Farriery is similar to most other trades: as your experience grows, so should your income. Seasoned farriers with several years invested in the profession charge more than counterparts who are closer to the novice level. But it’s not as if some magical threshold is crossed in which a farrier can simply command greater pay than the day before. Instead, what a farrier earns should be a result of careful business planning that is tweaked and cultivated throughout the years.
Did You Start With A Plan?
Webster, N.Y., farrier Esco Buff, Ph.D., finds that the crucial points in a farrier career come at the 3-, 5- and 10-year marks. At these points, larger bumps in pay should come a farrier’s way.
“Then, every 5 years from there — and that doesn’t mean you have to wait 5 years — you should have a plan of what it should be,” he says. “I personally think every farrier should be raising their prices at least 3% every year no matter what. And 3% is not much.”
For the first 5 years, most novice farriers will struggle with the mechanics of the job. Business practices and marketing become secondary during this period, learning not to make sound horses lame.
“After the first 5 years, when you begin to reach the upper stages of professional development, a farrier needs to think about the direction he or she wants to go with a career and life,” Buff says. “If he or she wants to continue at this pace, is there something that interests them, whether breed specific, discipline specific, therapeutic shoeing, whatever it may be.
“Then have a plan, which is not only learning as much as possible about being a farrier, but also traveling around with everyone who knows anything about being a farrier.
“And trying to get into that environment is another step. You can learn everything about shoeing dressage horses and never get into that.”
The dedication required to reach this level requires the investment of many years.
Vero Beach, Fla., shoer Tom Curl says you need to build your business structure properly so you are adequately rewarded when you hit your peak.
“It’s hard work, it takes a lot of years to get to that level and you’re only at that level a certain number of years,” he says. “So, you might as well get paid top dollar, like a top athlete.”
Overall, if you hope to transition your practice and acquire new clients in any area, you can’t be afraid to market yourself to prospective clients. The best route still begins by apprenticing and doing ride-alongs with established, known farriers in that market.
While traditional methods such as fliers and local advertising still work, open your mind to newer alternatives of promoting your practice like social media. Buff estimates the marketing segment within his practice that has seen the highest growth in new referrals is through Facebook. Take varied approaches to marketing yourself to the equine community you want to work in. Without name recognition, you won’t exist within the various disciplines.
“Ask yourself, ‘What can I provide you that someone else can’t? Why should a client hire me instead of another farrier?’ You sell your services. This doesn’t stop as soon as you are hired, rather it is a continual process throughout a client’s time with your practice, not only when you are trying to make a sale. The higher end clients aren’t going to hire the cheapest farrier. Instead, they will hire the farrier that they believe can do the best job. You need to convince them.”
Travel And Location
Buff believes many farriers either don’t consider or believe that they can adequately reflect their experience in what they charge. The main issue may be a farrier’s willingness to travel and his or her approach to marketing.
“If a shoer only goes 10 miles from home and can’t climb higher than what he or she currently charges, then the limitation may be with the economics of that area,” he reasons.
He relayed the story of a farrier who was astonished to find out that Buff came to his area and charged nearly 20 times higher on a therapeutic case.
“I’m not going to market to the hundreds of people in my area, only to the one person who can afford my services,” he says.
“You have to get out of the mindset of your area. Unless you’re in an area that supports a high-end discipline, then you could succeed. But most areas aren’t set up that way. Many farriers need to understand if they want to specialize, it likely means more time on the road.
Early on, if your goal is to work on the higher end of horses in a certain discipline, ask yourself: Are there enough of these horses in my area to sustain a practice? Am I willing to travel?
“Look at how many farriers travel to Florida. They’re coming from all over and then return to their areas. You have to go where that market is and not stay in your area. If your family doesn’t like you taking road trips, then you are going to hurt them when pursuing a goal of working with the top horses.”
Tom Curl agrees that your reach is greatly affected by how much you charge and vice versa.
“If you don’t work across the country and you stay with pretty much the same clientele, then you can only deal with what the market can bear. I think a hometown farrier could price himself or herself out of business if not careful. Do you want to be living or do you want to be existing?”
Invest To Earn
More While You Can
You need to continually reinvest in your practice. Your continuing education and utilizing what you learn at clinics and other events justifies rate increases.
Frederick, Md., farrier Doug Anderson agrees that education and self-improvement are crucial to raising your rates. Each year, he commits himself to continuing education, often obtaining more credit hours informally than what is required of Maryland veterinarians to maintain their licenses. He credits his mentors for instilling an understanding of what pricing covers.
“I was told a long time ago that if they don’t complain when they write the check, then I’m not charging them enough money,” he jokes. “At the end of the day, I have to pay for my own medical insurance, dental insurance, vision insurance and every expense a human being can have.
“The one tool that I never get to replace or refurbish is my body. There will come a time when my body has had enough, and I won’t be able to shoe horses anymore. I better have made enough money, invested in the right places and done the right things with it so that I can continue to live to a reasonable standard.”
Anderson believes education allows you to be more selective about the kind of client you wish to work with. Respect is a critical part of the farrier-client relationship. Anderson finds that if a client tries to dictate how a horse should be shod, often times the client has paid less for hoof care in the past and has hired a farrier who hasn’t reached Anderson’s expectations of continuing education.
“Respect is the chief indicator of whether they are prepared to deal with my pricing structure and the level of shoeing I can provide for them,” he explains.
“However, if clients explain what they are seeing and what they have tried and ask me my thoughts, then chances are I’m in the right place. These clients will not have a problem with my pricing structure, they will treat me respectfully and I will get along famously with them.”
“But if I go to another facility and the client says, ‘This horse has this problem and this is what you need to do,’ then likely that client has had farriers in there that he or she needed to tell what to do. Those people are always going to have difficulty with pricing, and various modalities of getting past whatever problem they have.”
They Pay For Access,
As Well As Ability
Buff says the time he spends with clients covers more than just shoeing the horse. In fact, he spends as much time (and sometimes more) explaining his approach and the options available, as he does working on the horse.
“I guarantee I would not earn as much money as I do now because it takes me an hour to shoe that horse, but it takes me 2 to 3 hours probably to be there,” he says. “You need to present all the options to the customer, explain why, explain what went wrong in the past and then shoe the animal.”
For Buff, quality is what separates the farriers. Often with entry-level clients, quality gives way to price, as they likely are more concerned with the latter.
“They say they’re interested in quality, but that’s not true,” he says. “I ask these clients where would they go to buy a shovel. Most say Wal-Mart, meaning they don’t want a good shovel for life. And that’s fine, those customers will always be there and its a good experience for a beginning farrier.
“But even an experienced farrier, who is limited to an area with only backyard horses, struggles, because the only option is to add more horses if a rate increase isn’t permissible. And then when you are working on more than 15 horses a day, for consecutive days, you can’t tell me there isn’t going to be a loss of quality. That’s a mindset that’s tough to beat.”
Buff believes farriers can increase their skill level to a certain point. Where does the rest come from? It comes from a combination of experience and education that translates to problem solving.”
Curl agrees, at that level, the client demands a problem solver. For him, the stakes increase in the result-driven world of performance horses. The higher the level, the higher the expectations. He finds this is especially true when you are called in on an emergency case, as he often is. If Curl travels across the United States for work, the client is already on the hook for travel expenses.
“That horse better be right, because if it’s not, I’ll have to get on a plane at my cost and fix it,” he says. That will tear away at the net pretty quick.
“I really think it’s a results-driven game, and to go up on those prices, you have to be better than the previous guy. You have to enhance the movement of the horse and increase its soundness tremendously.”
Curl finds the danger isn’t that you overprice yourself, but you fail to deliver the results expected by the caliber of clients.
“There have to be results for that price tag, if you want repeat business,” he warns. “You put that price where you want, but you better deliver something. Word can get around really quick; the horse world is pretty small.”
“You are taking on a lot of responsibility, so you have to earn it going in the door because you usually don’t get it coming out of the door,” Curl says.
Anderson says the danger is that farriers don’t always make the right decisions at the time. You have your experience, education and trusted resources to rely on. Even then, things don’t always work out as one would hope.
“Shoeing horses is a reactionary business, and we don’t always do the right thing, so we have to go back,” he says. “And that onus is on me. If I work on a horse, and I make some decisions that in the end don’t really work out best for that horse, in that it’s not performing what it should be or what the owner thinks it should be, I’m going to go back and make the horse right.
“I’m not going charge them if I have to go back. So much of horseshoeing is about building and maintaining relationships. My clients must have trust and confidence that I’m always going to do the right thing, regardless of what it costs me. And they pay for that, and I expect them to. I think they expect it as well.”