How do you handle visitors to your barn? This question has an easy answer for some instructors, while it’s a nightmare for others.

What Kind of Business Do You Have?

All programs should have a plan in mind for how to cultivate clientele from inquiries. This is easier, if your barn has a staff, but difficult if you are a sole entrepreneur instructor. Believe it or not, the first visit to your facility will set the tone for the future relationship with the individual.

A barn that has a staff can mean one that has multiple instructors and trainers, stall staff, and a secretary all the way down to the barn that has an instructor and one other person working on stalls. Each situation needs a plan for how to conduct visits.

But what about the sole entrepreneur who is also the stall staff? Visitors that should be welcomed can become a nightmare that pulls you away from a lesson, finds you up to your pitchfork in muck, or just wastes valuable time.

An instructor who wants to keep a full student list must view every person that stops at their barn as a potential customer. Even the person who drops in for a chat or directions can spread the word about your program.

My best suggestion for the sole entrepreneur instructor is to post a sign, include a statement on your roadside sign, or in your Facebook page, website or other forms of advertising, that tells visitors that you require an appointment. You can use super friendly language or you can be terse. It all depends on the tone you want to portray.

A program with staff has the luxury of assigning someone to barn tours whether it be the secretary or one of the other instructors.

Drop-in Visitors Can Be Inconvenient

Let’s face it. Drop in visitors are rarely convenient and their actions can be unpredictable. Sometimes a visitor will stand in your parking area looking around for direction. This is a perfect time to post a sign. “Please make an appointment for a tour” “Please check in with the secretary.” “Please come to the riding arena for visitor directions” or “Please leave your name and number and I will contact you about a visit.” Have a whiteboard and marker, or a clipboard and pen nearby.

The worse scenario is for a stranger to come into your place of business and wander around. This is unsafe for the visitor and your animals, and it may be difficult on insurance claims. And by the way, I highly recommend that you post your state’s equestrian statutes in multiple obvious places. Check out this link if you are unsure of your state’s liability laws.

The Things You Don't Want Them to See

Even though we’d like our facilities to be pristine, there is always at least one place on a facility that you don’t want visitors to see without an explanation. For example, older horses can be hard keepers. They may not keep muscle tone and their flesh like they did as youngsters, especially if they are Thoroughbreds. But these horses can be valuable for starting beginners, or in the case of schoolmasters, for lending their experience to eager learners. It’s better to explain this situation rather than have a rumor spread that you don’t feed your horses enough.

And then there is the visitor who cases your place. As much as I don’t like to say this and wish it weren’t true, once certain people see a tack room filled with saddles, you may come back a few weeks later and find that tack room empty, especially if you live in an area with sale barns.

Establish Your Brand

The drop-in visit or the visitor appointment is the first opportunity to establish your brand, your image, and your future standards for relationships. Consider how you will conduct barn visits. This has to do with your attitude and your brand. Do you see your program as a family opportunity where everyone, kids, Grandma, and dogs are welcomed? Is your program extra professional and you expect visitors to already have checked out their riding goals before they visit? Or do you focus on establishing the one-on-one relationship with clients? Are you liability focused and require a release signed before visitors can tour?

Plan the Miscl

Decide what you want to show to a potential client. Will you have them observe part of a lesson? Will they get to meet the horses?

Will you have dress requirements? Just how far will you allow the mother who says she rode as a kid but is wearing sandals to go into your facility?

How will you talk to families who bring their children with them? Or their dogs? I’ve had visitors assume my barn was the place for their dog to have a run in the country.

When to Stop, When to Go

How far will you take your prospect through the lesson sign up process? Will you have a packet of information for them? If so, what will be in the packet? Or will you direct them to your website for information. Will you explain the cost of their potential commitment? Do you plan on taking them all the way through the sign-up process to schedule their first lesson? Do you have a “try it” package for those who are unsure?

What is your goal for showing visitors around your place?

How much time will you spend?

Do you have a plan in place for getting names and phone numbers?

How will you close the deal? Do you want time to consider if this student is one you want to develop? Do you take everyone who wants to take a lesson? Perhaps you want to allow the potential student time to consider their commitment? If you have the knack for deciding which visitors to pursue and who is tire-kicking, consider yourself blessed.

And how will you handle the overly chatty visitor who wants to talk horses, reminisce, or pick your brain on riding or training theory?

Plan Ahead, Avoid Trouble

Planning ahead can prevent a plethora of problems, from injuries, accidents, and insurance issues, to wrong conclusions, and even theft.

When you plan ahead, you can meet a potential client with a refreshed attitude rather than a stressed or annoyed demeanor. Planning ahead will diminish the risk of missing important steps in your process.

And consider this: Rarely does an unattended, or not welcomed/unguided visitor become a client.

Here's to visitors that want riding lessons. May they be the good ones!

Barbara Ellin Fox

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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
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