How to start up a tack shop

To run a tack shop ideally you'll be knowledgeable about equestrian matters and located in an area with lots of horses and riders. Our guide covers the key issues for starting and running your own business.

Research your target market

Estimating demand

It's very important to establish that there really is enough demand for a tack shop (or equestrian store) in your area. Because the market is a limited one the sector is competitive and you may be competing against a number of other businesses such as:

  • other independent tack shops
  • tack shops run alongside businesses such as a riding school or livery stable
  • general outfitters (for country apparel and footwear)
  • farm suppliers, many of which have diversified into sales of equestrian products

And of course you'll be competing against the growing number of online saddleries and tack shops, many of which offer low prices and stock a wide range of products.

As well as checking out the competition it is also very important to make sure that your area has lots of 'horsey' people and activities. Are there lots of events such as gymkhanas, showing, dressage, show jumping or hunting? Is there a racecourse nearly? Are there many livery stables and riding schools? Is there an active Pony Club? Are field sports such as shooting and fishing popular in your area? As part of your market research you could talk to other businesses about the local horse population and how popular riding is in your proposed area. You could try talking to:

  • vets specialising in equine matters
  • farriers
  • riding schools, trekking centres and livery stables (provided they don't also sell tack!)

Check out the competition in your area to identify how many other outlets are already selling tack and related items.

It may be that you'll only be competing directly against some of these outlets because you intend to target a particular segment of the market (for example clothing and accessories for riders) or selling very unusual products, such as exclusive, up-market ranges, which are difficult to find nearby.

Have a good look at existing tack shops to establish:

  • the focus of their shop - horse or rider/country sports enthusiast
  • the range of stock they sell and the prices they charge
  • the services they offer
  • how knowledgeable and helpful their staff are
  • whether the premises and fittings are attractive and smart

Why will customers choose your shop

It's essential to do all you can to make sure that enough customers will choose your tack shop rather than existing outlets. Your market research might indicate that there is a gap in the market that your shop can fill. For example, perhaps no one in your area is specialising in saddlery and repairs, nor offering a bespoke service.

Don't forget that you will need to have ample parking space at your outlet so that your customers don't have to carry heavy and bulky goods too far.

Trade customers

If there are many equestrian businesses such as riding schools or livery stables in your area you could approach them to see whether they would be interested in the range of goods you propose to stock. For example riding schools and trekking centres will need to buy feed, supplements, medications and so on as well as grooming items, rugs and tack. You may be able to persuade this type of business to order from you instead of their current supplier if you can demonstrate that you will provide an efficient service at a reasonable price.

Research current trends, plus legal and tax issues

Selling on eBay and Amazon

Selling online can be an excellent way of reaching new customers and boosting your sales. But setting up your own ecommerce website can be expensive and you may not be sure at the beginning whether the value of the sales you'll make online will justify the set-up costs.

As an alternative, trading on eBay or Amazon lets you get a feel for selling online but with much lower start up costs. And you may decide to keep on selling through eBay and Amazon even when you have your own online shop.

Getting started

You might already have your own personal eBay account that you use to buy items for yourself and to sell things that you don't need any more. But if you're trading as a business on eBay you're legally obliged to make it clear in your listings that you're a business seller. This means that you'll either need to register a new business account or upgrade your personal account to a business one. There's guidance in the eBay Seller Centre on the definition of 'trading' if you're not sure whether you need to register as a business seller.

Similarly, with Amazon you can use an existing account or create a new one when you register as a business seller.

If you're not already running a business and you intend to start selling things on eBay or Amazon - perhaps just in a small way to begin with - then you'll need to notify HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) that you're trading. There's guidance on the Gov.uk website that gives an overview of what counts as trading and what counts as self employment. It also gives details of your tax and record keeping obligations.

Decide whether to have your own virtual 'shop'

Having your own virtual storefront will give your business a valuable online presence and will allow you to display all your products together in one place.

When you sign up to sell on eBay, you have the option of setting up an eBay Shop. This allows you to create your shop using an existing template or to customise it to your own design. You don't have to choose the eBay Shop option straight away - you may decide it's best to wait until your monthly sales build up to a certain level and then upgrade.

With Amazon, you'll automatically create your own storefront regardless of the package you choose. You won't be able to customise it very much but you will be able to add your name and logo and provide some information about your business.

How much does selling on Amazon and eBay cost?

Before you start selling on Amazon and eBay it's a good idea to find out how much you'll have to pay in fees. Depending on the items you sell and the method you choose for selling them, your total fees can be quite substantial. And while some of the fees you pay will be linked to the number of items you sell each month, others are likely to be fixed costs which you incur even if you don't sell anything.

Both eBay and Amazon give you the option of selling as a business seller without paying any fixed monthly fees, although it's usually more cost-effective to choose a subscription-based package unless you're only selling a small number of items each month.

The eBay website has a fee illustrator tool and a fee calculator that will help you compare the fees for different selling methods and get a good idea of how much your actual per-item selling fees are likely to be.

The Amazon website gives detailed fee guidance, including some examples of pricing for their subscription and non-subscription packages.

Managing your listings

Uploading your inventory to eBay or Amazon and managing your listings can be a time consuming task, particularly if you're planning to sell a large number of items.

Both eBay and Amazon offer useful listing tools, some of which are free and others that you'll have to pay for.

Promoting your items

Because there's such a huge number of items for sale on eBay and Amazon at any one time, it's very important that you do everything you can to stand out from the crowd.

Always make sure that your listings include accurate, spell-checked descriptions and that your photos and other images show the items that you're selling in the best possible light.

You might want to take it a step further and use the various marketing tools provided by eBay and Amazon such as search optimisation, cross-promotions and paid-for advertisements.

Your reputation

As an eBay or Amazon seller your online reputation is extremely important. All sellers have a feedback score based on actual customer feedback and this is the main measure that future customers will use to check that you are trustworthy and reliable.

So you'll want to keep your rating as high as possible by providing an excellent level of customer service and fast delivery at reasonable prices. Make sure you always respond promptly to customer queries, deal with returns efficiently and keep an eye on your stock levels to avoid your listings showing an item as being in stock when it has sold out.

Be aware that packing up orders and sending them out can be time consuming, but it's important to stay on top of the job to make sure that the right items get delivered in good time to the right people. Very many parcel delivery services now offer bulk shipping tools that integrate with your eBay or Amazon account and these can greatly simplify the process of arranging and tracking your deliveries.

If you're selling on Amazon you might also consider using the Fulfilment by Amazon service, where you send Amazon your inventory and they do all of the picking, packing and shipping as well as providing customer service.

More information

The eBay and Amazon websites have a great deal of useful guidance to help you get started as a business seller and to expand your business as demand for your products grows. Both also have lively seller community forums where experienced sellers are often happy to answer questions.

Decide what to sell

The range of goods you decide to sell will be affected to a certain extent by the focus of your outlet. Although tack shops sell goods for both the horse and the rider, some concentrate very much on things that will be needed for a horse while others mainly target the rider. You'll need to decide on the nature of your particular outlet and this will depend on:

  • your own interests, knowledge and expertise
  • your customer base
  • the type of horse activities that take place in your area

Whatever the focus of your outlet, you are likely to stock some or all of the following types of goods:

For the horse

  • bits, saddles, saddle panniers, bridles, halters, reins, girths
  • head collars, lead ropes, numnahs, lungeing equipment
  • straps, leathers, stirrup irons
  • rugs, blankets, bandages, wraps, tail guards, knee and ankle supports
  • stable items such as hay racks, hay nets, saddle racks, feed bins, buckets
  • grooming and clipping equipment, saddle soap, hoof oil, brushes, shampoos and so on
  • equine health products such as wormers, fly sprays, disinfectants, liniment, ointments and powders
  • nutritional supplements, tonics and vitamins, salt licks
  • horse and pony 'treats'
  • feed, wood shavings
  • farriers equipment such as rasps, hoof nippers and so on
  • show jumps
  • trailers

For the rider

  • riding clothing and footwear for both children and adults including jodhpurs, jackets, caps, hats, gloves, leather boots, formal riding wear for different equestrian events
  • whips and spurs
  • safety items such as body protectors and reflective bands, helmets

Accessories

  • horse-related books and DVDs
  • rosettes, trophies
  • specialist magazines

Other

  • gift vouchers
  • cards, gifts, ornaments (with a 'horsey' theme)
  • dog accessories such as leads, collars, coats, baskets, dog grooming products
  • handbags, luggage and miscellaneous leather goods
  • country apparel, including clothing and equipment for the shooting population
  • waterproof outerwear, wellington boots
  • sportswear
  • sporting and leisure items such as knives, umbrellas, shooting sticks, binoculars, car rugs
  • brooms, forks, spades, wheelbarrows

Much of your stock will consist of expensive items so it's important to make sure that these are well displayed and that you put in place adequate security systems.

Establish your customer profiles

Your market

It is likely that your customers will be members of the public and local equestrian businesses and organisations.

Members of the public might include:

  • competitive horse riders (for example, active in events such as show jumping, dressage, racing and polo)
  • horse owners who ride as a leisure activity
  • riders who do not own a horse but who will need a certain amount of riding clothing, footwear and so on
  • non-horsey people buying country apparel, gifts and so on
  • field sports enthusiasts looking for shooting clothes and equipment

Riding is very popular with children (particularly girls) and young adults so it's a good idea to make sure that your ranges cater for all sizes.

Your business customers might include:

  • local equestrian businesses such as riding schools, trekking and riding holiday centres and livery stables. You might stock a range of professional farriery items for local farriers
  • riding clubs, polo clubs and so on
  • non-specialist retail outlets to whom you supply a limited range of horse-related products

Decide which services to offer

As well as stocking a range of equestrian and related products you will probably also offer a number of services, for example:

  • bespoke saddle and harness-making
  • tack repairs
  • rug repairs and cleaning
  • safety checks on customers' tack
  • rug embroidery
  • clipper sharpening
  • delivery of bulky goods, mobile van sales
  • online/mail order facility

Offering repairs to saddles and other equipment can be a very good way of generating business and retaining a loyal customer base. You can offer this service in a number of ways:

  • employing a full time master saddler yourself
  • subcontracting this work to an independent saddle repair business located nearby
  • coming to an arrangement with a self employed master saddler who works in part of your premises and who pays you rent

The Society of Master Saddlers is the trade association representing master saddlers and they can be contacted at Green Lane Farm, Stonham, Stowmarket, Suffolk IP14 5DS or visit the website.

Advertising your tack shop

Whatever the nature of your stock and of the services you plan to offer, you'll need to make sure that your potential customers know about you.

There are a number of things you can do to promote your business:

  • advertise in your local newspaper, local directories and specialist equestrian magazines
  • get to know other local horse businesses such as vets, farriers, riding schools and livery stables so that they refer customers to you
  • contact local riding and pony clubs and perhaps sponsor an event
  • become a member of the British Equestrian Trade Association so that you can display the BETA logo
  • take a stand at local gymkhanas, country shows and other events
  • set up your own website featuring your stock ranges and perhaps online sales too. Think about adding a Pin It button to your web pages so that customers can save and share products they like
  • use social media like Facebook and Twitter to let people know about special offers and promotions
  • make sure your window displays are eye-catching and frequently changed. Any seasonal promotions should be clearly visible from outside your premises

Price your products

How will you decide on your prices?

Getting the price right is very important. It's essential to make sure that the difference between the cost price and the selling price is enough to cover all of your operating costs, including your own drawings. However, the equestrian retailing sector is competitive and you'll have to price in line with your immediate competitors unless you are targeting a niche market that your competitors do not cater for.

Regular customers will appreciate the knowledgeable service that you can provide and the wide range of specialist products. But remember that they'll also be aware of tack shops and similar suppliers which offer mail order and online ordering facilities and they will be prepared to shop around for the best prices. Visit the websites of some online equestrian stores to get an idea of the prices they charge.

Many of the goods that you are likely to sell do not carry a manufacturer's recommended retail price, so you will price them at a level you consider the local market will bear. Because a lot of your stock is expensive and can sit on the shelves for some time, you will need to add a reasonably high mark-up to the price you pay for the items. For example, you might apply a 100% mark-up to clothing items while tack might be marked-up by 50% or less. Smaller, cheaper items such as equine health care, grooming products and books might be marked-up by between 30% and 40% or so. It's a good idea to keep details of your price lists - this record will be helpful should HM Revenue & Customs ever carry out a formal enquiry into your business affairs.

Special offers and discounts

You will probably offer a standard discount as a matter of course to your trade customers. How much discount will depend on your pricing policy and how much local competition there is. You could offer further discounts for buying goods in large quantities.

You may also decide to offer discounts to members of the public who buy from you on a regular basis (for example, horse owners who purchase feed, equine health care products and so on very frequently). This will be a matter for negotiation between you and your customers but make sure you do not erode your profit margins too far.

In addition you are likely to hold a Sales period once or twice a year to get rid of slow moving or seasonal stock. You might decide to discount sale goods by around 20% or so. Some retail outlets have a permanent 'dump bin' into which soiled, damaged or unfashionable stock is put, at a significant discount. Think about whether this type of feature fits in with the image you want your tack shop to project.

Just as it's a good idea to keep details of your price lists, it would be very helpful to record all items sold at a discount, showing the full and the discounted price. Should HMRC query the gross profit rate your business achieves, this will demonstrate the effect on margins of selling items at a discount.

Buy an existing business

You might decide to buy an existing tack shop rather than start your own venture from scratch. Buying a going concern can mean that:

  • the premises, business equipment and shop fittings are already in place
  • the business may have a website
  • there are established customers
  • the business can generate income immediately
  • suppliers have been identified and relationships established with them
  • the business has a track record, which can help if you are looking for finance
  • staff may already be in place

However, look critically at any business that you are interested in to make sure that the price you negotiate with the seller is a fair one. Try to establish why the business is for sale - for example, is the owner keen to retire or is there another personal reason for selling up.

Your market research into the sector as a whole and the locality in particular will help you to establish whether or not the owner is selling because he or she can no longer generate enough income from the business. This may not necessarily deter you - many business people are confident that they can turn a failing business around. The important thing is to have established the current position so that the price you pay for the business is not too high.

Other matters to consider include:

  • the state of the premises, fittings, equipment and so on. Will you have to spend money refurbishing or replacing assets
  • the condition and value of any stock you are buying. Check this over carefully before agreeing a price
  • existing staff rights
  • how to retain key personnel once you've taken over
  • does the business owe money that you will be responsible for
  • if you are paying for goodwill, to what extent does this depend on the skills and personality of the seller - for example the previous owner may have been qualified to offer saddlery repairs, which helped to attract customers to the business

Ask your accountant to look critically at the business accounts for the past three years and discuss with him or her the selling price in the light of what the accounts reveal. Make sure you budget for other professional fees such as legal fees and valuation and survey costs.

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