High effort, low profit: Tips on turning your equestrian business around

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Photo by Kayla Farmer

Tracy Dopko (BA, DipEqS), the instructor for the University of Guelph’s Equine Marketing and Communication course, looks at why marketing is so important for equestrian businesses.

There is an old saying, “How do you make a million dollars in the horse world? Start with two million.” Anyone who is active in the equine industry can definitely vouch for this statement. But why is this statement true? Why is the equine industry notorious for high-effort, low-profit?

The answer is very simple. Most people who start up an equine business do so because they love horses, not business. As a result, they have little or no understanding of pricing, profit margins or marketing. All they know is that they love working with horses and want to turn their passion into a business. Unfortunately, the equine industry requires far more skill and talent to succeed. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.

Marketing isn’t simply an important part of business success; it is the business. Everything else in the business relies upon marketing. Most businesses would not exist without marketing because it is the act of marketing that ultimately sells products and services. At a basic level, marketing is the process of understanding your customers, and building and maintaining relationships with them.

Importance of personal branding

When we think about the equine industry, personal branding is necessary for individuals such as coaches, trainers, farriers, and massage therapists. It is important to understand that personal branding is not about the individual at all, but about delivering value to your customers.

  • Think of yourself as a business of one
  • If you have a business, you need a brand
  • Personal branding is your way of developing your reputation

If branding is about what people think about you, then reviews and testimonials can have an impact on how your business is perceived. There are many factors that help a customer decide whether or not to use your services. Customers frequently rely on recommendations from friends and online research before purchasing a product or service because they demonstrate if you have fulfilled your promise to your current customers. The growth and life span of your business is directly tied to your business’s reputation.

It is fair to say your business reputation determines your brand equity, which is the value of having a recognized brand. As a result, a large portion of marketing activities should be geared towards building the brand equity of your company. A business’s reputation is considered to be successful when it meets the expectations of its customers effectively. Customers then feel the business is a responsible member of the community, and they become proud to be associated with their products and services. This gives them the confidence to buy more from you and become loyal customers.

Learn who your competitors are

Understanding who your competitors are will help you determine the strengths and weaknesses of other businesses offering similar services in your area. You need to gather information about competitors, which lets you know what your business is facing, how competitive the market is, and allows you to determine any gaps in services that you could potentially fill.

The competitiveness within the equine industry can make it difficult for a business to stand out from its competitors. It becomes essential that you create a brand that is seen as unique and distinct. It is not about having the lowest price compared to your competitors. It is about how you do things and the unique value you can offer your customers that is different from your competitors.

Key take-aways
  • Marketing isn’t simply an important part of business success; it is the business.
  • Marketing a business within the equine industry comes with some unique challenges.
  • Personal branding is your way of developing your reputation.
  • Brand differentiation is ensuring your business is distinct from the competition.

» The University of Guelph’s 12-week online course, Equine Marketing and Communication, runs from January 11 to April 4. Sign up here.

 Tracey Dopko
Tracey Dopko

Tracy Dopko completed her Equine Studies Diploma (with distinction), Equine Business Certificate (with distinction) and Equine Science Certificate (with distinction) all in one year with the University of Guelph. Upon graduating, she was invited back as a guest speaker for the Equine Marketing and Communication course and eventually took over as its full-time instructor. She has a Bachelor’s Degree with distinction from the University of Guelph.

Dopko is an accomplished rider, breeder, trainer and senior judge and steward with both Equestrian Canada and the United States Equestrian Federation.

She sits on various equine committees in both Canada and the United States and gives regular equine clinics throughout North America. She owns and operates a successful Equine Appraisal/Equine Expert Witness business, is a freelance writer and runs a web design and social media marketing company. 

Dopko and her husband own and operate Daventry Equestrian just outside of Edmonton, Alberta and focus on breeding, training and showing warmbloods, pony hunters and Welsh Cobs.

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