Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Some things never change...they just keep running over you.

Rob Edwards - Publisher Extraordiaire


[Blog Note: This editorial was first published in the January 1, 2001 edition of Anvil Magazine.  The words...and the experiences are mine.  Yet recently, it was pointed out to me that like many things in farriery that have changed, evolved, improved perhaps...there is still no shortage of lunacy among the troops.  Why this goes on is obvious:  Money, a foot in the door...an odd form of self-deception?  And of course, in a bad economy, a touch of desperation.  All for nought, as in this crippled economy of ours, it is only the bottom that slips below the waves.  Major equestrian areas in this country...most clustered around metropolitan areas or those locales with a long tradition of horses and money are not particularly bothered by hard times elsewhere.  Farriers who work these areas (more importantly, hold an address in those areas), have established business practices and pricing structures based that address -- that in turn, establishes the cost of living.  So if you wander in from the hinterland in search of better living (an honorable pursuit), then compete on your skills, not your ability to cut your own salary.]   





    Real estate agents have a catch-phrase:  “Location, location, location.”  In the most rudimentary of terms, it places a dollar value on where you live, what your neighborhood is like and quite frankly, if four or five other folks happen to agree with that assessment.  It places a dollar value on geography, which roughly means that an acre south of San Francisco goes for $2.5 million, while the same acre in northern Afghanistan might bring in fifty cents and a goat. 

     In case nobody has noticed, real-estate prices dictate horseshoeing prices.  You don’t think so?  I used to practice (euphemistically speaking), in Washington State.  I happened to live on the western side of the Cascade Mountains within shouting distance of Seattle.  Back in the rich old days, us big-city guys got $12.00 to shoe a horse, $4.00 to trim.  In Eastern Washington, farriers only got $8 to $10 for the same job.  Our arrogance was only matched by our lifestyles.  Most of our rigs were less than ten-years old.

     A decade or so later, Bill Gates showed up as the new sheriff in town, and well, we all got a raise.  Reagan’s “trickle-down theory” actually had some validity.  Corporations like Microsoft do spin-off economic incentives in what might seem like obtuse directions.  The popularity of the Windows operating system, hence, the success of Gate’s corporation, brought in hard cash to the area and bumped up the real-estate prices.  Rent went up – shoeing prices went up.  Even so, Eastern Washington lagged behind.  After some sloppy research, I discovered that the per capita number of Cadillac’s in Yakima roughly mirrored the figures for Seattle, even though a wide gap existed in the bottom line – roughly, what you earned for virtually the same hour of sweat.  Head scratching hardly helped.  Some mysterious gestalt existed that connected your zip code to your potential lifestyle and by default, somehow pre-determined your income.  And the sad part was that farriers accepted the notion.  What was generating this obvious disparity?     

      Real-estate prices.  Money made in the west was re-invested in the east because you could get more bang for the buck even though nobody cared to spread it around.  That would’ve ruined the principle.  Concurrently, west-siders, who actually had to work for a living (like, horseshoers), started shaking their heads because the ‘new’ economic standard meant that a latte cost five bucks and the rent increased 150%.  Meanwhile, supply costs continued to escalate.  In response, horseshoeing prices went through the roof.  Guys on the east side got wind of these shoeing prices and were pretty impressed.  So much so, that they would drive four or five hours to work in somebody else’s backyard.  They competed by undercutting the standards that had already been set by the folks sucking down that $5 latte.  Then, they crawled back to Yakima and paid the mortgage – 200-300% less than a three-bedroom rambler in Bellevue.  Carpetbagging is the kindest description I can think of for this kind of aberrant behavior.

     What triggered this particular tirade is an article that appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle last September.  The usual stuff – a feature story about a horseshoer and the ‘hot’ economy in the Bay Area.  The guy at the core of the article really doesn’t matter.  What he revealed though does, which was his interpretation of what Bay Area farriers make for a living, which of course, is nobody’s damn business until it gets splashed in a newspaper, which just brings more termites out of the woodwork looking for a cheap meal;  in turn, causing existing clients to assume that they’re getting their pockets picked.  Brilliant piece of p.r. work folks.  

      The crux of the matter is that the guy lives in Chico, which according to his own account, constitutes “a 380-mile” commute down to the promised land.  From a business standpoint (which demands a degree of ruthlessness on a good day), it’s a smart move.  Live cheap and work uptown.  But far too many of these valley migrants use their cost of living allowance to compete in a marketplace that is not of their making and of which they have invested nothing.  Repeat: NOTHING!  And to ‘get in the door,’ so to speak, they cut prices.  There is no nice way to say it and to be perfectly honest, I don't care to.

     “Business is business,” as the old clich√© goes, is an age-old excuse for preserving ethics for that Sunday get-together with the Padre.  The rest of the time these niceties are ignored in favor of getting the check.  Folks that have lived in these economically blessed areas for twenty years or more set the financial standards because they have to live there.  That means they’ve got that 300% rent increase whether they like it or not.  What they don’t like is an interloper in the sandbox who won’t play fair.  The message is simple:  Compete with your skills.  The only person that bleeds when you cut prices is yourself.  These folks have already negotiated your ‘raise.’  Take it.  Don’t undermine a status quo that took three decades and lot of sweat and effort to create.  We are after all, a mutually dependent trade.  Push the envelope a bit instead of burning it in the forge.  There might be a check inside.  

Old adage from the poorhouse in New York:  "Well ya know, I buy my pickles for $1.00 a pound and sell 'em for 80 cents.  But by God, I did sell a lot of pickles!"                 

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