Time Chasers

© F. Thomas Breningstall

published in ANVIL Magazine, August 1995

What time is it? Do you have the time? I don't have the time. All I have is time. If you have the time. I can't --no time! It's time to go. It's time we got together. It's time you left. It's time to get up. It's time to eat. It's time to go to work. It's time to go home. It's time to go to bed. Time is running out.

The point here is that time rules our life from the time of conception to the time of death. There's no getting around it. You may have never actually looked at a clock and said, "Time means nothing to me." But our body is a good timekeeper. The old body tells us when it's time to sleep, when to wake up, when to eat and when to go potty.

The only time I want to address here is work time, shoeing time - you know, hammer time. If you treat time right it can be a good friend; all you need to do is manage your time - and the key here is your time.

Managing the time you devote to making a living will free up the time you need to live. How I manage my business time works for me, and if you get one thing from this that helps you manage your time better, then I helped.

First, know your territory. I have lived here in Livingston County, Michigan, all my life, and this has helped. Although I limit my territory to 50 miles from home, 90% of my customers are within 25 miles. Get a detailed local map. I know most of the good roads, bad roads and shortcuts. Most people in this area work in the larger cities and live out here in the country. Around here, you bump into a small town every ten miles or so, on any road you take.

In between each town there is a large horse population, with many people owning a few horses each. I know how long it's going to take me to get from customer A to customer B. You can even schedule in ahead of time for lunch or coffee (here again, coffee is a must -- it helps you think).

Know your horses. For some unknown reason, to perform the same task, some horses take longer or shorter than others. I can normally shoe a well-behaved horse in 45 minutes (hot-shoeing four keg shoes with toe clips on front, and side clips on the rear). However, for some horses it takes only 30 minutes and for others it takes 90 minutes. So I allow one hour for shoeing. This includes setup and take-down of my equipment as well as the time it takes the owner or handler to get and change horses. Here is a good time to talk about this: I insist someone be there to handle the horses for many reasons such as liability, safety, communication, information and the all-important element of time. If you're chasing horses, you're wasting time. Even if you charge for the time, you limit the time you have to work on shoeing and you will end up being late for your next appointment. If I go to an appointment and no one is there, I give them about 15 minutes to show up. Then I write a note (sometimes a nice one and sometimes not) and leave. Later if they call, they can't get an appointment for two to four weeks or at all, because I'm booked ahead and full. If they forget two or three times, I drop them as a customer. Emergencies happen, but just forgetting costs me money and time. It's not my job to baby-sit or to remind customers of their responsibility for their horses.

The same goes for people with bad-acting or dangerous horses. If they have a young horse or a horse in training, you can tolerate some abuse. But if the horse or the customer is disrespectful, drop them. They are wasting your time. Also getting hurt "ain't no fun," and missing work costs us money and time.

Contrary to popular belief, you can talk and work at the same time. But if for some reason you can't, it's better to work than to talk.

Here is a small time saver I use: When reshoeing, don't discard the old shoes. I used to pull the old shoes off and throw them aside and make new ones. Then sometimes I would make several trips to the horse to size the shoe. Now that I'm older and smarter, I use the old shoe as a pattern to shape the new shoe at the anvil. This is faster and easier than going and picking up the foot, and the shoe usually fits the first time. And this method really helps if "old pig eyes" doesn't pick up his feet willingly.

I pre-schedule most of my appointments, and here's how it works for me: If I like the account, I'll schedule the next appointment before I leave. I schedule it taking into account the horse's needs and when it's most convenient for the customer and for me.

I'm also able to schedule customers in the same area on the same day. That way, the horse's feet are done when it's time, and the feet are kept in good condition.

If I have a problem with the account and there are some good reasons for it, then saying no when they call works for me. Because they didn't pre-schedule, I'm too busy when they call. I try to be tactful and helpful in finding a farrier who can help them. I use good public relations with everyone I come in contact with -- it's just good business.

Ah! The telephone is another fine tool we use. This is another reason I pre-schedule -- it keeps me off the phone and keeps the phone bill down. My phone bill is under $40 per month.

I don't call ahead to remind people of the appointment. My job is to make the appointment, show up on time and shoe my old buddy, the horse, so it can perform to the best of its ability. The customer's responsibilities are to be at the appointment on time, have the horses ready and their checkbook available. (Oh, yeah, coffee and soft drinks are nice, too).

I respect my customers' time and I expect them to respect me, my time and my work.

I get paid when the work is done and if for some reason I have to bill anyone, I charge a billing fee.

Keep your rig neat and clean and your inventory stocked. These efforts speak for themselves as time savers.

Here is how my day goes: I wake up about 8 am. I never use an alarm clock, due to my belief that alarm clocks shorten your life by shocking you awake. I do all the normal "morning stuff" and eat a light breakfast.

My first appointment for the day is always 10:00 am. Why? For many reasons. I like to sleep in, but mostly because people work days and need appointments after 3:30 pm. If I started at 8:00 am and worked to 8:00 pm, that's too long a day for me. So 10:00 am to 8:00 pm is what I can handle. I work a four-day week, Wednesday through Saturday. Then I rest for three days. I have been following this schedule for a long time, and it works well for me.

With a mixture of shoeings and trims, I do from 35 to 60 horses a week. This is likely the average for most full-time farriers working five or six days a week. With good time management, you can make a good living and have time for family, fun and yourself.

Here are some stories I like that have happened in regard to my being on time:

I was about 20 minutes late. The customer, a 65-year-old lady, came out of the house through an old wooden screen door that slammed shut behind her. I was out of my truck, feeling humble. As she waddled up to me, I noticed she had a lead shank in her hand. "I apologize for being late," I said. She stopped and looked up at me, her eyes dancing. She had a big smile on her round, "I bake cookies " face. She held the lead shank up in the air shaking it and said with a chuckle, "Shoot," (she didn't really say "shoot," but this is a family story). "Twenty minutes ain't late -- two weeks is late!" We both chuckled as we walked to the barn.

Another time, as I pulled into the drive, I saw three men and the customer standing by the barn. They all looked at their watches, then at me, then at their watches again. As I got out of the truck I noticed the three men handing the customer some money. I dismissed this as none of my business and went about my work. Come to find out, my customer had bet the three men that I would be on time! I was, and he won.

Almost every day, people ask me about my timing. I just reply: practice, practice, practice. I'm not advocating that everyone do as I do; there are farriers who work from 6:00 am to 3:00 pm six days a week and it works well for them. The point is to get, make and keep your appointments. Be on time and keep a smile on your face. I think I get and keep more customers by being on time than for any other reason.

I've spent enough time on this, so guess it's time to go. See you all next time!

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