The Potting Shed
The Horsebox Spa
The number of new businesses in the UK continues to grow year on year. In this series we ask entrepreneurs to describe the challenges they faced when embarking on their ventures.
After nine years at my home yard, a field with no mains water or electricity and having just endured one of the longest winters in decades, the thought of another without the little luxury of hot wash facilities triggered an idea.
When you consider that every equine service from the vet, the farrier, the dentist to the physio goes direct to the horse... then why not the spa? I felt the need for a new equine service was evident enough to take the risk, so I quit my job in the City and used the equity from the sale of my London property to buy a small cottage in East Sussex and the remaining £80,000 to set up the business. Given the high-risk nature of my start up (brand new service, not tried or market tested) I didn’t want any loans or financial burdens, enabling the spa to ride out any seasonal lows it may experience in the first couple of years.
This business was the first of its kind so there was no model from which to base it on and no way of knowing if the concept would work. This led to the first issue I had to overcome...insurance. There is no policy that covers this type of business which I discovered by approaching every broker and insurer in the market all of whom declined to quote, except one.
Next, I got in touch with a high-end horsebox builder with a list of specific requirements and design ideas on how to turn a regular new-build horsebox into an equine spa studio. As an industry first I knew competitors would shortly follow and copy my concept so I had 18-24 months to establish the brand and make it a market leader. The build had to have everything and my equipment had to be of the highest quality.
I’ve got big plans for the future but for now the focus remains the local market.
Looking at the spa facilities rented out by some yards, the facilities themselves were typically just a hot shower in a barn with a solarium... functional, but not what I’d consider to be a spa as such. The Horsebox Spa isn’t bound by preconceptions of services which gave me free rein to create a sensory spa experience around the traditional services you'd expect. For example, I’ve taken inspiration from human spas; for the horses: ambient lighting, mood music, rolled towels and pre heated robes; for the owners, refreshments and a relaxation lounge. I also looked to other professional groomers (dog, show sheep/cattle) for inspiration. One of the biggest problems with bathing horses in winter is how long they take to dry (5-8hrs). Here I discovered high velocity blaster/dryers which allows me to dry off horses in around 1hr which will completely revolutionize my Autumn/Winter market.
The business launched during a quiet time of year which gave me an opportunity to test my equipment, timings and to better understand my costs and price points. Given none of the equipment is designed to be mobile or withstand the constant vibrations of being on the road, things do break, but I’ve learnt the inner workings of my equipment very well and can fix most issues quickly and on the go.
One thing I didn’t anticipate was the amount of cleaning and how long it would take. I take biosecurity, parasitic control and hygiene extremely seriously and can confidently say our processes are on par with an equine hospital. But it takes over 4 hours to fully clean and disinfect the horsebox after every yard visit, meaning in the winter we can only work every other day.
When Equine Flu broke out this year and many yards locked down on all but essential services, my turnover was seriously impacted but it’s important to use these setbacks positively so I used the time to look at my processes and IT, integrating new CRM and scheduling software.
This business was the first of its kind so there was no model from which to base it on and no way of knowing if the concept would work.
In April I launched some promotions and the business sprung into life. Almost overnight I was fully booked 6 weeks ahead with over 100 registered horses. I then signed up as a sponsor of Chilham Park Horse Trials and for the first British Eventing event we offered complimentary washdown spas. The response was phenomenal and we spa’d 186 over 2 days!
I’ve got big plans for the future but for now the focus remains the local market, what services carry the greatest demand and what marketing events and promotions are most profitable.
The best advice I could give anyone looking to set up their own business would be to mould your career around your lifestyle, not your lifestyle around your career – but that often means taking a risk.
The Horsebox Spa
We bring 5star spa facilities directly to equestrians, to both their home yards and events, which in addition to the many practical benefits of the spa, offers a truly luxurious sensory soother.
Founded in November 2018, The Horsebox Spa is a brand-new service and an industry first mobile equine spa studio, capable of operating 100% off grid. The equine spa treatments typically include, hot power showers under infrared heaters, rug warming, infrared solarium, Equissage & Equilibrium massage pads, blow drying, ice infused misting fan, whitening and glossing treatments, mane and tail pulling, clipping plus specialist spas for show preparation, traditional cobs, de-itching, whitening and fly control to name just a few.