Thursday, May 19, 2011

Groupon spurs horse business

Like giving a car a test drive, people often want to try something new before making a decision. And Phil May, manager at Sunflower Farms in Bristol, Wis., knew if he could get people out to try their riding lessons and look at the facilities they’d probably like the experience and come back for more.

The trick is getting people to give the farm a try. Phil had heard of other horse businesses using the internet-based coupon service “Groupon” to lure customers in with a one-time discount offer to try a product or service. 

“We’d been looking at various ways of getting people from the area out here to try our lessons,” May said. “After talking about it, we decided to target the Milwaukee area and give Groupon a try.”

The idea worked. About 300 people took advantage of the email coupon offer delivered to people in the Milwaukee area for riding lessons and a riding helmet from the Saddlers Row tack shop located at Sunflower Farms.  Lessons for the 300 curious coupon holders were scheduled out over the summer of 2010.

“The offer was for a two hour riding lesson with one hour of ground work and one hour on horseback. Normally, a lesson is $45 for a half hour so the coupon was for half off,” May said.

Out of the 300 people who showed up at the farm to redeem coupons, May said about 60 people have returned for more lessons. “Of the 20 percent or so of the people who came back again we’ve developed some really good customers,” May added.

Groupon is a recent phenomenon of internet-based business. People sign up to receive a daily email coupon usually featuring a local business or service. Each morning when you check email, the coupon is there with its offer and a time limit to respond.

“The coupon offer is good for a day and each offer requires a certain amount of people to buy in order for the coupon to go viable. That’s where you get the name Groupon - group plus coupon,” said Chad Mason, spokesperson with Groupon in Chicago, Ill.

“Our bread and butter base is local business,” Mason added. “People sign up to receive Groupon email for businesses and services in their communities. Groupon is now available in 175 communities across North America and we’re working with more all the time.”

One of the things that make Groupon tick is its local offers. But the email coupons themselves are clever and many people read the irreverent text and talk about the offers with friends and associates.

“Even if people don’t use the coupon, your business still gets exposure from the email. People like to read the email for a laugh and talk about it at work,” Mason said. More than 400 writers and editors work with companies to craft the humorous and entertaining text.

For mobile devices such as cell phones, Groupon also has “an app for that.” No matter where you are you can open the application on your phone and find a deal in the area.

Paul May said that the Groupon deal worked well enough that the stable is investigating another round this year. “We targeted Milwaukee with Groupon but Milwaukee is about a 45 minute drive for most people. Racine to Waukegan (Ill) is probably more our market area,” he said.

“There are some companies that mimic Groupon now that we’re looking at that might fit our market better,” he added.

Sunflower Farms sits right on the Wisconsin/Illinois border and has a good local population base to call on. The farm offers boarding, events, shows, clinics, lessons, and camps. There are multiple stables and indoor and outdoor arenas for year-around use.

“We used Groupon to introduce people to riding and to our facilities. The offer was priced to bring people out to give us a try. Two hours worth of lessons was probably too much for one time. There’s almost too much information in a two hour session for people to completely absorb,” May said.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Dental care key to horse health

Maybe it's the constant issues taking the bit, or a troubling nasal discharge that never goes away.

Something wrong inside a horse's mouth can contribute to a variety of health issues, said Dr. Molly Rice of Lodi/Madison Equine Clinic during the clinic's recent spring customer appreciation night.

Beginning routine equine dental care early can head off many potential problems and correct issues before there's something seriously wrong. Horses lose a lot of baby teeth, and new, permanent ones erupt during the first four or five years of life. A good routine for young horses is a dental check every six months until they're about 10 years old, Rice said.

"Horses shed a lot of teeth in the first 41/2 years," Rice said. "Sometimes they'll retain a cap or an incisor and it'll need to be extracted so the permanent teeth underneath can grow in correctly."

Timing is important when extracting teeth in a young horse, she said. Too early and the emerging teeth may not develop properly, while extracting a cap too late can cause an imbalance in the mouth.

Young horses have 24 deciduous, or milk teeth, 12 incisors and 12 premolars. Mature male horses have 40 to 44 permanent teeth, and mares have 36 to 44. Canine, or "bridle" teeth, erupt in the interdental space at 4 to 5 years of age in male horses, and may appear 20 to 25 percent of the time in mares.

A proper dental exam should be done with a good light and a mirror for seeing details, Rice said.

"Without the light and a mirror for looking closely at the teeth you really can't see well enough to know what's going on. It's pretty easy to miss a fracture or small abscess without the light and mirror," she said.

"Floating," or the process of removing sharp and uneven areas on the teeth, is the most useful tool in the routine equine dentistry tool kit. Because a horse's upper jaw is wider than its lower jaw, the teeth are offset. Equine teeth erupt about three to four millimeters per year, so as this happens, sharp edges develop that need to be filed off.

"The teeth develop rostral hook, or sharp points that floating will take off. The hooks can cause little cuts on the upper cheek. Floating can also correct imbalances on the chewing surface in a young horse if you catch it early," Rice said.

Floating also is used to round off the teeth near the interdental space where the bit goes in the mouth.

Routine dental exams and regular floating contribute to the general health of the animal. Problems in the mouth can contribute to nutritional issues, behavior problems, infections of the sinus, and the all around soundness of the animal.