One of the oldest professions in the world has kicked up a lot of new business by going cyber. Ty Kester is the owner/operator of the Oklahoma State Horseshoeing School, a company started by his grandfather in 1975. Students from around the world come here to learn the centuries old art and science of farriery, or fitting horses for shoes. You might wonder what you could possibly learn from a business that has not changed a great deal since the 1300s, but the basics of success for historic and micro-niche businesses are all pretty similar.
When Ty took over the business at the age of 25, the recession had begun and a review of the numbers showed that the business needed some new shoes of its own to survive. In an effort to save the family business, Ty dove into the task of updating the school. Starting with improvements to the business’s website, he then expanded their marketing programs and added a new, online farrier supplies business, which doubled the revenue potential. The improved website added a blog, and the Oklahoma State Shoeing School got involved with social media.
For marketing, he purchased the Vocus suite of PR and social media marketing programs. This was a big upgrade after decades of advertising in Western Horseman, the #1 magazine for horse people. Combined, these efforts brought significantly more traffic to the site, decreased their bounce rate and increased in-bound phone calls. Ty says, “since joining the Vocus team, our site traffic has grown more than 5 times, our bounce rate is well below 50% and we receive more phone calls than we have since the recession began.”
Ty also spent time studying the newest horseshoeing techniques in an effort to bring the business up to date and appeal to a younger audience. “Many of the techniques that were used when the school started, are not used today”, says Ty. “So in order to compete with other schools we had to update our program as well as our marketing efforts. To complete this transition, we also replaced several employees. We think in order to win you must be better than the competition in every aspect”.
According to Ty, there are currently more horses in the U.S. than at any other time in history. Access to such a strong market and with a lot of “WIT (whatever it takes)” and “ATS (and then some)” as his grandfather used to say, Ty had the confidence to make big changes. Today the average class size is 18, a threefold increase from when he took over, and the business supports seven employees. Reflecting on these changes, Ty says that the most important contributing factor to their success is the quality of service. Every employee is schooled on the importance of the first impression. “In fact, many people tell us they came here because the people were so nice,” he says. That could be the candy they put in their packages, the Midwestern politeness on the phone, or the pristine facilities. “Our brand has a moat built around it because of its history, but now we have added a firewall thanks to our 21st century marketing and service.”
For another small business success story, watch Julia and learn all about the mushroom business. For the inside scoop on search engine optimization practices for your small business website, give this article a read!