Business Snapshot: Duncan Taylor

Duncan Taylor – thinking outside the box   Duncan Taylor, as president and CEO of Taylor Made Sales Agency, presides over the farm that bears his family name and has been at the heart of the bloodstock industry for more than four decades.   To many, the surname “Taylor” is synonymous with one of the leading U.S. sellers of bloodstock, but for those who attended the Pan-American Conference held in May in Washington, D.C., Duncan Taylor was simply the leading asker of questions.   It is clear that Taylor has always had a passion to learn about and understand different aspects of the business. Taylor Made provides services, but these are just some elements to a much bigger industry, and for the industry to grow, it must explore and embrace the different aspects that make the business what it is. This made the Pan-American Conference a “must-attend” event for Taylor, giving him the opportunity to question and learn from panelists and delegates from around the world.   Sitting down with Taylor at the conclusion of the conference the Sunday after the Preakness gave us the opportunity to get his thoughts on the industry.   TAYLOR ON promoting to racing’s customers   Everything has to start with the customer. At the Pan-American Conference we heard about marketing but there are four areas of marketing that are important: product, price, place, and promotion last. But we heard a lot about promotion and people doing things that may not actually be even related to the business we are in. Putting on a great concert, having slot machines at a racetrack – all these things that are not bad by themselves but take focus off our core product and what our core customers want and are craving. We need to study how people are betting and what they are betting on. We need to look at our product. We haven’t reinvented ourselves. Our wagering product – win, place, show, pick six – has stayed the same. At the conference it seemed that the two things that others were doing the best were out of the box. In France anyone can play a $2 wager for a million dollar purse every day, and all they have to do is pick the first five horses in a race. They can do this on skill or have the computer randomly generate a ticket. It’s the best bet in France now. They found out what the customer wanted and developed it and now the customer is there buying it. You can do all the promotion in the world but if the product isn’t right they won’t buy the product and don’t come back. The other thing is instant racing. Charles Cella down at Oaklawn, he figured that out, and that’s generating purse money. That’s diversifying our product. But we need to focus on new products around the real live race, get people closer to the horse and figure out how to have more interaction with the horses, and basically have focus groups with customers tell us what they want.   TAYLOR ON focusing on the longer term   We have to take a long-term view. We can’t just think about how we are getting a customer tomorrow, we need to cultivate young people and think about how can they enjoy our sport. What are we doing about the young girls who naturally love horses?   TAYLOR ON why people fall out of love with racing   One of the things is purses. Grow the purses. When you buy a racehorse, it’s a costly experience. It’s about $40,000 a year to have a racehorse in training. When you have 30-to-40 horses in training and not much success, it can pull you down. People don’t mind putting up the money if they are having success. We all know the fine line between success and failure can be the horse that was going to be the great one getting hurt. That’s the main reason why they leave the game.   TAYLOR ON the ownership experience   You’ve got to make sure that the owner feels important and feels appreciated for their investment. They are the ones who have put in the money. Just look at licensing – people who are very wealthy aren’t simply the sort of people who are used to getting fingerprinted four-to-five times a year. We need to simplify the whole experience.   They can go buy a yacht or a ball team. They have many different choices so we are competing against those pursuits for the luxury dollar investment. We need to treat them with luxury treatment. You don’t go to the top-end car dealer and get fingerprinted!   TAYLOR ON the people’s horse   Geoff Gray, a New York Times writer and editor of True Ink magazine, was traveling through Saratoga and bumps into a trainer at a supermarket line. So he goes to the trainer's barn, meets a horse, and then goes to back to the races and the horse wins. His concept for his magazine is to write about things that people can go and experience. He started writing about the horse business and got himself a big fiberglass horse which he took to every Triple Crown race last year, where he got people to sign it. He called it “The People’s Horse.” He came to Lexington as he wanted a real horse and wanted to start a racing club for his readers. We got together and I told him that we had THE people’s horse – California Chrome. Now we’re breeding three mares of our own (to California Chrome) for him, and his readers will get to experience being part of the development of the foals and hopefully through to racing the horses. Geoff being a writer, he’s going to be able to create content to make sure that these people get videos and regular written updates. So far (in three weeks’ time) we’ve had over 200 people sign up. These people are all new and haven’t all even been to a horse race. They’re just wanting the experience. It’s all about making the horse business more accessible to more people.   TAYLOR ON Horse Country   In Kentucky they’ve created something along the lines of what they have done in Sonoma (wine country in California) for the Bourbon Trail. While in the Thoroughbred business we don’t have bottles sitting on every shelf advertising us, we do produce bourbon bottles in Kentucky, and it gets people to come visit distilleries. It’s a natural crossover that they want to come and visit horse farms. A lot of people come up and buy horses having been to the track as kids. People remember these things. So getting them to the farms is another way of opening up. We’re now so far removed from agriculture compared to where we were when I was growing up, so we have to make these farms accessible so that the horse can stay relevant and make it fun. It’s a competitive advantage as it’s real, not digital.   TAYLOR ON too much racing   Not only is there too much racing, there is not enough brand differentiation of product. At the Pan-American Conference, John Miller from NBC put up a shot on the screen of all the different events they were involved with – lots of different logos. This is confusing to the customer outside of the industry. If we can brand the key days as something like “worldwide Grade 1 action” then it makes it easier for the consumer to understand. If I go to one of these events, I am going to be watching the best. We’re not making presentation to the customer the easiest. If I had watched the Kentucky Derby (on TV) for the first time and then seen a promo for Royal Ascot under the same banner – “worldwide Grade 1 racing” it surely would evoke a good experience and I know I will be watching the best. It will make it easier for the customer to understand in the long run. I can go watch Lexington Catholic (High School) play football but I know it’s not the NFL, but it’s still football.   TAYLOR ON explaining the product to the new racetrack customer   If I went to Vail or Aspen and never had been skiing before and they said, “Here are your skis, off you go and have a good time,” and I came down a black run, I would have had the most frightful experience ever and would never come back! But sometimes, that’s kind of the way we treat our customers when they play the horses for the first time. There is no place for them to learn. It’s a complicated system. I think that the first time to the track, they should have some kind of experience which helps teach them from the ground up. Learning about the horse. What does trapped on the rail mean? We’ve got to tutor the fan and give them examples of what this means.   TAYLOR ON the perception of the horse player   I would flip the perception of the player who is playing the game. The tracks somewhat look down on them, others can somewhat look down on them. Yet they are the ones who need to be esteemed. Horse betting is the smart person's wager. Betting on horses isn’t down to random chance, you can use your brain.   TAYLOR ON handicapping leagues to grow the fan base   Players need to get a handicapping league – without entry fees. You can start in a low league and then go up in ranking. Start it up before the Triple Crown prep races. Collect the data on the players, have them register, and put together some exciting purses during the Triple Crown season so the player feels an involvement. At the Kentucky Derby, bring them out in front of the crowd and say, “These are the smartest people here today. Give them their checks.” So everyone else says, “How can I be like them?” We are then putting the focus on the customer, we are putting the focus on what our core product is – horseracing.   TAYLOR ON the racetrack experience   The tracks realize the big days are important now. It used to be that on the big days the customers got the worst experience. The Breeders’ Cup and at the Triple Crown races, they are doing an awesome job. At the Pegasus (World Cup), the Stronach Group made sure that everyone got a first-class experience on the day. If it’s branded a certain way and we can deliver what the customer expects then they’ll keep coming back. But I don’t think that tracks are doing a consistently good job. Everyone jokes about McDonald’s, but their food is consistent. You can drive down the interstate at six McDonald’s, you can trust the brand, you know what you are going to get. That’s not always the case as the racetrack.   TAYLOR ON what he would say to the racetrack managements   The first thing I would do would be to go Churchill Downs, NYRA, Keeneland, Stronach Group and sit down with them all to figure how we could all win. We’re going to develop our brand. This isn’t my idea but you need to get the main content providers (racetracks) tied in so they are all promoting each other's main events events and it’s all consistent to what we want the brand to be.   TAYLOR ON racing coverage in the newspapers   Newspapers listen to their customers. They are in business to deliver what the customer wants. When they see that the customer wants racing covered, they will cover it. It all goes back to building the brand of racing. When you build interest they’ll cover it, but we’ve got to build the interest the right way. It’s our own fault that racing isn’t in the papers, not the newspapers’ fault.   TAYLOR ON the future of the sales market   The sales should stay steady. I don’t think anything will make the market go down. (President) Trump is more of a business-minded president. These people who own farms, they are looking at the tax situation and that has an effect on spending. President Obama did give people an increased depreciation on capital expenditure. If the tax rate is lowered and the depreciation is lowered then that could set the market back.   TAYLOR ON perception   We need a more uniform medication policy. The perception is a lot worse than the reality. We need to do better but we do have really good horses that can compete anywhere in the world. If it was up to me I’d have a chip in the horse's neck from birth, and anything that was done for the horse, it would be mandatory for the vet to record it. This way you could look at anything that was done to the horse at any time in its whole life. We’ve done screws and wires, we’ve done screws in knees, trying to make the horses better. It doesn’t bother them, if those horses are runners, if they go and compete fine. But if someone doesn’t want that, I don’t want them to go and buy the horse. If they think that’s bad then there is someone who is going to take advantage of that. What I do know is that people don’t want to buy something that is crooked in front. Full disclosure is a great thing. When they think you are hiding something, there is no worse environment to sell something in, when someone thinks that someone else is trying to scam them.   TAYLOR ON opportunities in the Southern Hemisphere   Sending the horses south is really good. But it’s also good to offer on Southern (Hemisphere) time in the North. We’ve bred mares to Tapit and previously with Distorted Humor sending them to Australia. We’ve done good and made some money doing that. It’s another market for your stallion. At Taylor Made we want to become more global. Chrome is going to Chile, where we are going to buy eight-to-15 turf sprinting mares and put the offspring into training in Australia. There are a lot of opportunities in South America and with Sebastian Angelillo heading up our Chilean division, I really do think this a place of growth.   TAYLOR ON the winter season and new big purse races   These races like the Pegasus are a huge plus. If that can go on for, let’s say, a 10-year period, it will really start to affect us. It’s good for our customers and our sport. I can only talk about our experience with California Chrome. The person who was responsible for keeping Chrome going as a five-year-old was Sheikh Mohammed. If he didn’t have the Dubai World Cup then we wouldn’t have stayed in training. Then the Pegasus wouldn’t have been a possibility. Would I sign up for the Pegasus (concept) again? It’s more suited for someone who has a large stable and a likely runner. If they changed some things around and looked at it more as a group of people investing in the outcome of growing that property (of a place in the Pegasus starting gate) then I would be very tempted to go back in. Now that the Pegasus team have a year behind them, sponsorship revenues are going to grow. They did a good job, got the right TV coverage, and people understand what it is.   TAYLOR ON the future of Taylor Made   We have a great team at Taylor Made. We have six next generation members of the Taylor family working there now. But it’s not just about family; we have people like Sebastian (Angelillo), who has been to the National Stud, he’s been through the KEMI program and has a world of experience. There are different ways of doing things out there. We’re always picking up ideas from our intern program. We learn from our interns. If it’s a better idea, it’s a better idea. It will be fun to see what their ideas are and how they innovate, and hopefully our brand will stay at the top.   TAYLOR ON what he would tell his 40-year-old self   Work just as hard, focus just as hard. I used to do a lot of worrying that I didn’t need to do. So now I am not worrying about as much. I’ve been the president of my company for 40 years, so when I was cleaning stalls I was president, and when you start the company they’ve just got you and there isn’t much they can do with you. Mind you, there have probably been a bunch of people who wanted to fire me in that time!

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Duncan Taylor, as president and CEO of Taylor Made Sales Agency, presides over the farm that bears his family name and has been at the heart of the bloodstock industry for more than four decades.

To many, the surname “Taylor” is synonymous with one of the leading U.S. sellers of bloodstock, but for those who attended the Pan-American Conference held in May in Washington, D.C., Duncan Taylor was simply the leading asker of questions.

It is clear that Taylor has always had a passion to learn about and understand different aspects of the business. Taylor Made provides services, but these are just some elements to a much bigger industry, and for the industry to grow, it must explore and embrace the different aspects that make the business what it is. This made the Pan-American Conference a “must-attend” event for Taylor, giving him the opportunity to question and learn from panelists and delegates from around the world.

Sitting down with Taylor at the conclusion of the conference the Sunday after the Preakness gave us the opportunity to get his thoughts on the industry.