Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Bu$$ine$$ of Horseshoeing...Part 2

The Bu$$ine$$ of Horseshoeing:
Part 2
[Note: As stated in Part 1, this piece was originally published in 1987, thereby reflecting issues of that and the previous time-frame. it within that context...or not.  Oddly, much of it is still relevant today.]
Love is not enough...
Training the Public:  Never mind the horse, it is the client that requires training -- and perhaps afforded a little more respect in the equation.
Plumbers drive Cadillacs because they planned it that way.  It is common knowledge that plumbers are well-compensated.  It is also a fact that homeowners scream loudly over a plumber's bill.  But if the pipes break on Christmas Eve and the presents start to float away, the owner will pay and actually love having his wallet ransacked.  There is no mystery in this equation, merely a calculated decision on the part of the plumbers that they would demand a certain lifestyle in exchange for working on your bad pipes.  Through a form of organized consensus, they merely made a choice -- that pipe work, being somewhat arduous and dirty -- was going to be expensive.  And further, the public was going to have to accept that notion.  That declaration did not come without a great deal of resistance, but when the smoke cleared; the options being thoroughly debated, the plumbers had converted hard work to that Cadillac. There is no reason, other than individual insecurity (or a herd-bound mentality), that farriers cannot afford themselves an equal lifestyle.  The occupation, as outlined earlier, is luxury-oriented, and as such consumes resources from a client's expendable ledger.  This is not Egypt, India...where horses are part of a local commerce and really, an element in merely trying to survive on a sometimes harsh level.  They are the second car, the husband's Harley-Davidson...the pricey tennis lessons.  They are someone else's choice. Not yours.
Gotta love plumbers...
Now, if your client lives in a bigger house than you, drives a nicer car, or affords their child a horse that costs more than you made last year -- a good thing actually -- they can afford to give you a raise.  If all farriers in a given area were afforded the same raise, then the Cadillac dealer is going to have a banner year.  And really, the horse owners would have little choice in the matter. Their hobby simply became a little more expensive undertaking.  If there are those with horses who feel that it is now unaffordable at these newer rates, then it can be suggested that they seek fun elsewhere.  The financial shortcomings of the client are not the farrier's responsibility.
Human nature dictates that respect always has a price tag. It is part of our mercantilist culture...the often sad foundation of our free-market economics and the social schisms it creates.  However, at $16 a pound, a person would not discard leftover lobster, but something as inexpensive as lettuce hits the compost pile with few regrets.  If horseshoeing prices were placed at a far more realistic scale, then the degree of respect could be earned more readily through a greater appreciation of the cost.  Even if the respect was replaced by a little honest outrage, the compensation in real terms could very well make up for the abuse in the longer picture.  At least they would know you were serious.
By adopting this form of affirmative action, it would be possible to create a whole new avenue of professionalism.  Instead of browbeating the need for ethics, better attitudes and professional conduct, it would actually be possible to pursue them.  With a better financial base, one could feel good about answering stupid questions, measuring a toe or maybe even heating up a shoe  occasionally.  Being well-paid would actually force horseshoers back into the civilized world.  Might mean greater social acceptance, organizational prestige (farriers could afford annual dues), allowing memberships to grow exponentially, thereby permitting most conventions to be held in Hawaii -- where it's warm.  Horseshoers could then live in real houses, the divorce rate would plummet, and truck dealerships would be deluged with customers.
However, it never quite works out this way.  Suddenly there is the cry of price-fixing, the vile accusations of unionization, the gargled retort of the independent man...uh, no...not from the client; from the farriers themselves.  Somehow a happy medium between starvation and independent thinking needs to surface.  It is not impossible to master a favorable business environment and get paid at the same time.  Independent thinking is perfectly all right, but independent action will do for horseshoers what an asteroid did to the dinosaurs: freeze your butt. 
"Take me to your farrier."
Ah...but there are more flies in our glass of hemlock.  Farriers, as a rule have demonized, mystified and masked the trade into something resembling a voodoo rodeo.  We are secretive, superstitious and often hide behind wild gibberish or the veil of indignant silence, English being our third or fourth favorite language when it comes to a simple inquiry from a client.  Why?  Fairly simple: our craft has no rules, no structure; no right, wrong or maybe's -- and we decided on the impossibility of ever being wrong because we have no clue over where the right could be hiding.. Even brain surgeons are allowed the occasional, "Oops."  So instead, we present farriery as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma"* and smile smugly while the client determines that you are probably in need of a good psychiatrist -- lost in all this smoke; the reason we got into this business: the mystery and challenge of the horse itself.     

Organizations and publications:  These two entities and the viewpoints they express have an inherent responsibility to reflect and promote the needs, wants and desires of their members/subscribers.  The continuity; the very viability of the two agencies is the granite of this mutual relationship -- an equal contribution to the mission statement; albeit, if one happens to exist.  Otherwise, why bother?  Most organizations, be they national or regional tend to treat the subject of adverse financial conditions and horseshoeing as an arena of denial -- perhaps failing to notice the connection between a reluctance to pay dues and the possible reasons for that:  elementary physics -- cause and effect.  Or just maybe it lacks the appeal of building a roadster in under twenty minutes or hot fitting an unbroke mule.  An argument does exist: that it is not in/of the associations purpose to...what?  Promote the economic well-being of the trade?  Where in the hell do they think those annual dues come from?  Or is it that the hierarchy itself, farriery's self-anointed monarchy of gurus and self-congratulatory saints -- voices that command the greatest audience, no longer have a clue of what horseshoeing is or is not today.  It appears to be a common trend in organizational circles today to allow entirely too much policy control to those individuals who are best classified as school teachers and anvil peddlers.  Is it that preposterous to assume that a lecture on ethics and professionalism in farriery by a school teacher is any more pertinent than Jackie Presser extolling the membership of his union in the need for fiscal austerity from the front porch of his $475,000 home?  Where is the relevancy in this form of patronization?  Yes, an organization needs the old guard, the teachers, the retirees...a cadre of elders who should not be ignored or rebuked, but the perceptions are flawed by the movement of time and the realities of an evolving world.  Sure, they know shoeing, but do they really understand current affairs when they are no longer in the trench with the rest of the slobs?  Doubtful.  So under this type of leadership it is easily understood why the topic of economics is never confronted.  They simply do not experience that particular kind of problem. 

"I buy my pickles for a dollar and sell them for 50 cents.
 But I do sell a lot of pickles!"

[Note:  Much of this issue came out of the early formation and strategy (or lack thereof) of both the AFA and various state associations.  Yes, a great deal of elitism, nepotism...influence, was afforded a board of directors or a governing body that was disconnected from day to day issues in the field.  Why?  Well, for one thing, they were the only people that seemed to have the time to occupy a chair, as well as something fundamental to gain by the activity:  new students, a spot on the lecture circuit...sell a book or a tool.  And actually, they were the only ones that got it.  The 'it' being the power of marketing within the realm of a captured audience of sorts.  By putting all the consumers in the same room, buying became slightly more competitive, a door was opened for innovation and selection, and new technology was nurtured by a potential customer base previously unknown or ignored.  But...the marketing stopped there.  The horseshoer got sold a new fancy apron, but who was selling the horseshoer?  Not the association.]            

But aside from creating a forum for marketeers, what have the various organizations really done to help the average farrier?  Perhaps it is a misconception, but organizations seem to instill the ideal in a progressing farrier's mind that great skills by themselves will indeed float the boat.  And by extension, the assumption that some form of certification will solve all the legitimacy concerns of the average farrier and provide a flag to rally around in the event that the collective liability of the profession exceeds its fiscal worth.  Silly?  Maybe. But in all this self-selling of camaraderie and false patents, the associations failed to market anything to the consumers.  You know...the folks that pay our bills.  And by extension, the real world -- those institutions we are forced to negotiate with in order to marginally make progress in a capitalistic system.  Yeah, whoops. 

LOAN OFFICER:  “Let’s see, you’re self-employed as a...farrier?”
ME:  “Yes, a professional farrier.”
LOAN OFFICER:  Strumming through a pamphlet entitled:  Adjusted Salary Expectations in Isolated Trades.  “Farmer, framer, ferry boat captain,’re not a furrier?  Hmm. Furniture, fraud investigator...well, no farrier.  Just what is a farrier?”
ME:  “A horseshoer.”

 LOAN OFFICER:  “A horseshoer?  So you toss horseshoes?  Is that something people do professionally?”

ME:  “No, actually I nail them on horse’s feet.  I’m a highly skilled professional.”  I felt a few beads of sweat rising on my forehead.

LOAN OFFICER:  “People still do that, I mean the village smithy, sinewy arms, that spreading chestnut tree, all that?  I just didn’t think people did that sort of thing, I mean, not as a business?”

ME:  “You wouldn’t do it for fun.  Trust me.”

LOAN OFFICER:  “Are there that many horses?”
ME:  “About three-million or so.”
LOAN OFFICER:  “Really?  You must stay pretty busy.”

ME:  “Well, actually, I don’t shoe all of...”
LOAN OFFICER:  “I’m going to have to get back to you on this application.  I just don’t know enough about the current business environment for farriery.  How long have you shoed horses?”
ME:  “Shod, the word is shod.  About two years.”

LOAN  OFFICER:  “Listen, I just don’t think we can do this right now.  Perhaps when you can show a track record, a couple of years of good solid tax returns, maybe some part-time employment with a real company, that sort of thing.  Have you tried American Express?”
ME:  “They suggested Visa.”

Which basically reinforces the notion that the handmade shoe you struggled to perfect will not qualify a person for a home loan, gas card or cup of coffee; further, that art work can actually exist in a cow pie is an unproven theory at best.  It is also quite possible that the horse owning public wouldn't know a certificate from a cornflake, and would be further pressed to even care.  That being the result of farriers personalizing the business rather than striving for recognized standards -- impossible without a regulatory apparatus.  Yes, that shakes out in the end as marketing through client disappointment -- something a doctor or dentist can afford more readily than a farrier.

So then it becomes a matter of excessive bluster, or the industry favorite:  competition via deductive complements.  We all know that one, perhaps all too well.  A fellow makes a mistake, some unforeseen circumstances take place...heck, maybe you went on vacation and a client lost a shoe.  Someone else came out to replace it and by the time he/she was done you've been portrayed as the chief butcher at a Chicago packing house.  One of the many reasons why 'vacation' and 'farrier' always translate as an oxymoron.  But even so, owners are entitled to serviceable work and professional courtesy, but at today's prices, just how good can a farrier afford to be?  Better yet, how much does the client really deserve?  It is very well to produce a nice horseshoeing job for a customer, but is highly unproductive if the farrier ends up subsidizing half of it.  The responsibility for an accurate ration between the quality of work performed and the levels of compensation/cooperation/conditions via the owner is a liability the owner should bear -- not the farrier.  And really, in the end, the only one that truly suffers is the horse.  But then that is always the fate of the innocent bystander.  

The certification trap:  There are a number of shortcomings associated with this current trend of prostitution via proxy -- better known as 'the fox certifying the chickens by first tasting one.'  It sort of begs the question as to whether the farrier was incompetent before certification, thereby supporting the conclusion that you were probably overpaid for services before you got the official looking paper.  And two...the logic train of most consumers normally runs off the tracks here.  They are accustomed to people receiving formal education, perhaps a degree, medical license...sometime prior to removing your appendix, not after.  

On the flip side, the non-certified, non-member farriers, who just might be extremely competent themselves, are not only alienated further from affiliation with these associations, but are even further disgusted by the perceived innuendo behind the blanket assumption that such a self-certifying process has even one ounce of credibility.  Yes, they see it as a personal attack on their livelihood -- especially in light of the fact that no one bothered to even invite them to the party to begin with. This form of despotic due-process is not going to rid the world of non-certified farriers, but it will likely split the trade into two distinct camps.  If a suitable compromise cannot or does not wish to be found, then the safe assumption is that organizational influence anywhere beyond the social level is highly unlikely.

Coming: Part 3. Are we having fun yet?     

  *Quote attributed to Winston Churchill, 1939. Apparently he was musing on the intentions of Adolph Hitler.  Shortly thereafter, he found out.

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