The way James Gilchrist views it, we’re members of various teams throughout our lives. Your family is a team. If you worship as a member of a church, the congregation is another team. Because of this viewpoint, it is no surprise that the veteran shoer from Wellington, Fla., says the team is the basis of success within a multi-farrier practice.
“The little guy at the bottom is as much as part of the team as the guy who is running the show,” he says.
Gilchrist has led a multi-farrier practice in Florida since the early 1980s. Building that team has been an evolution for more than 30 years. He shared the lessons he learned on the subject during the 2015 International Hoof-Care Summit in Cincinnati, Ohio, lending his insight on how to build a multi-farrier team.
Although Gilchrist’s practice features several members other than himself, he says the definition of the concept is broad.
“If you use a helper or simply someone who sweeps the floor, that’s a multi-farrier practice,” he says. “It could be a full-time employee who along with you makes up the team. Or if your spouse does the accounting, you should consider it a multi-farrier practice.”
The benefits are plentiful for the practice owner, according to Gilchrist. One he highlighted was time off. He is able to enjoy vacation periods that other farriers typically don’t because he has built, trained and utilized his team. This will prove invaluable should Gilchrist suffer an injury and need sick leave.
“If I were to get injured, I could have that time off,” he says. “But even if I am unable to work, I can still be there managing them.”
Through proper management of the team, productivity shouldn’t dramatically decrease with the leader’s absence. Gilchrist estimates that even if he is away from the everyday work, the team still operates at 90% efficiency.
For the client, Gilchrist views the primary benefit is that a trusted team is always available should an emergency like a pulled shoe occur. This will only occur when the leader has faith in the team members and the client views team members as equals.
Where To Start?
To build a team for a multi-farrier practice, Gilchrist advises that the initial source of information on growing a practice should be other farriers. When he started to build his team, there weren’t many colleagues in his area with multi-farrier practices. That led Gilchrist to make mistakes early on. Learning from others’ mistakes will help you avoid making the same ones they did.
Next, you need to obtain professional business advice. Gilchrist says it is imperative to find an attorney and accountant to work with. These professionals ideally have experience dealing with the equine industry.
“What kind of corporation do you want to be?” he asks. “Personally, I am an S-corporation. It is complicated so you need that professional to help guide you down that road. You need this help to protect your personal assets.”
Once you obtain advice on launching a multi-farrier practice, build a relationship with an attorney and accountant who can advise you on your business development and growth.
The most important trait to search for among prospective employees is the possession of good horse handling skills.
Have a sit-down meeting with a potential employee to establish the rules and expectations of your practice.
There is no easy formula for determining pay. Instead it takes years of analysis and understanding of your practice to realize.
Team members should be identified as equal associates by your clients so that the employees will have their respect and confidence in your absence.
Once you have your business goal established and your professional advisors in place, the next step is to identify potential employees. Gilchrist is a believer in not letting people come to him, but instead recruiting the talent to join his team. He is on the hunt for people who display a team approach in their work, with a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done. This requires always having an open eye, looking for who might be a good fit.
Of tangible skills, Gilchrist says the most important trait to find is someone who works well with horses. The farrier believes hoof care is easier to teach than this skill set. Gilchrist says grooms are one of the best sources for new team members due to their knowledge of working with horses.
“Some of the people who have worked with me over the years were grooms,” he says. “Eventually they get to a point were they are at a stand still in life or maybe out of work. That’s when I approach them. That’s not how everyone builds their team — it’s just my preference.”
If you don’t have the time and access for examining candidates, Gilchrist recommends recruiting talent from farrier school graduates. Also, stay in contact with farriers in your area who have helpers. At some point they may lose a big barn, so the extra help is no longer needed.
Don’t expect to build your team overnight, as he says it can take years to find the right people to fit your team. Gilchrist says it has taken him 30 years to build the team he has today. As pleased as he is with the team, he warns against complacency.
“There is always room for improvement,” he says. “We’re always looking for better people to join the team.”
Face To Face
Once you’ve identified a potential team member, don’t sign up that person right away. Gilchrist says you need to have a sit-down meeting and lay everything out in an honest dialogue.
“Explain the expectations of our industry, what the requirements are for that person,” he says. “Explain the commitment. As Dave Farley says, that commitment is 10 years or 10,000 horses.”
For example, winter is the busy season for his team, and summer is a bit slower. It is important that the potential team member understands that the team will have to work as many hours as necessary in the winter to store away money to maintain payroll in summer when things slow.
Another key concept to establish to a potential team member is communication with others. When is it appropriate to talk with owners and trainers?
“When do you talk? When they ask, you talk,” he says. “It is a tricky deal. I don’t want my owners discussing anything about what’s going on with that horse other than with my top tier guys or myself. If they do, then my people tell them to talk with me.”
Gilchrist says establishing this chain of command is incredibly important, so try to identify potential team members who possess that understanding. Most of the members of Gilchrist’s team have worked with veterinarians, so they are familiar with the concept of directing communication to the lead team member. Having these people on the team is beneficial because they will teach the concept to new team members who lack that experience.
You’ll have to let the person understand what their role will be. No matter the skill level or experience. Every team member begins with the same duty in Gilchrist’s practice.
“Everyone starts with a broom in their hand,” he says. “Why? I want to watch how they sweep around the horse. How they sweep the floor shows me how they work around a horse. This is one of the most important jobs — keeping that floor clean and everything dialed in.”
The American Association of Professional Farriers board member insists on discussing continuing education with potential team members. He will encourage them to mentor with other farriers.
“I’ve been blessed to have many mentors in my life,” he says. “You can’t do this alone.”
One of the great separators between day help or apprentices and a multi-farrier practice at the depth Gilchrist operates is the long-term dedication of the members. As the members’ talent develops, Gilchrist says it is imperative to pay them fairly to retain that talent. How do you determine what to pay an employee?
“Every situation is different,” he says. “It depends on the part of the country, types of horses, how much money you’re making. Over time you’ll know what your business can pay. It will take years to find out the right answer.
“I ask for a 5-year commitment from a new team member. I average about 7 years. I don’t have them sign contracts or no-compete agreements. After 2 months, I know whether I’ll keep someone.”
How they sweep the floor shows me how they work around a horse…
Beyond pay, treatment of team members is crucial. Gilchrist has a Golden Rule for this: Treat team members as you would like to be treated.
“I want them looking out for my best interest when I’m away,” he says. “Everyone is an associate and equal member. You have to sell it to your clients.”
Identifying team members as associates is a crucial concept for how clients perceive the team overall. Gilchrist says education of the “associate” concept must happen early and be reinforced with clients. When a potential client contacts him, Gilchrist introduces the associates at that first meeting. It can become more difficult to maintain this dynamic with the higher end clients, who tend to expect the lead team member to actively trim and shoe their horse, rather than supervise team members doing the work.
Taking The Plunge
If you are at the point in your career where building a team is possible, sit down to evaluate the pros and cons. Gilchrist says to be thorough and honest in this evaluation. Think small — picture what the practice would be like if one or two associates were added. And as you develop this plan, expect it to be a slow build.
In closing, Gilchrist summarizes the key to success in a multi-farrier practice. No matter who the associate is or what their role is, the team relies on the daily execution of their duties.
“Remember, a team is only as strong as its weakest link,” says Gilchrist. “Let’s say I have a young associate who only sweeps the floor. He misses a nail on that floor, then a million dollar Grand Prix horse that is headed to the Olympics trials steps on that nail with its hind foot. That nail drives up into the foot and that horse is done — out for the season.
“That’s the weakest link, the chain is broke,” he says. “Everybody on the team is equal and everybody must strive to keep this team strong.“