In the summer of 2007, The Equiery invited all the stables (over 500) in Maryland that offered either lessons or boarding to participate in a market study. Barn owners were surveyed about amenities, services and rates. Immediately after completing the survey, Maryland went into a severe drought, which not only reduced the hay supply drastically, but forced many horse owners accustomed to lush fall pastures to start haying horses months earlier than usual. Supply went down, demand went up and hay prices went through the roof.
The drought was followed by skyrocketing fuel prices, which resulted in the increased costs of everything: utilities, grain, sawdust and shavings, manure removal, etc.
Our data was dated before we could do anything with it.
We decided to do a follow up study after one year to see how these cost increases affected our survey participants - and the results were interesting. Barn owners were clearly struggling with where to find a profit margin. Clients cut back a little, maybe didn't haul their horses away as much, but by and large, customer demand was stable; the challenge for barn owners was not loss of business but rather figuring out what to charge to cover the escalating costs.
Just as soon as we finished those results, the environment changed yet again. Weather-wise, it was a wonderful year for pasture and many farmers had bumper cuttings of hay, ensuring a plentiful and reasonably priced selection for winter. Fuel prices stabilized and folks started driving again.
Then the stock market crashed, layoffs began, and Bernie made off with everyone's money! Although costs had stabilized (and had even come down a little), the stable client base was suddenly not so stable. For the majority of horse owners in Maryland, horses are luxuries that get reconsidered when their owners can't pay their mortgages.
Prior to this turn of events, the most interesting tidbit that we learned last summer was that about 50% of the stables had not raised rates. However, of those, most were in the process of crunching the numbers and assumed that they would have to raise their rates over the winter.
And at this point, we have no idea how ARMs and other creative mortgages are going to play out in horse business.
We decided to make this a THREE year study! We want to know whether or not those who were planning to raise their rates this past winter decided against it, and if so, why? If they did raise their rates, if so, by how much and how did it affect their business?
We will follow up again this summer and see what kind of a toll this economic roller coaster has ultimately had on the horse industry.
Fast Facts From The Equiery's Stable Study
State Wide Averages 2008 vs. 2007
~ Full Care Stall Board: $459 (up 7%)
~ Full Care Stall Board with Training: $915 (up 5%)
~ Self Care Stall: $254 (up 35%)
~ Part Care Stall: $150 (down 14%)
~ Self Care Field: $225 (up 11%)
~ Full Care Field: $280 (up 6.5%)
3 Most Expensive Counties for Full Care Stall Board (average rates)
#1: Montgomery: $591 (up 10%)
#2: Prince George's: $545 (up 13%)
#3: Anne Arundel: $505 (up 10%)
Most common services in these counties included in the rate are scheduling routine appointments, holding for vet and farrier and administering meds. Most common amenities were indoor arena, matted stalls, board or vinyl fencing and runin sheds.
Most Affordable Counties for Full Care Stall Board
~ Allegany: $120 (up 20%)
~ Garrett: $237 (up 9%)
Counties In Which Average Board Rates Decreased
~ Harford: $331 (down 5%)
~ Kent: $300 (down 8%)
Counties In Which Average Board Rates Are Holding Steady
~ Baltimore: $475
~ Calvert: $445
~ Caroline: $350
~ Frederick: $393
6% of the stables had closed, but of those, 5% blamed it on the economy, while the other 1% said they closed for personal reasons.
Most stable owners said that their boarding business remained steady, but that their boarders were taking their horses to fewer off-farm activities.
A small percentage of stable owners reported an increase in business last summer, and the most common reasons cited were: the barn offered lots of activities, so owners had moved their horses there in order to reduce trailering; the barn offered inexpensive schooling shows that drew in competitors who opted not to drive to the farther away rated shows; the boarding rates were slightly less than their competitors; their Equiery advertising was working (honestly, that is what they told us!).
Reasons For Not Raising - or Planning to Raise - Board Rates
Either the barn owners grew their own hay or owed nothing on the land and buildings and thus could absorb the cost increases, or both.
How is the economy affecting YOUR horse business?
~ Do you have a supply business? A retail business? A service business? Or a barn business?
~ What's up? What's down? Share your thoughts or stories with us! Confidentiality will be honored.
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