9 February 2023
Its a difficult time at the moment for yard owners, with increasing prices many are realising they are running unsustainable businesses, and the slow realisation they may be subsidising their liveries!
I see so often yard owners asking “what would you charge for x livery service in x area?” and the truth is… nobody knows. No yard owners should be asking anyone else what they should charge. No yard owner should be basing their own livery fees on the yard next door, or keeping their prices low because they feel they may lose liveries if they mention the slightest price increase. Each and every yard owner should be working out their own costs to the pence, working out what they need to be charging not only to cover costs, but to make a living, and only then should they be comparing to what other yards charge locally, purely as a market research activity!
Too many yard owners simply pluck a figure from the air based on what other yards charge. This is like the blind leading the blind. Whilst yards may look similar from the outside in terms of location, packages and facilities, they may be very different in terms of their financial or administrative set ups, funding, or multiple other differences that could mean their running costs are wildly different from another ‘comparable’ yards.
In recent years, LiveryList has tried hard to raise the issue of correct pricing by yard owners for their livery services, and for horse owners to understand who these prices can vary so much on seemingly similar yards. We have developed useful resources and guidance to help yard owners understand the importance of correctly pricing their services, and running a sustainable business. Below, we have tried to condense all of this guidance into one simple article, allowing you access to the resources and additional articles we’ve produced on this area of yard management. As always, all of the resources and guidance are completely free.
We also held a webinar in September 2022 that gives more detail and points of thought about livery pricing. A link to the presentation in PDF format is at the end of this article and well worth a look.
A Livery Yard is a Business. You are taking money in return for caring for and keeping equines. Thus, everything you do on your yard and within the scope of offering this service is undertaken ‘in the course of business’. This is even if you do so at home, if you only have one or two liveries, even if they belong to friends or family. As such, there is no such thing as a ‘private’ yard and there will be certain obligations you need to ensure you meet to trade lawfully! Additionally, every penny you spend or every minute of your time used in the running of your yard, and the provision of your services should be allocated as a business expense and taken into account when you work out your livery prices.
Calculate Your Prices Properly. You should know exactly what your yard costs you to run, and price your livery packages accordingly. If it’s a business, run it like one. Failure to do so only devalues the industry. To calculate your prices you need to factor in each and every single cost that contributes towards running your yard practically and administratively. You also need to factor in future cost increases, empty stables or a contingency for unseen issues such as repairs or replacements.
Article: How To Price Your Livery Services – Making A Profit From You… by Cheryl Johns – Livery List | Horsemart
Calculation Sheet (with prompts for outgoings): Template Calculation Sheet and Resources
What is a Viable Business? You yard should at least cover its costs, including paying you an hourly rate for your labour on the yard practically and administratively. Its not just about money in and money out in terms of what you charge, you should also regularly be assessing your costs, efficiency and ways that you can save. Consumables that fluctuate in cost and use (such as ad-lib hay or bedding for example) should be considered and managed accordingly so they are not costing more than they need to, regularly check renewal and supplier prices and consider if there is anything that can be done to add value to your livery services, and think if there are ways that the yard can be run more efficiently in order to save time or wages. Especially if you’re new to the industry, there is scope to make a lot of mistakes initially that can financially set you off chasing your tail from day one. Its worth taking a look at the below (or even if you’re an old hand yard owner it may trigger some interesting points!)
Finding the Right Clients. Offering livery isn’t about just filling stables, its about finding the right livery clients for your yard, who are willing to pay a fair fee for you to care for their horse. It is, after all, a huge responsibility, and to do so well is something that takes considerable experience and knowledge. If you calculate your costs and you’re higher than similar yards in your area, then its the perfect opportunity to think of ways you can add value to your livery services, amend your packages, offer something no one else does, or simply market better and to a different audience. Making you non-comparable to other yards is the key so if possible to find a niche market is ideal. You can also look into ways you can diversify within the structure of a yard to offer additional services that can boost your income and provide additional benefits for your liveries. Something that makes your yard desirable and draws in liveries willing to pay a little extra. Promote yourself well also. Think about how you yourself choose people to do work for you, such as a builder, hairdresser or gardener do you always choose the cheapest… probably not. I expect you base it on how well they communicate, their knowledge, if they have a decent website, perhaps they were recommended to you… truly its not all about price! Its about what you do, how well you do it and how well you tell people about it.
Article: How To Diversify Your Yard, Whilst Remaining A Yard by Cheryl Johns – Livery List | Horsemart
Article: Marketing Your Livery Yard Effectively by Cheryl Johns – Livery List | Horsemart
Article: Giving Your Livery Yard An Annual Review by Cheryl Johns – Livery List | Horsemart
Labour Costs. I’m not talking about staff, I’m talking about yard owners. So many yard owners do not factor in their own time when costing their yard. This should be worked out and a relative hourly rate apportioned to your costs. Remember, this is not only physical time on the yard, but administration time as well… promotion, invoicing, emails, orders, collections and deliveries. Any time spent in the course of running your yard should be included. I always suggest for one week a yard owner keeps a note of all time spent ‘running’ the yard, and guarantee they will be surprised by how soon it adds up. Factor in the national minimum wage (NMW) of around £10 an hour -and remembering this is the minimum wage that doesn’t take into account all of the experience and skill that goes into running a yard and business- and this soon adds up too. If you’re working even only 5 hours per day then that is £50 per day… £350 per week… £1520 per month… £18250 per year. If you’re not factoring this cost into your livery pricing then you’re simply a volunteer on your own yard.
Extra Services. Again I see so many requests about how much people charge for assisted services. The answer is the same… only each yard owner will know. Take turnout for example. One yard owner may turn out two well-mannered horses at a time, no rugs, no boots, in a paddock right next to the stables, another yard owner may need to take a six minute walk up a track to a paddock after they’ve spent ten minutes suiting and booting the horse that will then drag them all the way. Should they be charging the same? Again, its all about time. Working out how long these jobs take on average from the very start to the very end and working out on that hourly rate. What about favours or ‘quick jobs’ for liveries such as giving medication, holding for the vet or chucking in feeds. Would you do it for free if every owner on the yard asked the same of you? You simply must charge a fee accordingly. But, and its an important but, you also need to remember the convenience of these services meaning the horse owner saves time, fuel, muddy clothes and there has to be an added value to that as well as the base line of the time. No one should be doing anything for £1 or £2 these days, even more so if you’re given short notice. So decide on a suitable fee structure for your services, and stick to it.
Price Increases. All business raise their prices, and yard owners are no different. You should also implement annual or bi-annual price increases at least in line with inflation (usually 2-3%). Too many yard owners avoid price increases or calculating their costs when in fact many are well out of pocket and subsidising the hobby of their livery clients! You must remember that horse ownership is an option, not an obligation, and horse owners should be prepared to pay the true cost of keeping a horse, rather than yard owners holding off price increases to reflect their own price rises in case they are then “too expensive”. If you have a bi annual livery increase in your contracts, then your livery clients will be aware, and that gives you a twice yearly opportunity to review your outgoings and bring your livery fees back in line. That is much more preferable to the common error of putting it off until you need to do an unavoidable huge leap in prices. And in situations like we have had currently, with unforeseen huge leaps in costs, despite having a livery contract in place with fees stated you are still within your right to increase your fees outside of standard price increases as long as you give your clients at least 30-days notice. You don’t need to give explanations about price rises either, your hairdresser or plumber wouldn’t. the simplest response to any questions about why, or how you got to your figures can simply be summed up in one sentence “We’ve had no option but to increase our prices in line with our increases costs to ensure we can continue to provide the levels of service and provisions our clients would expect of us”. Simple.
Article: Dealing With Livery Yard Price Increases by Cheryl Johns – Livery List | Horsemart
Template Price Increase Letter: Livery Agreement Guidance for Livery Yards and Equestrian Industry | Livery List
Getting the Message to Horse Owners. One of the most difficult factors is feeling you need to justify why you charge what you do to your clients. But you shouldn’t need to. You wouldn’t ask a hairdresser for a breakdown of their costs before your appointment just because they charge slightly more than they used to, or more than the one down the road! The better you run your business the better credibility you have and rightly so the more you can charge. The biggest point to make is to question why some yards aren’t charging that much. Some yards are indeed lucky to have certain financing or lower overheads allowing them to offer genuinely cheaper livery, but the reality is a huge number of the cheaper yards aren’t run professionally in terms of the insurances, or the taxes or business rates, and often tend to offer a lower standard of care and welfare, and less experience from the yard owner. We’ve also published some guidance for horse owners seeking livery, to help explain to them why some yards may be charging less, and what they should be looking for when choosing a new yard. These would be useful for a read through as they can offer insight as to what horse owners should and may be considering when choosing a yard.
Article:Finding Livery For Your Horse – Making The Right Decision by Cheryl Johns – Livery List | Horsemart
Article: Looking For Cheap Livery? Discover The True Cost Of Running … by Cheryl Johns – Livery List | Horsemart
Article: Moving Livery Yards – Is The Grass Always Greener? by Cheryl Johns – Livery List | Horsemart
Article: Yard Owners and Horse Owners Must Work together in Light of … by Cheryl Johns – Livery List | Horsemart
In September 2022, we ran a hugely popular webinar attended by over 300 yard owners on the topic of Pricing and Price increases. you can view the presentation in PDF format here: https://bit.ly/LiveryPricingWebinar
You can find numerous resources on all aspects of yard management- both practically and administratively- on the LiveryList Yard Owner Hub. This includes template livery contracts and guidance, client documentation, business support, welfare guidance, facility management… all completely free to download and use in PDF or Word format. This Hub is a unique and invaluable resource for yard owners, supported by numerous equestrian organisations, businesses and charities.
Sign up to receive our latest news and product updates.