, I think your Letters of Intent won't mean diddly. That's because when you finally do your costing, you might price out those people who have gotten accustomed to paying what board costs in your area. So, with no potential board price in the letter, those guys are not making an informed promise. And, in a market with low standards of care, you see what you saw; People leaping at the chance to go somewhere new, hoping it will be better than what they know is out there.

          Back to my BO who was successful with "building better". To date, she has not seen a reason to pay more than the minimum going rate in the area to lots of horsey girls (20-something women) who want part time work. But that labor pool leaves a lot to be desired.... for me as a boarder paying a premium and getting inconsistency and lack of communication, and for the BO who hated having to supervise her workers plus answer to boarders.

          I eventually left because when the BO threatened to close the boarding down (because she didn't financially need us and the labor was a PITA), I realized how vulnerable I was: This was the best quality care, but I could never know when it would go away, so I couldn't afford to stay if I, say, gave up a spot in the second-best barn and found myself competing with her other boarders for spots in lesser and lesser barns.

          All I'm saying is:

          1. Have a good reason to build extra stalls and boarding alone doesn't seem to be that. In fact, my BO didn't plan on boarding when she bought a 16 stall barn for her own personal training and sales business. Rather, she wanted the huge indoor, they had the money to spend and that's how many stalls it came with..... plus, people begged her to let them board there since the barn and ring were known in the area. She built the extra 2 about 4 months before threatening to shut the whole thing down... go figure.

          2. I don't think a Letter of Intent will have meaning for you or for your boarder until you do some detailed costing and pick a boarding price. Had I been my BO (and confident of the pent up demand), I'd pick that higher price that I know would make me and my labor pool happy, and I'd be up front about that being the boarding price. Those who think you are out of your mind charging, say, 50% more are not the people you'd build these stalls for. If, on the other hand, you have 11 people not blinking when you name your price, then, yes, you have a legit market for what you want to do, other local barns' experience not withstanding.

          3. When people don't need the money that comes from boarding (if there is any), it will most likely not continue as a business. When people are asked if they want something good without a price attached, they don't behave in reliable, business-like ways, either!
          Last edited by mvp; Feb. 7, 2019, 12:53 AM.
          The armchair saddler
          Politically Pro-Cat


          • #45
            Is there any way you can develop your facility with a vision and plan for future expansion if the market demands it? Build the 15 stalls you were originally planning, but meet with a professional to design a layout so that an additional 10 stalls could be integrated into the facility in the future if needed.

            A lot of pros have taken this approach. Some may put up a shedrow or outer row of stalls, I've seen other barns built in an "L" shape, then converted into a "U" shape as an additional aisle of stalls were added. Or you could just tack more stalls on to the end of the aisle.

            Letter or no letter, I don't think you should abandon your original business plan because a lot of people have expressed interest. Especially since boarding was never your primary interest.

            I don't know how true this statement is, but many years ago, I worked for a private farm that was expanding from 10 stalls to 20 stalls. The husband, a real estate lawyer, hated the idea. He recognized that his wife's business had grown to the point where the expansion was justified and was supportive of her. But his concern was that the more stalls you build, the more you devalue your property. They are expensive to build and serve a specialized purpose, limiting the potential buyers out there who are willing to pay what they are actually worth. I'm probably paraphrasing this badly, but the idea was that you should not build more stalls than you absolutely need. He always said that going over 20 stalls was risky real estate, I don't know if he was right, but I can at least appreciate his sentiment.
            Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO


            • #46
              Texarkana that is very accurate. I have waited to build my indoor until my husband has tenure and we have decided to stay where we are until retirement because I will never get back all the money it will cost. However, it makes sense because it will allow me to enjoy the property and ride an additional 5 months a year for the next 20-30 years. It is not a sound real estate decision when it comes to recouping that value at time of sale.

              I also am designing it so the stalls could easily be removed and converted into a shop, etc. my property is a little odd as we have a nice house too where the vast majority of the value is. But it makes the market for this property 1. Very narrow and 2. Expensive for the neighborhood. It will take forever to sell should we decide to do that someday.


              • #47
                Hi OP,

                1. I think a LOI is odd, and in MY location and situation most likely would not sign one- or would want to have a sit down with the property owner (that's just me)

                2. You can always ask if people are willing to sign one. They either will or won't.

                3. As for size- since finances are not a barrier (can't say how jealous I am of this)- I'd think like this:
                - I have X personal horses. I am going to keep X stalls extra for myself- a swing stall sort to speak
                - I am offering something lacking in my area. I have had X people express interest. X people may not follow through.
                - I can do X stalls comfortably

                4. I am guessing from your posts that you have considered all the other factors: electric, hay, water, back-up help (or help period), equipment, taxes, feed, vet capacity, farrier capacity, barn management and hours etc.

                I am saying it never hurts to ask. Some barns ask for first and last months board up front, not everyone is in to that either.

                If it gives you peace of mind, the worst that will happen is people won't want to sign.

                Good luck. I look forward to hearing about the endeavor!
                Come to the dark side, we have cookies


                • #48
                  Originally posted by Pennywell Bay View Post
                  Hi OP,

                  1. I think a LOI is odd,!
                  it is at least in this case it appears even the thought of requesting a letter of intent has been an excellent marketing tool, where there was no interest now everyone is talking about this new facility....and its exclusiveness, which the letter would provide.

                  I would think in most any market there will be five to ten who would want to be included no matter what the cost just to say..." oh, yes my horse(s) will be at XYZ .... isn't your's?"

                  just as people pay over $10,000 for a saddle were one being a few thousand is just as good but fails to have that exclusive mark... it is just another Rolex verses Timex deal


                  • #49
                    Originally posted by clanter View Post

                    it is at least in this case it appears even the thought of requesting a letter of intent has been an excellent marketing tool, where there was no interest now everyone is talking about this new facility....and its exclusiveness, which the letter would provide.

                    I would think in most any market there will be five to ten who would want to be included no matter what the cost just to say..." oh, yes my horse(s) will be at XYZ .... isn't your's?"

                    just as people pay over $10,000 for a saddle were one being a few thousand is just as good but fails to have that exclusive mark... it is just another Rolex verses Timex deal
                    "I" thought a letter of intent is odd-in my location-and I have not heard of it for a barn situation- (as in my post). It isn't a contract, it can't be legally enforced- it only signifies the signee has a serious intention of doing something specific- in this case boarding.

                    People have a hard enough time keeping to signed, legal contracts for boarding. I'd have a hard time thinking some horse people would adhere to something not legally binding.

                    In the horse world- I'd like to see see how is has been and excellent marketing tool, as in Post 8 there hasn't been any market research. No letter has been sent- as per post 8, OP was trying to figure out how to gauge serious interest other than "I"d totally come".

                    My response: do it and they may or may not sign it and then MY reality of being in the business. I'm not disputing the legitimacy of LOI, just how it may not be applicable in this situation.

                    You are entitled to your opinion.
                    Come to the dark side, we have cookies


                    • #50
                      Texarkana I think your point about considering the real estate implications to the decision is a wise one. As a BO who doesn't rely on boarding income, I think the main considerations should be bigger picture type matters, and creating a facility that would be re-sellable in the future is definitely on that list. An equestrian facility is a huge real estate investment. I really like Texarkana's suggestions about building the initial facility and having a space set aside to build another shed row, or building an "equipment barn" that could be nicely retrofitted with a row of stalls.

                      I do have a question for the OP, though. If your business is based on sales, etc., why even have boarders? Boarders are only money makers if you, the BO, are the primary trainer who makes training and sales commissions off of this captive clientele. Obviously you can, and should take a percentage of training fees and sales commissions that are earned on your property, but these types of deals can be difficult to navigate. Sometimes clients and trainers don't like the idea of part of their training fees or commissions going to the barn owner--all you have to do is read this board to see that there is a significant number of people who think that is "double dipping" since the BO is already collecting board--never mind that anyone who knows anything knows that boarding is a loss-leader used to get clients who will spend $$ on other services. And, of course, it's quite a hassle to have boarders vs. just having your own horses...just some thoughts to consider.


                      • #51
                        Originally posted by BeeHoney View Post
                        Texarkana I think your point about considering the real estate implications to the decision is a wise one. As a BO who doesn't rely on boarding income, I think the main considerations should be bigger picture type matters, and creating a facility that would be re-sellable in the future is definitely on that list.
                        I might add some insight, I do not know the OP or just where they stand wealth-wise but I had a client who when I expressed my concern regarding what he was spending on his personal residence's entry gate system which was topping out at close to the same as prison system's cost... he just smiled telling me to not worry as he made $180 million a year and could afford I just kept working.

                        oh forgot while we talking about my concern on what he was spending he noticed he did not have his briefcase... he picks up his cell phone to make a call to his pilot asking is the Falcon put away in the hanger? Good that its not, I need you fly back down to the Caymans and pick up my briefcase that I left .... I just had to ask, you know you could have that shipped by...again he smiled saying his flight crew need the airtime

                        We actually got a long very well, he had to complain about me ruining his highly prized imported professionally trained personal protection guard dogs who kept laying in my lap while I was trying to check his equipment
                        Last edited by clanter; Feb. 8, 2019, 12:41 PM.


                        • #52
                          Build barns with stalls that can easily be converted into tiny apartments when equestrian use of the property is no longer feasible - so all the people who spent money on horses instead of funding their retirements will have familiar places to live.


                          • #53
                            Originally posted by Groom&Taxi View Post
                            Build barns with stalls that can easily be converted into tiny apartments when equestrian use of the property is no longer feasible - so all the people who spent money on horses instead of funding their retirements will have familiar places to live.
                            Post of the century.

                            Where do I get on the waiting list to live out retirement in a horse stall?