I bumped into a lady recently who I used to see nearly every week. She is the manager of a tack shop where I have probably spent thousands of pounds and hours of my time over the last fifteen years. With no horse to buy for or look after now, the tack shop manager said she missed me but probably more so, (although she didn’t say it) she missed my business.
We had a long chat about the industry and how incredibly tough it is in the current climate with the internet taking the cream of the saddlery business. Savvy buyers would visit the store to try on riding clothes for sizing and fit and then trot back to their laptop to see if they could buy it cheaper. And this is where the tack shop is having a tough time. With big brands currently disappearing from our high streets, it would be detrimental to the equestrian community to lose their tack shops.
So how can equine stores keep competitive against online competition?
I think many need to look long and hard at their store with a critical eye and work on how to make some changes. Here are my thoughts on how a tack shop can embrace the current climate and challenge online competition:
Check Out Your Online Competition
Ok, this may seem obvious, but spend some time looking at where the brands you sell are on the internet and what the competition is. Then take a critical look at the brands you have in your shop. Loyalty to a brand is great if it sells but if over the years the customer is just not buying it anymore and if it is always on the sale rail – then don’t stock it anymore. Alternatively, ask to reduce your budget – if it’s below their minimum spend and they refuse, then stand strong and say you will look at alternative brands for the next season. Sounds harsh but to keep you competitive, you need to have a tough line. It will show loyalty to you if the brand is willing to be flexible.
Look at Smaller Equestrian Apparel Brands
Many of the younger generation of riders are not hooked on having a certain brand on their jods or jacket. Style and colour is key and in the world of social media, influence talks. Again do your research and take a look at the smaller equestrian brands that are out there. Social media is the place to focus on trends, particularly Instagram where it is image led. Engage with different equestrian brands and ask to trial their products. Some may offer sale or return if they are trying to get their name out there. Look at both ends of the market too and keep a note of your client base. This may sound bonkers but it does genuinely work: keep a record of your customers’ age range, what products they are buying and how much they are spending. This will help immensely in how to keep your clients loyal by providing what they need but also the area you need to be concentrating when using your budget. By doing your research, you may find that the buying demographic is very different from what you thought.
Look At Your Shop Floor With A Critical Eye
Ok I’m going to say it and it is seriously not wanting to offend, but – there are many tack shops that look like jumble sales. I’m going to raise my head from the seven foot pile of rugs and try not to trip around the multi coloured Flexi tubs and shout out – you need to STREAMLINE. It is not fun for the customer to walk pigeon toed around the shop floor due to it being covered in buckets of stock. Some tack shops are small and I appreciate floor and wall space can be a premium. But look at how you can incorporate more storage within the shop. This could be as drastic as putting up a stud wall and making a bigger store room and making the shop floor slightly smaller. (I can hear gasps) But if you can store away all the extra sizes, rugs, hats and supplements just to give your shop an uncluttered feel, then this is something seriously to consider. Having tubs of supplements on the shelves with dust gathering is not encouraging the customer to buy. It could indicate it’s not popular? If you have several riding hats with one brand piled up over another, again that may show that no one is wanting to buy them. Colour code your rails with products in the same colour as “matching” is huge. Put together a display selling the entire equestrian look for the rider and the horse. If a riding coat matches the saddle pad nicely, show the customer this within your store. Perhaps think of reducing the number of flexi tubs crammed with products. Who really wants to turf through a tub full of entwined lead ropes or headcollars, even if they are on sale. Now, this leads to the word sale…
Don’t Be On Permanent Sale
Do you remember the days where you would wait for July and January to save the pennies buying end of season riding gear? They seem to have merged into quarterly or even monthly sales. So now your customer has become used to not paying full price – hence losing you much needed profit. Have a small area in the shop and call it “End of Lines” or “Clearance Corner” and keep it tidy and appealing. If you have had stock in the sale section for over a year, clear it off the shop floor to stop it looking stale. Cut your losses and perhaps sell it through your social media page (I will come to that topic later) or eBay at a knockdown price. To keep customer interest have monthly discounts on certain products, lines or brands. Why not consider giving unique discounts to your regular customers? Give them a target that they have to spend a certain amount within a year to receive a 10% discount card to use for the next 12 months. Speak with the brands you work with and ask them to help. Many will offer incentives or give away merchandise as they want to sell the lines as much as you do.
Use Your Knowledge
This is your big advantage over online equestrian stores. Your knowledge and engagement with your customers in person is to solve equestrian problems. Everybody that owns a horse knows that every month or few, your beloved neddy will throw a problem at you whether that be medical, behavioural or schooling. Your customers can discuss their problems with you and you can find the product to solve it. Your help and willing to listen earns loyalty with customers, so make sure all the staff are clued up on the products you sell. Bitting for example is a real minefield, so if you sell these make sure at least one member of staff knows exactly what each bit does and how it can help when schooling a horse. Engage with your clients through social media and offer help and advice. How about doing a Q&A live through your page by getting them to ask you anything about the equestrian products you sell and how they help them? Using your knowledge will definitely encourage them to leave their laptop and drive to your store to spend.
Up Your Social Media Game
If you are not using your social media pages at least every other day, then you need to rethink in spending more time in this area. Is your Facebook page appealing? Is your Instagram page fresh and colourful? Or do your cover photos look pixelated or off centre? I have seen this many times, particularly with saddleries and it just looks a little uncared for. Your social media pages should look sharp and have a clear, well written description of what your company has to offer. Think about how the images of your products look on your social media pages. If they are not making your customers stop or like the image, then they are unlikely to make the effort to drive to your store to buy them. Enlist help with photos and it will pay dividends. This could be anything from a friend or relative that is a keen photographer to a professional giving you high res images to use.
Make sure you use a mix of posts with your social media pages. Constant sales posts can actually be off putting. Show posts with equestrian news and your views. Talk about the history of your business or perhaps the building you work from. Encourage discussion by asking questions and also by giving them a personal look at the face behind your store. Use the stories facility on Facebook and Instagram and build a relationship with your customers. Stories are huge and this is not a marketing tool that can go to waste.
If your following makes the effort to comment on your posts, please reply. It is horrible to be ignored. By chatting with your followers will make them feel part of a community encouraging loyalty. Your social media audience is there for you to utilise and find out what they are buying. Why not do a survey to find out more about your following? This again will give you a clearer picture of what products you need to invest in and what ones to lose.
If you have had the same logo and branding for a number of years, why not consider rebranding giving your business a new look? It can be actually quite inexpensive by either redesigning this yourself or invest by enlisting an expert. It may also be the virtual kick up the backside you need to streamline your tack store and bring back some excitement to your business. New branding can also be used to perhaps launch your own range of equestrian wear too!
If you decide to trot down this path, then tell your customers of the exciting new changes with a relaunch date, hold a relaunch party and make them feel part of your new brand. Again, make sure you utilise social media and also local print too in promoting your new tack shop to the equestrian community.
I hope this has perhaps helped in some way and many of the tack shops that are out there are following a lot of this advice. There is a podcast coming soon, where I chat more in detail about how to boost your equestrian business and making sure your tack shop is very much here to stay!
by Samantha Hobden
If you would like more advice and help with your equestrian business, then please get in touch.
Samantha has worked in marketing for most of her working career together with her own retail business. She is an experienced copywriter and social media networker, particularly within the countryside industry.