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Really weird idea: letter of intent for potential boarders?

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  • Really weird idea: letter of intent for potential boarders?

    i have a dilemma. I am building a barn due to popular demand in my area and to service my own needs. I am trying to decide between 15, 20 or 25 stalls. I was thinking 15 but then people started coming out of the woodwork saying "if you are building in that area, count me in! Definitely save me a stall!"
    well we all know how people are prone to flake. I want to get my barn started and I don't want additional co at ruction at a later date as this is also going to run as a very professional sales barn. Has anyone ever heard of asking boarders to sign some type of letter of intent? Is that crazy? Thanks for any advice.

  • OverandOnward
    replied
    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?

    Leave a comment:


  • Groom&Taxi
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • clanter
    replied
    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 this....so 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, 11:41 AM.

    Leave a comment:


  • BeeHoney
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • Pennywell Bay
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • clanter
    replied
    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

    Leave a comment:


  • Pennywell Bay
    replied
    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!

    Leave a comment:


  • fordtraktor
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • Texarkana
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • mvp
    replied
    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. 6, 2019, 11:53 PM.

    Leave a comment:


  • BeeHoney
    replied
    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.

    Leave a comment:


  • clanter
    replied
    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?

    Leave a comment:


  • Guilherme
    replied
    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.

    G.

    Leave a comment:


  • fordtraktor
    replied
    OP, I can't advise you specifically but will tell you what I am doing.

    I have an existing small boarding facility with 8 horses, 4 of which are boarders. I am adding a very nice indoor and an additional barn area as well (as an addition, not in the indoor but attached and some additional fencing). I have decided to cap at 15 capacity but I am really targeting 12. That is something I can manage myself on a daily basis.

    i have done this for a number of reasons. First, I do not want to rely on a daily employee. That raises costs substantially if you do it right. It is also a PITA.

    I also don't want my private home to become a zoo. Right now my boarders are mostly retirees. The additional horses will likely be part of a small training program. I don't want a million lessons, etc. the rest of my family is not horsey at all, and I want the farm to feel like a home. 3-4 additional owners only will preserve the private feel. I am also very selective, only take experienced people with no drama.

    i also am realistic and my top of the market prices will not work for more than a subset of local riders. Honestly, most of my retiree boarders are long distance from high COL areas who want a personal touch for their retirees, and full service like blanketing, hoof picking, free choice hay and private meals, etc. I am not willing to take a loss or compromise on horse care standards. I can also preserve my amateur status because there is no temptation to ride them, they are retired!

    So for me, the 12-15 number works. My family farm where I grew up is the same (dad has 14 now).

    i have out feelers out and at the risk of being premature could have all my new stalls filled. But if that doesn't work out, I am confident I can find other clients. I wouldn't do a LOI. I mean, who knows what anyone's circumstances will be in 6-8 months when I am ready to open the new barn.

    I do make a small profit on the boarders but have a few sales horses. Unfortunately I have had some bad luck in the past on a couple projects. I am definitely INTENDING to make a profit but man plans, the horse gods laugh. That is good enough for the IRS. Everything I own is for sale for a good offer except the mare my kids ride (and I may well let an in house trainer use her for lessons for a percentage).

    Leave a comment:


  • Lucassb
    replied
    Originally posted by APirateLooksAtForty View Post
    i have a dilemma. I am building a barn due to popular demand in my area and to service my own needs. I am trying to decide between 15, 20 or 25 stalls. I was thinking 15 but then people started coming out of the woodwork saying "if you are building in that area, count me in! Definitely save me a stall!"
    well we all know how people are prone to flake. I want to get my barn started and I don't want additional co at ruction at a later date as this is also going to run as a very professional sales barn. Has anyone ever heard of asking boarders to sign some type of letter of intent? Is that crazy? Thanks for any advice.
    I also live in an area where demand is high and supply is limited; most (good) barns have waiting lists and often boarders basically need referrals from other boarders or their trainer to get a stall when one becomes available (ie, the waiting list is not necessarily managed on a FIFO basis.)

    That said, I have never heard of a barn asking for a LOI or similar document, and would not sign one myself for a facility under construction. I would be concerned that the ask was an indication of potential financial instability and would also worry about whether the promised amenities would actually be delivered as promised. Please note OP, before you react to that statement, that I am not suggesting that *you* are not fully able to fund your facility nor suggesting you won't deliver on whatever facility description you have offered your potential boarders. I am merely telling you why I would not personally consider committing to a facility prior to being able to actually SEE the facility and judge the care, etc.

    Best of luck with your project.

    Leave a comment:


  • stryder
    replied
    Perhaps one idea would be to create a waiting list and offer a limited number of incentives for people to move in right away. Perhaps 6 months at reduced rates, or an extra service, or something. If I were in your market, and you and/or your trainer had a good reputation, I would be willing to move in when you opened. A modest discount would seem fair payment for the inconvenience of being among the first, because people do need a bigger sense of humor during the shake-out cruise, so to speak.

    That might accomplish the same thing as a letter of intent. If you've asked me to put down a deposit to hold my place line, so to speak, there would need to be provisions to protect both of us in case something happens. As in, my horse dies or you find out I'm bat**** crazy and you don't want me anywhere near your place.

    Your project sounds lovely, and it sounds like you're going in with the right expectations. Good luck!

    Leave a comment:


  • TheJenners
    replied
    No response to the OP because it's a beautiful sunny day and we are in between snow storms, and I have the day off...

    But imagine if you would the pleasure of having a tiny fortune to spend building a barn in a high-demand area, and also assume the tiny fortune gets you into some decent horses for sales/leasing... To me that actually sounds heavenly.

    Leave a comment:


  • OverandOnward
    replied
    OP - so if you really expected nothing from this board and found only one post of value -- why waste everyone's time asking in the first place? People of goodwill offered their thoughts. That's what this board is about. They don't deserve your insults because you don't like what they said, based on the limits you deliberately placed on your information. I think you owe it to yourself, as well as the board, to at least be polite. No one was trying to be less than polite to you, just offer their honest feedback based on their relevant experience.

    Leave a comment:


  • OverandOnward
    replied
    Not to the OP specifically but more generally ... what is this "market research" so many of you speak of as preferable to the "letter of intent"?

    True "market research" is not easily done on something like a boarding barn. Products that regularly have market research have a time-tested protocol in place and past stats to compare. There is a history of what results were valid indicators and what did not prove out in the market. The research is compiled by experienced researchers and analysts who are specialists in that field.

    Boarding barns are not one of those products, unless there is an area where boarding barns are hiring market researchers. There are certainly some good stats that can be pursued and termed "market research" for boarding barns. How many local horse events, what is their attendance, what do people spend, what other local board barns and their size and rates, etc.

    But without history on the research, what worked as an indicator and what didn't, the results will just be information. They won't be a clear indicator of a "go" or "no go" decision.

    Personally I think exploring other more specific means of gauging the level of interest was a good idea.

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