Monthly Archives: April 2009

Operations Manuals For Horse Businesses

It's spring in my part of the world and
that means an abundance of water.  Melted from ice and snow and delivered
by relentless rains, water is everywhere.  Motionless water is
standing in low pastures, puddled in driveway potholes and trapped in my leaky
rubber boots.        

There is water in motion as well:
trickling, flowing or roaring toward larger bodies of water.  Nature sees
to it that water stays in motion without instructions.  It goes wherever
gravity chooses to send it.  Natural flow for water is easy to see and
understand; it's downhill and usually along an obvious, well carved path. 

Ideally, the work in your business should
have natural flow to it just like running water, resistance free along a
clear path.  But in many businesses, work flows like ketchup from a
bottle.
  Following inverted shaking, taps and slaps, the ketchup
bottle temporarily spurts and drips an appeasing amount, very similar to the
way some employees respond to the boss's instructions.

Workers (assistants,
volunteers, family) often have difficulty maintaining work flow because the
path, that is what to do next and how to do it, is unknown.  They're
trapped like water in a low spot in a field, waiting for a drainage ditch for
guidance.

 
Sure, you've told them, more than once,
in different ways when and how to do things.  But, most likely the
instructions you gave were in your own concise language.  You see the
problem with your concise language is that it's too concise, lacking details
and only presented in one way and in your style.

Consider your assignment of the task:  sweep the barn.  You have the
mental image of a swept barn and it's done according to your standard.
 
The recipient of the order is now faced with many decisions:
 

What broom?

Where is it?

Where to start?

Sweepings into stalls or
into a shovel or out the door?

Sweep the feed and tack
rooms, too?

How much sweeping, rough,
medium or squeaky clean?

Sweep behind trunks and
under mats?

Catch cobwebs too?

What about horses cross-tied
in the aisle in my way?

Where does the broom get
stored when done?

 
The process of sweeping, simple at first glance, is filled with
decisions.  The other work tasks in your business require decisions
too:  Feeding hay, turnout groups, when to blanket, how often to check
water buckets and scrub, greeting customers, cleaning tack, taking messages,
fueling the tractor, filing receipts, loading the trailer for the show and so
on.
 
Unclear expectations about work and how to do it by the owner, guarantee
inconsistent performance in job completion by the employee.

 
Well defined expectations in the form of an operations manual for your
business will help communicate the order in which to do work and the steps
necessary to complete it.
 
WAIT, before you stop reading, an operations manual doesn't have
to be difficult to produce! 
 
Be easy on yourself and your employees, construct the manual one part at a
time.  Start with feeding, or stall cleaning or cleaning tack.  Begin
with a notepad and take notes on the process and what's important.  Use
your digital camera to take photos of what a clean stall looks like, the right
level of bedding to maintain in the stall and the image of a rack full of clean
bridles with sparkling bits.
 
The photos will save hours of writing and explain certain parts of operations
more easily than words.  Draw on the photos if that helps explain. 
Don't go to extreme details at first.

Describing eleven ways to operate a rake in the barnyard may be
overkill.  Add detail, or better yet, have your employees add detail as
they analyze the process.
 
Operations manuals are often associated only with large corporations like
McDonalds, Starbucks or Wal*Mart.  

Small businesses have less room for error than  large corporations;
lean with employee numbers by economic necessity, there are no extra people in
small businesses to pick up the slack for low productivity.
 
An operations manual is the basic support for a system to allow work
to flow like water
on a clear path.  Your development of systems for
your business will help:
 

  •   minimize conflicts between employees
  •   create consistency in quality of work done
  •   speed the completion of work
  •   reduce training time for new hires
  •   minimize worry while you're out of town


Let me know your results.

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Is Discretionary Income Shrinking and How Will It Affect Your Horse Business?

If your customer is employed, receiving the same steady
paycheck as eighteen months ago, is there any change in discretionary income?

 

No.

 

If  Discretionary
income = Gross income – taxes – necessities, then the dollars are still
available to spend.  The change in D.I.
is fear. Fear has changed the customer's attitude about spending money on
horses.

 

In conjunction with your marketing program, sell the value
you offer in your business.  You provide
much more to the boarding customer than a clean and bedded stall, feed and
water.  You offer atmosphere, community
and emotional relief in the form of recreation. 
A therapy that is most effective and greatly undervalued.  Your lesson program offers much more than an
improved seat or better lead changes, it offers personal growth, achievement,
and confidence building which are benefits hard to find for youth and adults.

 

Periodic, thoughtful review of your sources of horse
business revenue and their related expenses help make sound business decisions
in all economies.  This work can be
ignored more easily in good times because there is forgiveness due to greater
perceived amounts of discretionary income.

 

Focus your horse business enterprises on the customer groups
with the ability to pay and understand the complete value you offer.

 

You can find tips on operating a successful horse business
at my site www.ProfitableHorseman.com

The Secret of How to Deliver the Best Quality and the Best Service at the Lowest Prices

The Secret of how to deliver the best quality and
service at the lowest prices: 




You
can't.


Yet, so many
business owners try.  I've tried, you've tried or maybe you are
still trying.

As an example,
I've stayed in a lot of hotels. You probably have, too.  They've
ranged from discount national chains to luxurious and pricey
Ritz-Carltons.    And, I've never gotten Ritz-Carlton
accommodations and service at a budget hotel. But, I didn't expect to get it
either.  In the hotel industry and other industries, consumers have
reasonable expectations for quality and service in consideration of the price
charged.

That's not always the case in the horse
industry.
  Sometimes, the customer is not educated in the
ranges of quality and service offered and makes no evaluation of the fairness of
price because she has no experience to judge by.

As a person in business, you
want to deliver the best boarding care,
the best lesson program or the best training program at a price that is
affordable to everyone. After all, you consider many of your customers as your
friends and want to give them a break.

 But you
want the impossible
.  It defies logic to try to deliver top
quality product (think boarding, lessons, training) and outstanding customer
service at discount rates.

 Because the
relationship between the three factors: quality, service and price is
established as a law of business.   You can have two out of the
three
, but not all three.

You can
provide the best quality and the best service but not at the "best" or
lowest price.  When you offer low price, it is delivered only with
either okay service or okay quality; there simply isn't enough margin in the
sale to deliver any more than that. For example:

The discount boarding barn might have to skimp on
bedding or hay quality to stay in business,

The $20.00 a session riding instructor starts her
riding lessons 40 minutes late because her disrespecting students value her time
as if she is a twenty dollar riding instructor or,

The owner of a
"one month training miracle" horse finds
her horse canters on command, but seldom on the correct lead.

If your business profits are
skinny, consider if you are attempting to deliver the highest level services at
the lowest prices.

If that is the case and you want to bring about
change, your two options
are:
 
1. Reduce your level of service to match value and
price.

 
2. Increase your fees to a level appropriate for
the service you offer.

 
Looks simple in writing,
doesn't it?  So do something about
it!

 
But wait, I forgot!  There is
a third choice.  That is to do nothing and struggle with the finances of
your business in a battle you cannot win.

If you liked this post, you should subscribe to my free newsletter about the horse business.     You can subscribe at www.ProfitableHorseman.com

Operations Manual for Horse Businesses

I've been doing some thinking about operations manuals for horse businesses.  A few, I suspect very few, have them.

Most horse businesses and small businesses in general have none.  The default ops manual then becomes the Nike tag line:  Just do it!

"Just do it!" works, but only if the employee understands the core principles of the system.  And with many horse businesses, inexperienced and untrained employees are the norm.  Self starters are rare and kick starters are too common. 

Starting an Operations manual with three pages may be all you need to get going.  If you are a writer, keep adding items.  If not, find an employee who will.   The exercise and process of creating the manual will help you evaluate wasted motion, unnecessary habits and highlight processes that work well.

Employees want to do things right.  You need to make clear to them the right things to do.