© Chris Gregory
published in ANVIL Magazine, January 1997
When I started shoeing horses for income, I had no idea what the farrier world had to offer. I knew that I was making more money than most of my friends in college, but I didn't see farriery as a way to pay for a future. The year was 1987, and I was a sophomore attending college on a rodeo scholarship. The only other farriers that I knew of in the area were charging $25, which seemed like a pretty good amount to me. My experience was less than those around me, so I knew my prices would have to be less.
I started out at $23. Those were the days. I did a lot of horses at that price, and seemed to have enough money for food and to get to the next rodeo, but my bank account wasn't bulging, and there never seemed to be enough money to buy supplies. I'm not as think as you dumb I am, so I knew I would have to go up on my prices. My fiancé at the time, Kelly, thought that if I went up in price, I would be customerless. We decided to try $25 anyway. It was amazing. Not only did I not lose any customers, but all of a sudden I felt better about shoeing.
This was my high price of 1988, and we left that town and headed for another college. My first year in the new college town, I jumped right in there at $28. This wasn't the dark ages I'm speaking about - this was only eight years ago. In the spring of 1989, business was good. Too good. I could not keep up with the shoeing and with all the classes, so my wife Kelly and I decided to try out $30, just to try to lose a few customers. It was an unsuccessful attempt. The great price hike of 1989 coincided with the horse landslide of 1989. For some reason I didn't lose any customers, only gained more. It was ridiculous.
We plodded along at the unheard-of rate of $30 until 1990. Then I decided that the time had come to try our luck one last time. I jumped up another $2 overnight. It didn't seem to have a negative effect on my business - just the opposite. I was now officially the most expensive farrier in my immediate area.
In 1991 I passed my Journeyman test and we went to Virginia for awhile because the Army wanted a little of my time. We knew the move was temporary, so we got crazy and started shoeing horses for $50. I didn't shoe a lot of horses in Virginia because of the army, but the people I did shoe for didn't seem at all offended by the price. A valuable lesson had been learned. The price of shoeing is pretty closely related to the area you are living in. Boy, that was a real brain cell burner!
At the end of 1991, we moved to Colorado. I started out at $50, but got scared when the phone didn't ring off the hook, and dropped to $45. Pretty soon we started getting busy again, so I went to $50. This was different. I lost a few customers with this new pricing. I didn't let it hold me back, though, because they were quickly replaced by new customers with better horses.
We decided to go up again rather quickly, and we went to $60 overnight. I lost all but about three of the customers who had originally been at $45. These were also quickly replaced. By 1993 I had reached $75, and I felt like I had the world by the tail. This is over three times the amount of money that I was getting when I first started shoeing.
In 1994, we decided to try and open up a school of our own. We moved to the general vicinity of our old college, and I hit the ground at $50. There were a lot of calls that didn't turn into customers because of price, but the business has built itself up to a respectable level.
There are a few things that I learned along this trip. First, price is dictated by the area you shoe in. If the cost of living is low, then there is only a handful of people who will be willing to pay a large shoeing bill because frankly, a lot of people don't make enough money. The up side is that your cost of living in this area will also be low. You will probably have the same buying power as farriers in different parts of the country who get a lot more than you do to shoe a horse, but you will have less actual dollars. The down side is that supplies cost the same no matter where you are living, which eats away at your profit margin in a depressed area. In addition, when you leave your area, the value of your dollar will decrease.
The second thing I've learned is stick by your guns. None of us are overpaid, no matter what we get to shoe a horse. There are horse owners out there with volume on their side. If they have a bunch of horses, it is tempting to give in to the demand for a price break. If you do this, you will end up filling your books with horses at a discount rate when you could have been doing horses at full price with the time you've spent.
The third thing that seems to hold true is that price hikes don't have a negative effect on business unless you were the low guy on the totem pole. There are some people who have trouble understanding this concept. Certain horse owners out there hire their farriers based solely on the lowest price. If you are the person who is filling this gap, then you will get stuck in it. If you go up, you will lose your clientele, because this particular segment of your customer base will not stay with you through your rate increases. This is really a good thing, however, because these people usually don't have the best of horses.
Coming in number 4 is a lesson in keeping customer relations good. I always let the customer know what I charge prior to doing the horse. If they are expecting a $25 bill and you hand them a bill for $50, then nobody is going to feel good about the situation. Uncomfortable silences, or perhaps not-so-silent uncomfortable moments, are not worth the stress they can cause.
The last thing that I learned which seems important is the manner in which you raise your prices. I will tell all of my current customers that an increase is coming months before the actual event. All new calls will be automatically charged the new rate, and they will not have to go through a price hike until the next time. When the date of the price hike comes, I will stick to it and not back out if there are a few stragglers in the pack. I like to raise my prices during the winter months so that the clients are not in the middle of their busy season, and thus stuck with a price they are uncomfortable with. I give them ample time to shop around if they so desire. It is no fun to shoe a horse for someone who is resentful about the money you are charging.
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