2008 and 2009 definitely weren’t bullish years for many small businesses. To stay afloat and actually profit, companies really had to step up and try decisive and divisive tactics. For Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, there were several key decisions he took in 2009 to make this a good year. He didn’t sink and he didn’t just float through the year either: West Point actually increased sales by $1 million. Not too shabby for an industry (fractional ownership of thoroughbred racehorses) in major distress. Below are a few suggestions on how to turn the zeroes into heroes.
Take the risk and buy up the lower-priced competitor debt. Three years ago, the horse auction market, like many industries, was booming. “There were people who would spend a lot of their funny money, and now are either spending less money, or, no longer around.” Where less “funny money” puts a damper on the industry, Finley decided it would help West Point. The company purchased more high-quality horses this year than before at much lower prices, which in tern showed faith in industry.
“We bought the kind of horses this year that we never would have been able to touch price-wise,” says Finley who said some horses were marked down as much as 50%. “The market was white-hot then and now it’s softened enough where we could buy our competition.” As a result of the risk they took, West Point got better quality and proved to current and prospective clients that there was some real value in the market.
Explore outside the local and domestic market. When it comes to horse racing, for years the leading buyers destination was Dubai thanks to the wealthy investments by the Royal Family. With Dubai in flux, many investors have backed off. Finley has been exploring Ireland now instead. “We were one of the first to buy and bring back horses from Ireland,” says Finley. “Now we have Irish investors interested in us.”
Leave the comforts of your own turf for your prospective client’s turf. It’s certainly easier to hide behind your desktop computer and phone when doing business, but meeting clients face-to-face shows just how important their business is. Showing your willingness to give some real time face time goes a long way. “Nothing beats sitting down with a client/prospect for lunch or in their office,” says Finley. “At least once a month I get on the train in Trenton to go to [Manhattan]. “We build rapport and help sell more horses when we visit clients or prospects in their own offices.”
Change up your purchasing style and practice. What worked for years might not be effective in the current economy. For years Finley’s formula was to by 90 percent of his horses at 24 months old when they were already part of a race training schedule, and 10 percent of his costs were for the purchase of the younger yearlings. This year the company decided to focus more on horse training so found the less pricy yearlings to be worth the investment. He changed his order pattern to 50 percent 24 months and 50 percent yearlings. The change has proven successful.
Make “How does this enhance the customer experience?” your mantra. Most businesses are inundated with all kinds of initiatives and activities that “are well intentioned, but at the end of the day take our focus off clients and enhancing their experiences,” says Finley. “Always keep what you are actually selling at the center of what you do.” Follow up that mantra with: “If I were a client, how would this impact me?” suggests Finley. This focus helped West Point Thoroughbreds remain attentive to its clients.
Tap into the next generation of clients. Horse racing has classically been a hobby enjoyed by those in the 50s and older. Finley is refocusing his efforts on bringing in the sons and daughters of his committed clients. What nailed it for Finley was a phone call he got from Dallas Cowboys player Duke Preston. “He called us and said his father loved the horses and that he wanted to find something he could do to spend more time with his father.” He sees that multi-generational investment as a lifestyle trend. “When you come into an investment with a partner, you don’t shoulder the responsibility alone, but when you win you really feel like you’ve won it all,” says Finley.
Nip company issues in the bud lickety-split. Address and give attention to problems immediately. Finley uses what he dubs the "puppy principal," explaining (albeit questionably): “If you have a puppy who wets the floor in your dining room, you don't correct him a week later in the living room, you do it right there in the dining room,” says Finley. “We began using the same principle with our team members. It's a constant battle but we try our best to hold each other accountable and address, right away, things that need attention.” West Point Thoroughbreds are sticklers for recording everything and use the CRM software Goldmine. “If it’s not in Goldmine, it didn’t happen,” says Finley. “When a team member doesn’t input something into Goldmine, they know about it right away. We [also] make sure we give credit, right away, when credit is due.”