It's very important to find out whether there is enough demand for a pony trekking centre in your area. Be aware that many farmers have diversified into this type of activity in recent years because of the downturn in farm incomes. As they already own land and may have suitable buildings they are in a strong position to compete with a stand-alone trekking business.
Riding schools may also offer pony trekking so you will need to check out the competition carefully. A browse on Yell.com and other similar online directories under Riding Schools will give you an idea of how many riding centres currently offer trekking in your area and give you an idea of the range of activities and services they offer. You could do an online search for competitors as well as looking at local print directories. You can also find existing riding holiday centres in your area on the British Horse Society (BHS) website.
As well as checking out the competition it is also very important to make sure that there are plenty of places where people can ride. Are there lots of bridleways and opportunities for off-road riding such as moorland, woodland, coastal paths or beaches? Is the surrounding countryside attractive so that it is already a tourist destination? Are there nearby facilities such as pubs, hotels, shops and places of interest so that people coming for a residential riding holiday have plenty to do? You will find your local tourist information authority a helpful source of statistics about the level of tourism in your area.
If possible, visit other riding and trekking centres to find out:
- the range of trekking and other services they offer
- whether they provide accommodation and board, and if so, to what standard
- whether their yards and stables are well laid out and maintained
- whether the horses and ponies are in good condition
- whether the staff are well trained, helpful and polite
- if they're approved by the BHS
Many trekking centres have a website which provides a lot of information about the services they offer and the prices they charge. Visit as many of these websites as possible to get good ideas about the way your business might operate - and also to check out what local competitors are offering.
Why will people choose your trekking centre
It's important to try to make sure that enough people will choose your centre rather than your competitors so that your horses are as fully utilised as possible. Riding is popular with people of all ages and from all backgrounds and is an activity that the whole family can enjoy. This might be your Unique Selling Point (USP) - emphasising that your ponies are well schooled and suitable for all abilities, from complete novice to advanced rider.
Becoming BHS approved will reassure potential customers that you aim to provide them with the highest standards of service and conform to the latest health and safety requirements. You will also be able to reach a wider audience for your business by promoting it through the BHS website and publications including British Horse magazine, which is the UK's highest circulating equestrian magazine.
You might be located near a large centre of population and decide to target young professionals looking for an active day out, or possibly an evening pub ride on a summer's evening. You might consider targeting stag and hen parties and other groups of riders.
Think about the type of rider you will be targeting and then make sure that your mounts, your facilities and the treks you offer all tie-in with this.
Have a close look at your potential customer base - are there any schools nearby who might be interested in sending groups of pupils for an afternoon's riding? What about asking your local GP to put you in touch with your hospital's physiotherapy unit - riding can be an excellent activity for those with a physical disability. Alternatively your centre might become part of the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) network of certified members which offers riding activities to people with disabilities throughout the country. Visit the RDA website for details.
Use the record sheets to note down the results of your market research.