A GOOD SPIN-UP:THE TACK CLEANING BUSINESS
The Business of Cleaning and Conditioning Tack is one with low initial start-up costs and offers a steady and dependable income stream as you develop your clientele. Even though people can clean their own tack, just as they could wash their own cars, time is a precious element in everyone’s life today. Cleaning tack offers a valuable, time-saving service for them. Additionally, you will do this work in a professional manner taking the proper care and time to perform the service correctly. No matter the type of future horse business in which you may engage, you may continue to offer this service alongside--even if you hire and train someone else to do it.
WHAT IS INVOLVED? When someone asks you to “clean” their saddle, they want it returned to them in as-like new condition as it can be, properly conditioned, and ready for use. Exactly how you perform this work will depend upon the condition of the saddle you receive from them. Customers must understand that years of misuse and failure to properly care for their saddle cannot be reversed. Poor conditions of saddle storage that have promoted mold growth within the leather may be inhibited, but will likely never be eradicated. Brittle and hardened leather will never be fully brought back to “like-new” condition. Improper use of cleaning and polishing products may have damaged the leather’s color and weakened the stitching over time. You must know the proper techniques, which products to use for varying saddle conditions, and how to advise the customer on future use.
THE PROCESS: Prepare a work area for this business. You will need a work area with room for cleaning supplies, access to water, and an area for the tack to air and dry--preferably with some sunlight (not direct heat of the summer day).
A. You will need to clean the outside and underside of the saddle. The underside
is rough and unfinished and you can use a brush for these areas.
B. Remove stirrups as well as cinches, breast collars and other attachments. These often overlooked areas where leather contacts leather. Belt buckles must be cleaned as well. These are prime areas for dirt and grime to collect.
C. Use clean, soft cloths (micro fiber is excellent) and work up a lather while keeping you clothes or sponges as dry as possible.
D. A soft brush can be used if the saddle has a design or tooling.
E. When the saddle is dry, use a conditioner. A small amount usually goes a long way. Remember: You can always add a little more, but you don’t want to be
stuck with an excess.
F. The saddle may be finished with a very light top coat of a saddle wax or butter.
G. Do NOT use oils or conditioners on rawhide. This may not only be the underside of the saddle, but also rawhide wrappings of a horn or elsewhere. Oils and conditioners may weaken rawhide; treated and finished leather is different than rawhide. Use a brush on the rawhide to pull up an flattened nap.
Special Rawhide Conditioners may be used sparingly.
SUEDE or ROUGHOUT (APACHE): Brush with a suede brush to clean. Do not wet. If there are small stains, see if you can remove them very gently with a pencil eraser or you fingernail. You do not want to damage the nap of suede. Any treatments will likely darken the suede.
EXAMINE THE TACK: Clean away as much dust and dirt as you can with soft, dry brushes and cloths before using any damp cleaning products. You want to whisk away all that removes easily. You next want to look over the tack and see what the condition is. Previous efforts at cleaning could have left an oily or greasy surface behind that captured a good amount of grime to be removed. Storage in damp, musty areas may have encouraged mold growth. There may have been a long period of time since the last cleaning and you may find a lack of suppleness to the leather and even hardness. Examine the stitching to see if any stitches are broken or pulled apart. Look for any color streaking that may have occurred from previous cleanings. Make note of what you find and let the owner know what you see. If need be, photograph what you find--either to send to the owner or, if need be, protect yourself.
SADDLE CLEANING PRODUCTS: Selecting and using the appropriate products is critical to your success in promoting your business. Your first step will be to remove the dirt and grime and examine the leather with which you are working.
SADDLE SOAP: (Not Recommended). Almost everyone has heard of “saddle soap” and there are people who may achieve good results from its use. We do NOT recommend the use of saddle soap to clean tack. “Saddle soap” came into being in the 1800’s and was highly used to clean tack. It lathers easily and is highly alkaline. Highly alkaline substances can have an ultimate “drying effect” on leather and may also affect the coloration of the leather. When saddle soap was first used, well before the invention of the car, everyone moved by horseback. Saddles and tack received daily exposure to very harsh weather conditions. Saddle soap was essentially the only product available. Some reports indicate that saddle soap may actually carry dirt and soil deeper into the leather.
GLYCERIN SOAP: Glycerin soap is characterized by its clearness and translucence. (Read the label--not every “clear” soap has glycerin. Glycerin soap is a recommended soap, but not in every application. What is very good about a soap with glycerin is that the odorless substance called “glycerin” with actually attract and draw in moisture from the air. It is the ability to attract moisture that makes glycerin soap good for the skin as well as for leather. CAUTION: If you have detected mold, more moisture creates a home for mold to grow and expand. You will need to move to a product with a mold inhibitor and use plenty of sunlight (ultraviolet rays) to dry the saddle. Even doing this probably will never fully remove the mold. Even more important is to do something about the place where the tack is being stored. That location is encouraging and promoting mold growth and defeats efforts to remove the mold.
Do not overuse glycerin soap. Heavy overuse (in an effort to make the leather more supple) will attract moisture and swell the leather making it difficult to pass through buckles.
CASTILE SOAP: “Castile” soap is properly 100% olive oil with no animal fats. While you may find products that claim to be a “castile soap” because they contain some olive oil, look for at least eighty-per cent. Castile soap, like glycerin soap, also draws in moisture but is a better cleanser where more cleaning is needed. Dirtier tack can be first given a mild cleansing with castile soap and then followed with a light coat of the glycerin wash.
MANUFACTURED PRODUCTS: There are a number of good products on the markets for use as conditioners. Many are ph balanced and some contain mold inhibitors.
Most of these products can do a good job conditioning the leather. Advise the customer to use wipes after riding and keep the tack wiped off until you do another good cleaning and conditioning.
SETTING UP YOUR BUSINESS:
A. PRACTICE: Most barns have someone who owns a pretty old and possibly moldy saddle. You will need some practice and it is best you start on your saddle or saddles in poor shape. This will give you an idea of the strength of your cleaners and their effect on leathers in various conditions. Try different products in the same area of the saddle and check results. Do your best on the very worst pieces and then review your work. You can tell what products worked and how well.
B. MARKETING: Your marketing plans will follow the example of marketing plans for other businesses described on this site. You will use Business Cards, Flyers, Websites, and Social Media such as Facebook. Develop your business through advertising, contacts, referrals, and Networking. Do good work and expect repeat and referral business.
C. EARNINGS: How much can you charge? If you read some postings in the horse forums on the Internet, some businesses want $140.00 to “fully detail and condition” while some posters say they “might” pay $10-$15.00 or do it themselves. Obviously, the pricing is not standardized. If you are thinking about cleaning the saddle and bridle and anticipate three (3) full hours before you are done, you may think $25.00 currently sounds about right. This is likely low and amounts to roughly a minimum wage rate. However, you have NOT covered the costs of your supplies or advertising. A better plan might be to charge $45.00 and, if you need, give a first time (or friend) “discount”. use the higher number to set a real value for your work. Think of it this way: If your business takes off, and you have 30 saddles waiting in line, do you want to do that work for $20.00 per saddle ($600.00) and maybe 60 hours of work--or does $1,350.00 sound better to you and more reasonable.
RE-SCHEDULE: When you return the tack to the owner, set a time to do this work again in about six months if that seems reasonable--sooner if necessary. Get their contact information and follow up with a reminder -email. Begin to build your business.
SPIN-UP: Use this business to grow and add other streams of income. You may consider offering a blanket washing business or horse trailer detailing business. If you later wanted to go into the tack consignment business, the door is open. You will have a lot of customers, already may know some of the tack you will later sell. Your customers may let you know they just bought a new saddle and are looking to sell the old one. There are many ways in which you can spin up a tack cleaning business into a larger business. This business fits smoothly into the development and growth of many equine businesses and can do so for as long as you want.
MORE ABOUT MOLD
Mold creates special problems as it can reproduce in the ’jillion’ of spores easily and is extremely hard to remove permanently. While using products designed to treat mold, impress upon the owner that this issue may likely return quickly if the tack storage are is not altered. The entire tack room likely needs to be cleaned and disinfected, including tack trunks, racks, shelving, and the tack of other people. Additionally, any blankets, rugs, sheets, boots, and clothing in the tack room are likely contaminated with the mold spores.
Not only should the tack room be cleaned and disinfected, changes may need to be made to determine where the dampness conducive to mold growth comes from. Check for a leaky refrigerator and its drain tray. Dripping pipes or windows that are poorly weather stripped may be admitting damp air--or the lack of any window and the sun’s ultraviolet sunlight may be contributing to the mold growth.
Be aware of an ethical issue here: It would be completely unethical for you to put forth a “mold scare” in order to try to secure more business. On the other hand, it is not honest and forthcoming to return clean tack to an owner who can only store it in a known mold-covered area. If the mold exists, tell the tack owner.
If you want the extra work from cleaning all the tack, make an offer. Some owners will do their own nonetheless. If there is extra work available to you in cleaning out a tack room, this is good for you. Clean concrete floors with household bleach, wash and wipe everything down. If there is a refrigerator, clean it thoroughly (including the drain tray) and even remove the door insulation. You will find a lot of mold behind the insulation as well.
This work, performed well, can lead to other work.