© ANVIL Magazine
This interview with Baron Tayler, owner of Farrier's Choice Horseshoes, appeared in the November, 1995 issue of ANVIL Magazine.
Once a full-time farrier, Baron now manufactures horseshoes on a large scale. He has taken designs and horseshoe-making machines to Russia where he has set up production. He provides insight into the challenges and value of working with the Russian people. In addition, he airs his views on making profitable business decisions both for his company and for practicing farriers.
ANVIL: What brought you to the farrier industry?
BARON: I've been a farrier for 19 years. My serious involvement with horses started when I was in college. After graduating with a degree in biology, I was looking toward medical school, but wasn't accepted to the ones I wanted to attend. So I decided to pursue something related to horses until I figured out what I wanted to do in the long run. I went to the Oklahoma Farrier's College in Sperry, Oklahoma, and took Bud Beaston's course.
ANVIL: Bud has quite an operation. How was your experience at the school?
BARON: I went during the summer, and it was hot as hell. Bud insisted that we all work at coal forges every day, making hand-made shoes. The building was made of metal, so you can imagine how hot it was with the outside air temperature over 100, and 40 forges inside all working at the same time. The three most vivid memories that leap to mind are the smell of the coal, the sweat rolling off and the number one top 40 song that we heard all day long on the radio.
ANVIL: What was the song?
BARON: "Afternoon Delight." To this day, every time I smell burning coal, I hear that song in my head.
ANVIL: What did you do after attending farrier school?
BARON: I returned to Maryland and established a practice in the southern Maryland, northern Virginia area. Looking back, I have to say those were some of the happiest days I can remember. I would roll out of bed at six in the morning and shoe all day, usually getting home at about ten, shower, eat, fall into bed. Seven days a week.
ANVIL: That's a lifestyle probably all farriers can identify with, especially when they're starting out. Did you shoe full time for long?
BARON: No, only about two years. In 1977, I invented a gift/game ("Dirty Words, the Game in the Plain Brown Wrapper") - it became the number one seller in the U.S. less than two months after I introduced it to the market. I had to decide whether to keep shoeing, which was earning me a respectable living, or devote my time to a growing game company that grossed over $600,000 in the first four months alone. The decision wasn't too difficult.
ANVIL: So your involvement with horses declined?
BARON: Yes, but it never stopped. I made a conscious decision to make sure I never forgot the skills I used as a farrier, and to stay in practice. I kept a few clients, and of course there was my own horse. I also purchased all the books I could find on farriery and referred to them regularly. I stayed involved.
ANVIL: Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Farrier's Choice Horseshoes showed up on the market. How did this come about?
BARON: I think all farriers, deep in their hearts, would love to manufacture horseshoes on a large scale and know that they are being used by other farriers all over the world - tens of thousands of horses running around with their shoes on them - a wonderful fantasy. It's one that I've always had, and since my experience in manufacturing has been quite extensive over the past 17 years, I've always kept the thought simmering in the back of my mind.
ANVIL: But why didn't you do this ten years ago?
BARON: Because the circumstances had to be right. When it comes to marketing a product, my philosophy is to try to find a niche that no one else is filling, and then fill it. Why go head to head with established competition, which is usually better financed and well entrenched? It's practical to find an area of the market where there's little or no competition, and satisfy that need. Horseshoes are no different. In the last ten years there has been a large proliferation of horseshoe manufacturing companies. I asked myself, "What use is there in introducing a new brand of shoe if it will cost the same as all the others?" That seemed illogical to me.
ANVIL: And yet other new companies are doing just that.
BARON: Yes, they are, and I don't see why. If you're going to introduce a new product to the market, especially in a market as limited as horseshoes, there'd better be something that really sets the product apart, makes it stand out from the crowd. One of the most frequently asked questions I hear from farriers who are looking at my shoes for the first time is, "So what makes your shoes so different?" And I'm really honest with them: Other than price, and the combination of the toe centering line and beveled hoof surface, let's get real - a horseshoe is a horseshoe. If I could somehow transport a Roman centurion from 2,000 years ago into my warehouse and hand him one of my horseshoes, he'd look at it and say, "It's a horseshoe." Things haven't changed that much.
I wouldn't waste my time introducing a new line of horseshoes to the market if I couldn't make it really stand out in some way. I think one of the reasons there are so many horseshoe companies manufacturing shoes with all sorts of gadgets on them is that they're trying to set themselves apart. They're attempting to say, "Look at me! I'm different. You need this new type of shoe to shoe your horses correctly."
ANVIL: And you don't agree?
BARON: Of course I agree with the concept of somehow making your product different, to make it stand out. I just don't agree that what farriers really want is another line of semi-specialty shoes, created to solve some perceived shoeing problem, priced the same as all the other shoes.
ANVIL: So what is it that you think farriers really want?
BARON: A good, solid, basic keg shoe at a rock-bottom price. The reality is that despite the ads you see in the farrier journals, including this one, the vast majority of keg shoes used in America are simple, plain, flat keg shoes. Sure, it's handy to have that special hand-made, angled, rolled toe, heart-bar, side-weighted trailer shoe when you need it - about once a month. But the rest of the time you reach into the rig and pull out a plain old keg shoe. I sensed that if I offered farriers a basic keg shoe with a couple of extra features to make it easier to use, like the toe centering line, a beveled hoof surface, both front and hind patterns, sold by the pound in 50-pound half kegs instead of pairs, at the lowest price in America, that farriers would respond by saying, "Yes, this is what I really need." And they have.
ANVIL: What is a toe centering line?
BARON: It's a line that runs the full width of the web on the ground side of the shoe, at the toe. The line isn't deep, but it's easily visible when the shoe is placed on the hoof - to make centering the shoe on the hoof very easy. When I first introduced the shoes, some farriers snickered a little and I heard comments like, "Real farriers don't need a line to center their shoes." But after a few months those comments disappeared, and most of the farriers I checked with, even the ones who'd been shoeing for more than ten years, told me they used the line, and that it did indeed make centering the shoe easy and fast.
ANVIL: Why did you add the beveled hoof surface?
BARON: It's a time-saving feature. Most farriers shape the shoe, then pound out a bevel on the inside of the web on the hoof surface to provide sole relief. The major problem is the act of pounding out the bevel, which distorts the overall shape of the shoe, so the farrier ends up wasting time reshaping it. We've eliminated this whole step, saving time and thus increasing profits.
ANVIL: There's nothing really new about front and hind patterns. Do you see that as another time saver?
BARON: Yes, but it's not as easy as you think. A poorly shaped front or hind pattern is worse than offering a good single standard pattern. Thankfully, from the feedback I've been receiving, it seems that the front and hind patterns we're offering, especially the hinds, are easy to use.
ANVIL: Why did you go back to selling shoes in the traditional 50-pound half keg, as opposed to packaging and selling them by the count in smaller boxes?
BARON: Call me a traditionalist, but I believe in selling shoes by a standard which can be measured across all sizes and styles, and it seemed to me that if I know what I'm paying per pound for shoes, I can easily compare that to someone else's per-pound price, and see what the best deal is. I don't think most farriers have the slightest idea what they're paying on a per-pound basis for shoes, because they've become conditioned to buying shoes by the pair. They go in and purchase ten pairs of shoes, pay $30, and leave, never realizing that they are paying the equivalent of about $2 a pound. That works out to $100 per half keg. They can have 50 pounds of shoes delivered to their doorstep for only $65 with our shoes. That's a 35% savings, not including the lost earnings time and gas the farrier used.
Trying to compare the price of pairs of shoes can be misleading. For example, let's say you bought a pair of shoes from manufacturer A for $3 and also a pair of shoes from manufacturer B for $3. At first, it seems as if both pairs of shoes cost the same. But it turns out that the shoes from manufacturer B are lites, which are the same size, but are 20% lighter. So in reality, the shoes from manufacturer B are 20% more expensive. If both manufacturers had priced their shoes by the pound, the actual costs of the shoes would immediately be obvious, making informed purchasing decisions easier.
ANVIL: That seems to make sense, but what's the reality? Have you encountered any resistance to selling by the 50-pound half keg?
BARON: I wouldn't call it resistance. It's more a matter of educating farriers as to the actual price they're paying for shoes. When a farrier looks at the price of our shoes per pair - for example, a pair of size O costs $1.91 delivered - compared to what he's been paying, this price stops him in his tracks.
ANVIL: Yes, but considering the low price of Farrier's Choice shoes, some farriers might ask if you're selling poor-quality, thick shoes. They may be thinking that they are not receiving as many shoes as they should.
BARON: As the British would say, 'Rubbish!' I've never made the claim of the fanciest, most beautiful-looking shoes in the world. However, considering they're the lowest priced shoes in America, they look very good. I wouldn't hesitate to put them side by side with the most expensive shoes on the market. Would they look alike? In many aspects, yes. The major difference would be that Farrier's Choice shoes look handmade. It' s a comment I hear again and again. The way the heels are finished has a lot to do with it. As for the question of thickness, our shoes are 5/16" by 3/4" - standard full sized. The interesting part is that because our price is so low, the full-sized shoes generally cost less per shoe than the competition's lites. You can't imagine how many times I've had farriers tell me they had started using lites because they wanted to stretch their purchasing power, but now they're happy they can switch back to a good-quality, full-sized shoe at a good price.
ANVIL: You're selling directly to the farrier, and we've been told you won't ship an order until a farrier answers a series of survey questions. Is this true?
BARON: Yes, every farrier who places an order for the first time is asked a series of 20 questions. I'm trying to develop a detailed demographic profile of my customers: how they do business, what kinds of things they desire in the shoes they use, and a few other things. Over the next few years I plan to develop a comprehensive database which will help me when it comes to developing new products that farriers really want to purchase. I also periodically send out surveys to my customers so they can give me real-time feedback about the usability of the shoes. This feedback has already resulted in two changes, the first being the shape of the nail holes, the second being the shape of the nail head seats to increase the pitch. I've just returned from a trip to Russia where these and three other suggested changes have been made.
ANVIL: What changes are those?
BARON: The first is the coarseness of the crease and the nailholes. Several farriers have requested that I move the crease and nail holes further into the web. I'm sure I'll receive a few complaints from farriers who don't want the holes moved, or who want them finer. But it seems I'll gain a lot more customers by moving the holes, and my job is customer satisfaction.
ANVIL: What other changes did you make?
BARON: There is one I've been very hesitant to make, but once again I have to give my customers what they want. On both sizes 00 and size 0, our shoes have six nail holes per shoe. The general reaction to having six holes in the 0-sized shoe has been favorable. But a fair number of farriers have made the point that they occasionally want to have the extra two holes in the O's for unusually shaped hooves or for corrective purposes. Since it's no more trouble for me to make the O's with eight holes, I've switched over to that, as well.
The other recent change is a perfect example of perception becoming reality. I hate slag on shoes, and the sight of a bunch of slag laying in the bottom of the box has never sat well with me. I decided that to eliminate as much slag as possible, the shoes would be tumbled before they were packed. The tumbling does remove almost all the slag, and at the same time, the shoes hitting against each other during the tumbling gives the surface a slightly scarred and nicked look - almost like a pewter patina. I thought it looked great. But the feedback I have received is that a good many farriers look at my shoes and say, "Hmm, the surface looks different from any other shoes I've ever used . . . ." So I've eliminated the tumbling. As a friend of mine pointed out, slag gets knocked off just from the shoes rubbing against each other during shipment.
ANVIL: It sounds as though you can react to your customers' feedback quite rapidly. Isn't it expensive to make these changes?
BARON: Obviously, no change comes about without cost. But because I'm using what I call the punch-and-bend method, which some people refer to as turned shoes - as opposed to the dropped-forge method of making the shoes - I have the flexibility of changing the dies and patterns fairly easily. That's one of the main reasons I chose to use the punch-and-bend method. I want to be able to react to my customers' feedback in a fairly short period of time.
ANVIL: Do you actually make the changes yourself, or do you have the production line foreman make them?
BARON: I try to be as hands-on as possible. For example, a few months ago the decision was made to change the shape of the nail head seats. I faxed over the new dimensions to my production line foreman. He then had a new set of punches fabricated, designed to my specs. I then flew to St. Petersburg; we installed the punches, ran test runs to inspect the outcome, and I decided they should be changed a little more. The punches were immediately modified. I oversaw the new tests; the results were what I wanted, so we went into production using the new punches. Then I flew home. That trip took me about two weeks.
ANVIL: Why is your production line in Russia?
BARON: There are a number of reasons, not the least of which is that every Russian, no matter how rich or poor, is well educated in the basics. They can all read, write, and do their math. It's unfortunate, but one in five Americans is functionally illiterate. Not so in Russia. Their political system under the old regime was morally bankrupt and repressive, but it did have one success. The educational system was superb. And it's much easier to train people who can follow directions easily, and read written instructions and checklists.
Another reason is their motivation. The Russian people really want to work. They see what capitalism has accomplished in the West, and they want to achieve that lifestyle. They appreciate it, they're ready and willing to work for it. Not only that, but they're extremely innovative and inventive. To survive under their old system, when spare parts and supplies were non-existent, they had to be innovative. It's absolutely amazing to watch. These people have learned from necessity to become self-reliant.
ANVIL: Are you running into any resistance because the shoes are made in Russia?
BARON: Of the countless calls we've received, only two farriers have said outright that they wouldn't buy the shoes because they were made by 'commies and foreigners.' I would have loved to have asked those farriers to turn over the phones on which they were speaking, and look at the label on the bottom. It probably says something like, 'Parts made in Korea, assembled in Mexico.' Or look outside at the 'American' truck they're driving. Close to half its parts are made in Japan, Korea, China or Mexico. They have to be watching Monday Night Football on a foreign made TV, because there are no TVs made in America. But trying to talk sense with people like that is a waste of time. I'm not un-American. My goal is to provide farriers with the best quality shoe I can manufacture, while maintaining a firm hold on the lowest price in America. By manufacturing in Russia, I'm saving American farriers lots of money, for which they should thank the Russians. And we're helping the Russians by providing them with meaningful work, not a charitable handout. Everyone comes out ahead in this situation. By the way, I'm only dealing with privately owned companies in Russia. No state-run enterprises.
ANVIL: If you had to remark on one characteristic that you've observed in farriers, what would it be?
BARON: I wish I could answer that question with some brilliant new insight about farriers as a whole. Unfortunately I can't, because the answer is already well known to anyone who reads the farrier journals. The characteristic is this: Certainly not all, but unfortunately, many farriers are not up to par on their business skills. They love their work, some with a real passion, but they simply don't know how to plan ahead, organize and run their business.
ANVIL: Would you elaborate?
BARON: One problem lies in the purchase of basic supplies that all farriers use every day. Farriers need to buy wisely for both quality and price. That's the premise on which I'm building my business.
And I know I'm going to kick a hornet's nest on this one, but here it is, anyway - farriers not doing re-sets or doing re-sets and giving a discount. My survey shows that most farriers - more than 90% - charge less than $50 per shoeing. You'd be amazed at how many farriers are still shoeing for less than $35. Yet these same farriers tell me they either don't do re-sets, or when they do, they give a discount of $4 or $5.
Why do they do this? Farriers who refuse to do re-sets always give me the same reason: It takes them just as long to clean out the shoes as it does to shape a new set. "So why bother cleaning out the old shoes," they ask me. I'll tell you why: Those four shoes cost between $3.50 and $4. Since the time spent is the same, use the old shoes, assuming they're usable, and put the $3.50 in your pocket - not a fortune, but if you're an average farrier shoeing 25 horses a week, and of those 25 you can reset eight of them, you've saved yourself $28. In a month, that adds up to $112, and over the course of a year the savings can add up to about $1,000.
The same is true for giving a discount for re-sets. Why bother giving a discount? It's your time and skill you're charging for, not the shoes. The problem is, many farriers don't look ahead into the future and see the cumulative effects of small, daily money-making actions. It's a matter of changing our way of thinking.
ANVIL: Do you have other suggestions for farriers?
BARON: Many farriers don't understand the value of their time. If I call my attorney, the moment he picks up the phone I'm on the clock. He charges by the minute. If I ask him to meet me at the courthouse for something, he charges me from the moment he leaves the office until he returns. He places a value on his time and charges for every moment of it. Now don't misunderstand. I'm not advocating that farriers charge their customers for every single moment of their time. I'm talking about the overall picture. I know a farrier who has a car phone. All of his customers know he has it, and they're told specifically that they can call him on the car phone if it's an emergency. That's fine. But if it's not an emergency, they're charged $5 for the first minute and $1 per minute after that, until the conversation has ended. He decided, based upon what he earns shoeing, that his time during working hours is worth $60 per hour, and he charges it, whether he's shoeing or not. That includes an extra charge to customers who live farther away than normal. So if he has to travel out of his local area, he charges accordingly. And he hasn't lost customers. They respect the way he does business. He understands the value of his time. We can all learn from him.
ANVIL: Well, we've covered quite a bit of ground, Baron. Thanks for your insight.
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