"Marketing is just as important as your breeding," says Erin Lohec, owner of Andalusian Dressage Partners. Most breeders would agree with her whole-heartedly, but finding the time, knowledge and funds to implement an effective marketing plan is another matter. That's especially true today as the Internet presents rapidly expanding outreach opportunities and the economy puts intense pressure on every marketing dollar.
California breeders are counting on creativity, careful planning and a mix of old and new mediums to keep their businesses humming.
"Marketing is a huge priority for me and I spend a lot of time thinking about my plans," says Erin, whose business is based in the Bay Area's Pleasanton. "Honestly, it shocks me how many breeders don't." Several sons of her Pura Raza Espanola stallion Noble GF (by Gaucho III) have sold as foundation sires for new breeding programs and Erin frequently finds herself advising them on effective marketing strategies. "Some don't like to hear how important it is, but people are not banging down your doors. You have to implement an effective marketing plan."
Capitalizing on social media is a must, she says, even though it takes time to do it yourself or money to outsource the never-ending task.
Andalusian Dressage Partners' Noble GF.
Erin likes the interplay between Andalusian Dressage Partners' website and Facebook page, though both take considerable time to keep current. "The social media (like Facebook) allows me to have some more casual interactions with our friends," she says. "I do post recent events and accomplishments on our website, but I can elaborate more on Facebook with more photos and day-to-day postings."
"Social networking does a lot for your sense of camaraderie and togetherness and it allows your clients to speak for themselves," notes Dacia Peters-Imperato of Stepping Stone Sporthorses in Temecula. The owner of the Elite Hanoverian For Play (For Pleasure) studied digital media communications in college, along with equine science, and fully embraces the new media.
Dacia uses fun competitions and incentives to promote breedings and horse sales. They are typically touted on Stepping Stone's Facebook page and executed on the farm's website. For Halloween, for example, Dacia "hid" 20 pumpkins on the website and offered a free breeding to the first visitor to find them all. "It's a great way to get people crawling all over my website," she explains. While searching for pumpkins, visitors are exposed to For Play's babies, various for-sale horses and information on Dacia's training program. These visits improve the site's standing on Google and other search engines, meaning that Stepping
Stone appears higher than other possibilities in search results.
Stepping Stone's For Play. Photo © Robin Quasebarth
Stepping Stone has roughly 1,000 subscribers to the newsletter promoted on its website. Dacia believes this outreach mode has an edge over Facebook for a segment of her demographic. "A lot of people who are involved with horses on a smaller scale are not necessarily computer savvy," she says. "But most people at least have e-mail."
Finding time to maintain an online presence is a big challenge, yet many are do-it-yourselfers. "Nobody cares about your business the way you do," notes Dacia, who is one of them. Rose Sullivan of SE Farms in Ventura County's Camarillo estimates she spends between five and 10 hours a week managing her website and Facebook pages. "Facebook gives you a lot of exposure, even when you don't get comments or immediate response," she notes. She knows people have been reading her Facebook posts when it comes time to breed because clients make reference to that information.
Rose films many of the horse handling and performance videos featured on her site and she considers them an essential tool. While it's easy to lament the time required to post videos online, it's certainly quicker and cheaper than mailing out individual videos on request, as was the norm not so long ago.
Erin gives equal emphasis to performance and handling videos online. Foal training and quality of care are a big part of ADP's program, she explains. "People have to get a sense of knowing what you are selling," she says. "I include a lot of videos that reflect the time we put into them, grooming, handling, touching their feet, etc."
SE Farms' Darco's LegacySE. Photo © rorykphotos.com
Careful Placement & Consistent Look
Good old-fashioned print media continues to be important to breeders (yeah!), but timing and placement are critical. Knowing that Noble GF would be competing in Del Mar in April, followed by the Fiesta of the Spanish Horse in May, Erin bought three months of print advertising, including in this magazine, to coincide with times readers would be likely to see him in action. "It was boom, boom, boom with the same ad for continuity sake," Erin explains. "Everybody who saw it, knew it was us."
Continuity is a year-round priority in ADP's marketing campaign. "I may change the photos or the text, but the color scheme, lay-out and theme of my ads doesn't change throughout the year." This adheres to the marketing maxim that consumers respond to what they are familiar with.
At SE Farms, Rose employs the concept, too, using consistent ads in all print advertising. She also affixes "SE" (for Sullivan Enterprises) to the names of the horses she's bred to build her brand name. Erin uses the ADP suffix for the same reason.
With Noble GF competing at Third Level dressage this past year, Erin felt the time was right to spend a considerable chunk of her budget on an ad in Dressage Today Magazine. The bid to increase Noble's national exposure paid off instantly in the form of "a huge increase" in Facebook page visitors, which she expected to drive more prospective clients to the in-depth information on her website. Rose found the annual stallion issue of USEF's Equestrian Magazine similarly effective. Erin has also found DreamHorse.com an effective tool for national sales. She recently shipped to the East Coast two colts whose buyers came through the classified website.
Targeting breed aficionados and dressage enthusiasts, Erin aimed for the first group by placing ads in Spanish Horse publications during breeding season at the beginning of the year.
Show ring success is a great way to market to those at the competition and it sometimes results in free advertising. That was the case when Noble GF won the US PRE Assn.'s High Point Award at Third Level, an accomplishment that landed him on the association's home page.
Creative Partnerships & Practices
Competing is the driver of marketing efforts at many breeding programs and that is certainly the case at SE Farms. "There are so many stallions that look pretty and do well in keurings (breed inspections), but what people want to see is performance," Rose asserts. "They want to see the results." This begins with breeding inspections and young horse competitions like Futurities in the eventing and show jumping disciplines for which Rose's horses are bred. Sustained success in open competition builds great name recognition.
To counter the considerable costs of campaigning her young sporthorses, Rose enlists trainers as partners in each horse's career. She carefully selects professional trainers who'll be a good fit for each horse. Then she gives them a percentage of ownership and counts on them to showcase the horse, and by extension her program, on the hunter/jumper and/or eventing circuit.
"I own more than 30 horses, and I had to figure out a way to get my 5, 6 and 7 year old horses out there performing without it costing me anything." Rose and Michael Larsen's partnership in Darco's Legacy is a successful current example of this innovative arrangement. The Montana eventing trainer is campaigning the BWP approved stallion, a Contendor son produced by oocyte transfer out of SE Farm's elite Darco mare, Mistery. Darco's Legacy is one of four SE stallions, Claire de LuneSE and the youngsters LeonadoSE and LeoneSE,
Rose represents along with breedings to select outside stallions.
The contracts between Rose and each trainer stipulate that "if we get an offer we can't refuse we'll take it," she says. "But otherwise, the horses are not for sale because they are promoting
Flexible purchase options are another tool. Bookings to Erin's stallion Noble GF have been up this year, and she sold two of her three 2011 foals. In a few cases, she offered customers payment plans, an option that was rarely requested in the past. "You have to be creative in what you are willing to offer the buyer," she notes, pleased that her prices on breedings and foals held their value compared to past years.