In the run-up to the general election, the government is wooing the public with tales of the country’s emergence from recession. There are more jobs and people have more money to spend, or so we are told.
Signs of economic recovery are apparent in some areas of industry and manufacturing, but what about the equestrian sector?
Results from the 2014/15 National Equestrian Survey by the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) show that spending and shopping are on the rise.
The survey, which is run every four years, is based on 5,000 initial interviews with the national population (rather than horse riders specifically), plus 1,200 phone interviews with horse owners/riders and 1,500 online interviews with horse owners.
The results show that spending in 2014 was £4.3bn, up from £3.8bn at the time of the previous survey in 2011. This compares to £4.15bn in 2006.
Positive figures suggest that the sector has “remained robust during a time of great economic uncertainty”, according to BETA.
“The aim of the survey is to deliver an estimate of the scale of spending that horse keepers and riders make on equestrian-related goods,” said BETA’s Claire Williams.
“We are tentatively hopeful that the industry is starting to show growth in terms of expenditure figures.
“Fewer people are saying they are going to spend less, and more people are [saying they are] going to spend the same or slightly more than in previous years.”
A positive trend
The survey was based on expenditure on items from bedding to feed, clothing, vets, hats, saddles, training and more.
Retailers contacted by H&H this week reported positive trends relating to sales.
“Timothy Foxx started in the middle of the recession and we have been lucky enough to make it through with sales improving year-on-year,” said Rosalie Eustace of the company.
“We are now in our sixth year of trading, and the year has started well with improvements with online sales. I think people are feeling less of a pinch and can start to purchase those luxury items again.”
Kate Negus Saddlery said that mail-order sales are “steadily increasing” and that there is “cautious optimism” surrounding sales.
“Olympia was definitely good for the trade stands and in December the place had a real spending ‘buzz’ about it,” said Julia Andrews of the company.
Liz Hayman of Equetech said the company is seeing an “upturn” in business.
“Shops are more confident with their ordering. I think consumers are still wary of overspending but the trend is on the up, which boosts everyone’s confidence,” she added.
Michele Griffiths of Verdo Horse Bedding added: “As a company, we think the [BETA] survey does reflect what’s going on as we have certainly seen an increase in new enquiries and new growth in our customer base over the past four months.”
Both Golly Galoshes and Mirrors For Training also reported a positive attitude and increased sales.
Last year Robinsons told H&H it was “quite happy with sales performance over the past 12 months”, while Mole Valley Farmers is another retailer experiencing sales growth.
In December, Countrywide Farmers announced it was undergoing a major restructure to increase the focus on its equine retail business.
The company sold its farm livestock feed and forage, arable products and crop marketing businesses for a combined total of £18.4m. As a result of the sale the company will now invest more money into its 53 stores across England and Wales.
The decision came following a drop in profits and turnover. At the time the company blamed the mild weather for the decline.
But in February it reported its like-for-like group turnover was up 2.2% at £138.8m (2013: £135.8m) in the six months to 30 November 2014.
Countrywide’s Nigel Hall said: “2014 was a challenging but key year in the development of the business. It is pleasing to report that, given all of those challenges, the like-for-like turnover for the group has increased and the remaining business areas are well-positioned for future growth.”
Livery on the up
Livery yards are also seeing an increase in custom.
“Things are definitely looking up,” Hampshire-based showjumper and livery yard manager Ken Ashe told H&H.
“We are 25% up on liveries compared to two years ago. It was pretty grim then.”
Mr Ashe has seen “a large increase” in numbers over the past seven months and now has 40 liveries at the Exton Stud, based in the Meon Valley near Droxford, Hants.
“There’s more disposable income and people are not afraid to spend money,” he said.
Last year’s mild summer was a huge help for all livery yards, especially Exton, which makes all its own hay.
“We made 50% more hay off our fields,” he added.
Brian Hutton, who runs the Talland School of Equitation with wife, H&H dressage columnist Pammy, is another who has seen livery numbers increase this year.
Mr Hutton agrees the equestrian sector “has turned the corner”, but warns that the recovery is “fragile” and “is not robust enough to stand another wet summer or bad winter”.
Judging by the latest membership figures recently announced by Jon Phillips of The Organisation of Horsebox and Trailer Owners (OHTO), it is also likely that there will be more trailers and lorries on the roads this year.
The OHTO’s trailer membership was up 19% in 2014 compared with the previous year, 3.5-tonne lorry membership was up 15% and horsebox membership was up 10%.
“Membership figures for both last year and this year to date definitely imply that the equestrian world is coming out of the recession,” Mr Phillips told H&H.
“It is noticeable that there is a greater increase in OHTO car and trailer memberships than our horseboxes, but that merely shows that people are being rightly cautious.”
H&H: Ref 23 April 2014